NFT New York Kensington / Ditmas Park

Kensington / Ditmas Park

Gigantic, turreted Victorian homes, many with surprising and unique architectural details, make Ditmas Park one of the least "New York"-looking neighborhoods in New York. You'll see film crews out here regularly getting the tree-lined, moneyed-suburbia shots they'd otherwise have find in Connecticut. Stroll down some of Ditmas Park's side streets--try Malborough, Argyle or Rugby--for an eyeful of some breathtaking mansions; an overnight stay at one of the many lovely (and affordable) bed and breakfasts will tide you over until you can swing the down payment on one of them.

Cortelyou Road, the main drag, has become something of the new Park Slope--blending cosmopolitan eating and drinking establishments with a family-friendly, residential quality on the side streets. However, the neighborhood remains refreshingly diverse. Walk down Foster Avenue and you'll pass by Hasidim, Caribbean-Americans, young married couples with strollers, middle-aged guys passing the time together outside the liquor store, and perhaps a crazy cat lady giving you the stink eye as she weeds her begonia patch.See more.

Lacking the architectural grandeur and quality dining options of Ditmas Park, adjacent Kensington has little to recommend it to those passing through. Comprised mostly of Polish groceries, Mexican restaurants, and discount stores, it is mainly a residential neighborhood and though it's a little on the boring side, residents find the safety and affordability more than enough to recommend this little slice of Brooklyn tucked just below Prospect Park. The homes here are a bit smaller than in Ditmas Park, but there's still a sense of spaciousness and suburbia here. If the backyards here weren't cause enough to make one wonder if they were still in New York, a parade of horses being groomed in the street on Caton Place nearby Kensington Stables certainly will. With easy park access, the barn offers trail rides through the park, lessons and boarding. Kensington's Erasmus Hall Academy, built in 1786, is one of the oldest high schools in the U.S.; the building was abandoned several years ago though restoration efforts are underway. The Flatbush Dutch Reform Church, however, is alive and well. The current building was built from 1783–98 and houses a magnificent pipe organ. Listen for the chimes on the hour.

Kensington and Ditmas Park were originally settled by the Dutch in the 1600s, remaining mostly farmland until the early twentieth century. In the late 1970s and '80s, Ditmas Park became the fashionable alternative to Long Island for wealthy Manhattan commuters before briefly falling into disrepair and neglect in some areas. Recent interest in both neighborhoods' low rents and space options have brought the attendant gentrification, though it's happening here at a much slower pace than elsewhere in New York.

The scene between Ditmas Park and Kensington couldn't be more stark. Start the evening off at the upscale pick-up bar Sycamore and if the evening is taking a more adventurous, late-night turn, wind up at Shenanigans where good ol' Brooklyn Guys sing karaoke and down whiskey shots.

Between these two neighborhoods, there's some exquisite, in-the-know type of fooding to be done. Cortelyou Road is bursting with fantastic, Manhattan-quality restaurants, with The Farm on Adderley and The Purple Yam leading the pack. Church Avenue is a good place to start adventuring; Taqueria Los Poblanos is among the best for cheap take-out.

Golden Farm, with its 24 hours of operation and cheap food, is a reason unto itself to move to here, as is the Flatbush Food Co-Op. Otherwise, Kensington and Ditmas Park are pretty woefully devoid of shopping. The herbalist shop Sacred Vibes Apothecary easily turns into an addiction.


On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Maud Newton
Photo:  Courtesy of The Farm

The Farm on Adderley
The Farm is the neighborhood's most reliable spot for a complex, satisfying meal that doesn't feel fussy. Service is uniformly excellent, and the bar is well-stocked. I take exception to many aspects of the previous NFT review (what's up with the snideness about Ditmas Park and Kensington on this site in general?). But I do agree that the place is a great reflection of the age diversity of the neighborhood. Couples in their late sixties dine alongside families and young artists, so that The Farm never has the self-consciously sceney/hipster vibe of otherwise similar spots in some other Brooklyn neighborhoods. And as time has passed, and the restaurant has settled in and established a nice rhythm and developed a character of its own, the use of local produce and grass-fed beef, etc., is a little more understated, so that the commitment to organic and green foods is taken for granted rather than ostentatious.

