12 January 2009

Lost City's Guide to Carroll Gardens

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.

(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.

: 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.

(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.

(corner of Clinton and Union): An original Carnegie library (Andrew's portrait still hangs), the interior is worth a look.

(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.

: 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.

(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.

(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.

: 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.


Anonymous said...

Ah, you're crazy re: not loving the product at D'Amico's. And you mean "wonderful smell" not "acrid smell" when they roast their beans!!! I love that smell! Of course I love Sahadi's coffee too, but of course, that's not CG. :)

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Aaa, I knew I'd get some heat about the D'Amico comment. But I'm a bit of a coffee aficionado. And that smell when they're roasting coffee is not a good one: it's the smell of coffee beans being burnt. And that's that prevailing taste I get from their coffee: burnt.

As I said, I'm in the minority, and I give the due its due.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if they still make the sausage and broccoli rabe calzone at House of Pizza and Calzone (haven't been there since the reopen) but it is great. I'm surprised you didn't mention the Potpourri, which is as odd as the guy with the rubber balls and shoeshine.

Anonymous said...

As someone who has lived in Carroll Gardens/Cobble Hill all my life, I am glad someone else recognizes that that far side of Hicks street is still Carroll Gardens and not Red Hook, which many newcomers seem to believe

Anonymous said...

Before the BQE was built, Carroll Gardens and Red Hook were both called South Brooklyn and there wasn't such a clear delineation between the two neighborhoods.

Also, just a note about St. Paul's: the steeple wasn't lost, it was just never built as planned. Additionally, there was a large fire in the 90's that destroyed much of the church's interior, and the congregation has been repairing and restoring it bit by bit as funds allow.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Caputos Bakery..they make a great Ciabatta Ring.

Not a big fan of the D'Amico burnt smell either, but I'm not a coffee drinker so oh well.

And I know its a new place, but Eaton had really good Hawaiian Shave Ice this summer

jeff said...

i lived in CG for 9 1/2 years (ive been in sherman oaks, ca for 3 now). I was in nyc for work a lot this summer. CG is great for parking. I would run from 23rd back to CG and end at Caputos to get a 1/2 lb of grilled artichokes before grabbing the car The Best.

Fernando's pannelles are freaking delicious. i miss them.

D'Amico's coffee is horrid. Too bad Marty's coffee is gone. And Sparky's.....

Also, I lived on 4th pl around the corner from Dennet. I took ALL the out of town guests down that street. Funny!

Anonymous said...

As a reformed tea drinker who has only recently discovered the exhilarating joy of coffee (and who lives on the same block as D'Amico's) I must ask: if not D'Amico's for a good cup, then where?

By the way, I thought that I was supposed to enjoy the smell of what is obviously burnt coffee beans but I am glad to hear that I can quit that charade . . .

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Good question, Josh. The neighborhood is noticeably deficient in decent cups of coffee. I would suggest Marquet on Court at Warren as acceptable. And Henry's Cafe at Henry and Union was doing a great job with espresso under the previous management. I can't say what things will be like under the new owner.

Margaret said...

I have to clear up a misconception about the smell of roasting coffee: It ALWAYS smells acrid. The roasting process releases smoke and as the beans' outer shell flakes off, it burns and releases particles into the air. When you first start the roast, it smells a little like burning grass because the beans are still green. Properly roastED coffee smells fantastic, but while it's roasting, I think it smells terrible.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

OK, Margaret, that answers that question. But why does D'Amico's coffee TASTE burnt. Sorry, guys, this is just my opinion. I'm an espresso man, and have tasted a lot of coffee all over the world in my time, and D'Amico's doesn't even come close to the best I've had. Or even the Just-OK stuff I've had. Again, I reiterate: I love the shop. It's great. They're just not my coffee source.

Unknown said...

You say that the old push cart shopping area of Union St rivaled Court St. As a person who lived on Union St and as a kid sold shopping bags among the pushcarts, let me tell you that Union St was "the place" to shop. At the time Court St had no where near the activity it has today.
On Saturday mornings and afternoons Union St between Hicks and Columbia was like 42nd St and Broadway on New Years Eve. The pushcarts were lined along the curb on the south side of Union St and that sidewalk was packed with people. Strange as it may see the other side of street had no pushcarts and almost no one walked on that side of the street unless that wanted a snack at Ferdinando's.

Anonymous said...

My Grandparents lived on Union St across from The House of Pizza. Did you know that the original House of Pizza was down the block where the Condo entrance is today? 10 cents a slice. My Mom would buy all my school dresses at Franks Dept. The pushcarts were the best. From my Grandparents window we watch the trolleycars get unhooked and the driver would have to get out and rehook them..What great memories..Louise Franqui oldtimer of Red Hook

Melanie said...

I worked in this neighborhood back in the 80's to 90's--I love Joe's Superette--the best handmade sandwiches ever--my fave--fresh mozzarella with sun dried tomatoes and olive oil on an Italian hero--D'Amico's coffee roasters--the smell of freshly roasted coffee beans is sublime...best cheeses in the hood too--there was a little shop whose proprietor sold pounds of fresh tomatos for a song and I learned how to make a fresh tomato sauce here. I bought great cheeses in the hood--my secret for pesto--use three dried versions instead of just parmesan--

Melanie said...

gene--you bring back great memories for me too--Grandma and I shopped on Union and Fifth for fruits-veggies--but for meats we went to the butcher store on 7th Avenue--and Ebingers for cakes also on 7th Avenue back in the day--I can tell you more things real Park Slope--Newman's Ice Cream Parlor on 7th Avenue where Key Food is now--and yes I was at Berkeley Institute when the planes collided and part of one landed on 7th Avenue 2 blocks away from my school--Patrick Quigley and I were in homeroom for lunch and saw things falling from the sky. School was dismissed and we went home.

