This is the second in a series of neighborhood guides designed to lead those inclined to revel in classic Old New York to those places of authenticity and historical value that still exist. This time around I choose my own neighborhood: Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Or South Brooklyn, if you like. The part of South Brooklyn bordered by Degraw Street on the north, Hamilton Pkwy on the south, Hoyt Street on the east and the BQE on the west. I'm also including a few places west of the BQE that some might deem parts of Red Hook or the horribly named Columbia Heights Waterfront District. Why? Because I want to, and because, to me, they feel as much of Carroll Gardens as they do those other areas.
Again, keep in mind: this is not meant to be a complete list. It's a selection, and some things you know and love will be left off. Also, I'm focusing on things that are still there, not extinct buildings or stores.
So, ladies and gentlemen, Carroll Gardens.
BLOCKS OF CARROLL AND PRESIDENT STREETS BETWEEN SMITH AND HOYT STREETS; AND BLOCKS OF FIRST, SECOND, THIRD AND FOURTH PLACES BETWEEN COURT AND HENRY STREETS: Find out why it's called Carroll Gardens. Back in the 19th century, urban planner Richard Butts equipped many of the brownstones with spacious front yards, lending an airy, grandish feeling to the area. These are the best blocks to see the effect. Criminally, Carroll and President are the only blocks protected by the nabe's teeny-tiny historical district, but the other eight blocks are just as beautiful, if not moreso.
JOE'S PERETTE (Smith near Carroll): Actually called Joe's Superette. But the "Su" fell off the old sign years ago and has never been replaced. A mangy old deli hiding one fantastic specialty: prosciutto balls. Order a half dozen for $3.50. Hot, moist and delicious, you'll wonder at how appearances can deceive.
RED ROSE RESTAURANT (Smith near President): The Smith Street restaurant revolution has ensured that little of old Smith Street remains. Even the Red Rose, an Italian red sauce joint, is only a quarter-century old. But it does things the way they were 50 years ago.
ARMANDO TAILORS: Next door to Red Rose. The tailor speaks Italian. His daughter translates. His brother makes homemade wine. The man knows his work.
D'AMICO COFFEE (Court near Degraw): A neighborhood landmark for decades. When they roast their coffee beans, everyone knows; the acrid smell saturates the neighborhood. I personally am not a fan of the product, but many drive miles to buy a sack of beans. And that the shop has local flavor to burn can not be denied.
CAPUTO BAKERY (Court near Sackett): In my humble opinion, the best bread in a neighborhood that has many sources of good bread. The long thin "Frank Sinatra" loafs are perfection. The interior is delightfully spare and the service efficient; this place is about bread, not fey charm. Good prices, too.
F. MONTELEONE CAMMERARI BAKERY (Court Street near President): Used to be two separate entities. They joined forces a couple years ago as a survival tactic. Combined, they represent more than 150 years of experience. Monteleone's specialty is mini-pastries. Cammerari does bread. The quality's fallen off since the union, but it's still worth a visit.
G. ESPOSITO & SONS PORK STORE: Next door to Monteleone. Choice pork products of all kinds, and prepared Italian specialties. A 86-year-old, family-owned holdout of the once predominantly Italian neighborhood. Sample the soppresseta.
MARIETTA (Court near Carroll): An old world ladies and men's wear shop that could be in the garment district. Basics, nothing fancy. Underwear, t-shirts, pajamas. Good prices. Run by a couple of brothers, it's named after their late mother.
CAPUTO'S FINE FOODS (Carroll near Third Place): Great mozzarella, meats, olives, homemade pasta, coffee, cookies, anything Italian you can think of. This narrow store with fine, friendly service has it all. Ask them to make you a sandwich. You won't be sorry.
COURT SHOE SHINE: Just a couple doors down from Caputo, an old guy keeps a ramshackle storefront where he sometimes shines shoes, but mainly gabs with whoever stops by. Rubber balls and other low-fi toys for the kids are also available. He's been there forever, says he put his kids through college this way. Has no intention of retiring. The model is Business as Hobby.
P.J. HANLEY'S (Court near 4th Place): One of the oldest bars in Brooklyn, it's history goes back a hundred years, when it was a hangout for Norwegian seamen. It doesn't look exactly timeless. But still a decent place to get a beer.
ST. MARY STAR OF THE SEA (Court near Luquer): Longstanding pillar of the Catholic community. Al Capone was married here.
DENNET PLACE: Tiny, one-block street behind St. Mary's that, it was once sagely remarked, looks like a stage set for Maxwell Anderson's "Winterset." The three-foot-high doors lead people to believe that it is home to a community of little people.
CARROLL GARDENS PUBLIC LIBRARY (corner of Clinton and Union): An original Carnegie library (Andrew's portrait still hangs), the interior is worth a look.
F.G. GUIDO FUNERAL HOME (corner of Clinton and Carroll): The old John Rankin mansion, which dates from 1840 and once stood in isolation on this plot with a clear view of New York harbor. The free-standing building is a fine example of Greek Revival architecture. Horse-drawn hearses lurk inside somewhere.
ST. PAUL'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH: Kitty-corner from Guido is this battered old church which has lost its steeple and, in a first many years ago, the many old model ships that once hung from its rafters. It's still a bit of a wreck inside, but that's part of its faded appeal.
OLD NORWEGIAN SEAMAN'S CHURCH (corner of Clinton and First Place): Once the center of Norwegian life in Brooklyn. Now condos. Built in 1865. The King of Norway visited in the 1950s.
NAMELESS DELI (corner of Henry and Fourth Place): Time-stands-still deli run by two old ladies who keep the front door locked, and only let you in if they like your looks. Old Carroll Gardens to a "T." A trip.
LUSO-AMERICAN CULTURAL CENTER (Henry near Rapelye): Mysterious, little-used community center for Portuguese-American events. Used to be a Methodist church eons ago. Very curious.
LUCALI (Henry near Carroll): A great new pizzeria. Included here only because it used to be the old Louis' Candy Shop and the owner, a local, has kept remnants of the store on the walls. He also uses equipment once owned by Leonardo's, a former, older pizzeria on Court Street.
MAZZOLA BAKERY (corner of Henry and Union): Another great neighborhood, family bakery. Good ciabatta and lard bread (chock full of prosciutto).
FERDINANDO'S FOCCACERIA: (Union near Hicks) Across the BQE and, at 104-years-old, the oldest restaurant in the area. A remnant on Union Street pushcarts days, when this area was a shopping mecca that rivaled Court Street. Frank Buffa continues the family concern, selling peerless Sicilian delicacies. It's been renovated a lot over the years to "look" classic, but still worth the trip. Potato Special and Panelle Special sandwiches recommended.
HOUSE OF PIZZA & CALZONE: Across the street from Ferdinando's, this 50-year-old pizzeria was recently massively renovated. The only thing that is the same is the name, which is a cool one. The new owners will tell you they make the pizza the way the old guys did, but it's not true. Something's missing.