Posted By:  Rebecca Katherine Hirsch
Photo:  Rebecca Katherine Hirsch

Pakistani food for Pakistani people, and their right-thinking friends. Madina I found unnervingly spicy, but I am not in the habit of eating Pakistani food. I additionally found it expensive but then I am not in the habit of spending money. It is open 24 hours, and I can find no reason to quarrel with that. What else? The chicken tikka masala was yellow. The rice was unsuitably costly. The skewers of chicken were red and spicy. The fried fish was mucho excellente. The containers were plastic. My enthusiasm was boundless. The clientele was a lovably heterogeneous mixture of old Pakistani men, young African boys, me in tears, two white men spending like mad people/lovers of chicken curry, the dust-swirling Kensington night and the decrepit environs of Coney Island Avenue with its KFC, its tire shops and its sludge. I never leave Madina without a smile!

Posted By:  Rebecca Katherine Hirsch
Photo:  Rebecca Katherine Hirsch

Sycamore--a flower shop by day and den of drink by night--is a calm, commodious entrant on the island of excursionist merriment (for locals) that is Cortelyou Road. This highly, yet agreeably stylized outpost bar in Ditmas Park humbly rests between dingy ads and people you don't want staring at you. On my first night of sociological research disguised as drinking, I found the place ambient; dark of garden, mellow and prosperous, with a fine view of the moon and a wide-ranging, inconspicuous medley of twenty to fourtysomethings taking their drink. Until the Indian war whoop pierced through the night, I was convinced it was naught but a better version of something in Park Slope. But that pagan cry that cut through the civilized outer layer of Victorian Flatbush revealed the restless, dormant indigenousness below. And then I clutched my heart as I came to understand: Like the neighborhood itself, Sycamore is a strangely peaceable mishmash of many irreconcilable things: football games on the telly, printed and framed menus on the walls, politely relaxed patrons, sudden pagan outbursts. A juxtaposition of the stylish and the cornpone, Sycamore is a senselessly modern mix. Trendiness for the people!

Posted By:  Rebecca Katherine Hirsch
Photo:  Rebecca Katherine Hirsch

Pomme de Terre
An ominous/enlightening signpost of things to come on the borderline Midwood border, the Potato (Francophones, holler) is a traditionally French, unexpected den of gentility; another up-and-coming bastion of food, drink and merriment by "middlebrow mogul" Jim Mamary (of Patois, Pacifico, Sweetwater, Gowanus Yacht Club) and Ditmas dignitary (denizen?) Gary Jonas (of Sycamore and The Farm on Adderley). The establishment paints a pretty picture towards the bottom of Victorian Flatbush, particularly in the waning hours of day. However: the food I found a bit bland, though I recognize I am the only one who isn't heaping mountains of praise upon the dainty establishment. Or, to be fair: the appetizers were delectable (grilled sardines, escarole salad)! The desserts sublime (tasty tart thing)! But the entrees totally bored me (pan-seared skate, pork loin), as I am the highest of highborn critics. I should have given more credence to the whole everyone-else-is-eating-steak-frites thing and followed suit. Whatever. I'm American. I do what I want.

Posted By:  Rebecca Katherine Hirsch
Photo:  Rebecca Katherine Hirsch

The Farm on Adderley
I wouldn't be so silly as to rue the purported undoing of the rickety Dodgers lotus land Pete Hamill says looked like an Edward Hopper painting, smelled of peanuts and bestowed upon its inhabitants eternal life. And I've never been the kind of man to turn down a lady's offer (be that lady a waitress) of diver scallops, sweet corn soup and airy, citified elegance amongst my 99 cent stores. But something does unnerve me about sleek restaurants with "agrarian appellations" popping up in residential neighborhoods. But, really, who am I kidding? My desire to eat tasty food will always triumph over undue, half-baked nostalgia. The clientele--families with young children, young people with themselves, graceful ancients--is relaxed and expected, considering the demographics of the neighborhood. I particularly enjoyed the free plastic animals. I don't remember in what capacity I was given one, but I was thankful.

Posted By:  Andy Heidel
Photo:  Andy Heidel

Brooklyn Historic Railway Association
After a five year hiatus, Bob Diamond is resuming tours of the world's oldest subway tunnel that he discovered under Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. Now, I'm usually not one for tours, but this is one of those cool and literally underground things you can only do in NYC. Plus, you get a great history lesson of early New York and the opportunity to be amazed at how Diamond gets his impressive bulk down into the tunnel. The tour meets at the old Independence Bank building at the SW corner of Atlantic Avenue & Court Street, under the clock on random Sundays so check the website for tour dates. They say to show up early, but you'll have to still wait about 30 minutes to get into the tunnel so just try and get there on time and bring a cup of joe while you bide your time first on the sidewalk, then in the tunnel as you wait for everyone else to get down. The tunnel itself is HUGE and runs about a mile and a half, and Diamond spins a great yarn of its discovery and history as you walk the length of it.

Posted By:  Rebecca Katherine Hirsch
Photo:  Jane Pirone

Vox Pop
Ah, the glorious Kensington melting pot/mixed salad. Arabs on Coney Island Ave, black kids on Church, Chussids on Foster, big ol’ discombobulating suburban houses with well-tended lawns in Ditmas Park (Alright, that went beyond the borders of Kensington, but I’m talking a general NFT Brooklyn Map 13 here). What this place needs is an out-of-place bookstore/coffee shop. Hello, Vox Pop! A shortening of the Latin phrase vox populi (voice of the people), Vox Pop is a lot of things to a lot of people, all of them white and artistically-minded (J/K..). A world away from every other barbershop/sweet store/Islamic Center around it, Vox Pop is a coffee-serving, meat (and vegetable)-grilling, relatively upscale publishing house and performance space. And unlike that other shining beacon of gentrification in the area (Farm on Adderley), Vox Pop is all Marxist, all the time. The books and newspapers on display are the likes of The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide. The hummus plates and free-range chicken sandwiches have names like The Chomsky and The Gonzo. Alongside its many leaflets and fliers on freeing political prisoners is a children’s play space and promises (in notice-form) of a weekly children’s story hour. Though it clearly risks falling into cliché, the motives seem sincere, the staff seem respectable and the whole idea just unpretentious enough that I don’t mind. Books Coffee Democracy!

Posted By:  Asher Ross
Photo:  Asher Ross

You’ve caroused your way through the Slope, your wallet, and another loveless Friday night. You stand on the boundary of Flatbush a stumbling, disconsolate mess. You have one word “(burp)…hungry” and five crumpled dollars. At least its only 11:30. Yummy Taco time rock star! Cheap as dirt and good as pretty good, Yummy will throw you together a whole mess of carne asada hard shells at $1.69 a piece. And that’s the coup de gras; chicken, ground beef, and pinto bean will take you spiraling down the price poll to an unheard of 99 cents. And the quality is not bad at all, enough grease to cut the booze, enough substance to settle the stomach. So slather on that sour cream, crumple the tin foil with a grunt, and get back out there and find somebody to love!

Posted By:  NFT Staff
Photo:  Jane Pirone

The year-old Vox POP - Books, Coffee, Democracy is the best neighborhood shop in the city these days. Serving 100% fair-trade coffee with unionized employees, the cafe offers free wireless access, an excellent selection of political books, readings, and performances that give the place an activist vibe but real neighborhood feel. Vox Pop is another brainchild of Sander Hicks (Soft Skull Press infamy), who lives and operates the press above the store with his wife and new son. The Ditmas Park/Cortelyou area just keeps getting better and this store alone would be reason to move on in!

Posted By:  Jane Pirone
Photo:  Jane Pirone

Flatbush Food Co-op
Open since 1976, the Flatbush Food Coop is a Brooklyn gem— not as popular as the Park Slope Food Coop, but a great alternative for the folks on the other side of the Park! The Flatbush Food Coop, while small, has great organic produce, lots of healthy products that support sustainable agriculture, very reasonable prices (cheaper in a lot of cases than a supermarket), and allows non-memebers to shop.

Posted By:  Jane Pirone
Photo:  Jane Pirone

John's Bakery and Café
If you need a coffee or pastry before you start shopping at the Flatbush Food Coop, stop in next door at John’s Bakery & Pastry Shop. For 18 years, the Ficarra family has owned and operated this neighborhood café and at $3.50 a sandwich, it’s the deal of the century. Try “DA GODFATHER” Panini for five bucks and you'll be made.

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