Bob Conti said...

You did get Mazzola's Bakery OK, but you never mentioned the Italian cafeteria/pizzeria resturant across the street, used to be Nino's for many years, now renamed Francesco's. Great pizza and great Italian stuff, lots of it home made by owners mother. The prosciutto bread at Mazzola's called "lard bread", by us locals, is positively addictive!... Bob from 3rd Place

Anonymous said...

As late as the very early 1970's Union street had quite some activity, of course not as brisk as the 1960's and prior. Many students of Sacred Heart elementary school on Hicks Street (now closed) would go to "work" in the stores on Union St. Between Hicks and VanBrunt stocking shelves or loading up the milk and soda refrigerators. Your could buy anything on Union St from the Columbia mens clothing store to fresh mozzarella at Mastellone's

wshc said...

Melanie-I appreciated your comments about Newman's Ice Cream Parlor near the air cooled Carlton movie theater and Ebinger's Bakery across Flatbush Avenue from it's local rival-Cushman's Bakery.
I remember the plane crash, as I was there too and the burning of the U.S. Constellation at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on the same day. Seeing the tail section of a Boeing 707 jetliner in the middle of the street was both surreal and horrifying.
Back to retail-there was also Fanny Farmer Candies on the corner of 7th across from the Rexall drug store (a sponsor of the Amos 'N' Andy t.v. comedy series). On Flatbush Avenue between Park and Sterling Place were stores like the A&P, Pond's Hudson Dealership and Garage-Mr. Pond was a wonderful man who frequently let my boyhood friend and me sit inside one of his new Hudsons so we could pretend to drive (later became Key Foods), Lou and Al's Deli, Pub and liquor store and Irving's Luncheonette (great Breyer's cherry vanilla ice cones for a dime and soda fountain Cokes for 5-10-15 cents a glass-you could get newspapers like a Daily News for 4 cents, NY Journal American, Herald Tribune, NY Times, Mirror, Post and the borough's own Brooklyn Eagle)next to the BMT subway. My family loved the ice cream served at Newman's Ice Cream Parlor and found their vanilla to die for-great sundaes too.
Also, on Flatbush Avenue was the Plaza movie theater-25 cents admission. Heading up Flatbush toward 8th was Michel's Restaurant, an electronics TV shop(you could watch t.v. in the store window-great for those of us who didn't have a t.v. yet) and the Cadillac dealership. On the opposite side of Flatbush was another drug store with Louis- Sherry ice cream, a Chinese restaurant, pet shop and the Corn Exchange Bank.
I remember being given a chunk of ice in the hot summer days from the ice truck man who made ice deliveries to the pub and to those brownstone tenants who still had ice boxes for refrigeration. The old horse drawn "rag-man" wagon would also come by to purchase rags/clothing by the pound-ringing bells as he called out-"ragman!". I can still hear coal going down the chute from the truck into basements, as many apartments were still heated by coal. The cutlery truck would also go by to sharpen knives, while the milkman, Hammer Soda and Seltzer and Dugan's Bakery still made home deliveries. It was also a thrill to catch a trolley to Coney Island for 5 cents for an outing at the beach and amusement parks, such as George C. Tilyou's Steeplechase and the Cyclone Roller Coaster. There was much to enjoy close to home, whether it was a nearby trip to the Brooklyn Library at Grand Army Plaza, the Brooklyn Museum on Eastern Parkway, Prospect Park-Lake and Zoo (George Washington's Revolutionary War House too), Botanical Gardens or an afternoon with the Brooklyn Dodger's (baseball's "bums") at Ebbett's Field (Home of the 1955 World Series Champions). Those were the glory days of Brooklyn that should never be forgotten.

S. Cameron, formerly of 200 Sterling Place, Brooklyn, NY

wshc said...

A slight edit on my blog regarding the plane crash in Brooklyn-it was a United DC-8, not a Boeing 707, nonetheless, just as tragic.

Bob Lundsten said...

Had family who lived at 380 Court Street,when it was the Savation Army.
Isit my bad memory or was there a sweet shop around the corner named Helens?
I swear I use to buy comic books there as well as Breyers Ice Cream

Anonymous said...

Correction about Red Rose Restaurant: It may have been on Smith St for 25 years, but it was preceded by Guzzi's Bar & Grill back in the 60s (if not even before), and they made a great pizza. My mother would send me and my sister to buy a large pie for dinner on summer Friday nights. We would march to the back of the restaurant and sit in the last booth by the kitchen door. Mrs. Guzzi, a gruff, but otherwise patient lady, would take our order, and within 10-15 minutes, we would have our piping hot pizza to take home. The pie cost $1 plus 10 cents for the box. Boy, did we love Friday nights!

Unknown said...

Lived there for a few years 25 years ago, cant believe time flies so fast! Nice to read this, glad the pannelles are still in bloom as well as the community gardens near the waterfront. That other bakery College Bakery had some great jelly tarts! Too bad gone. It was a cool place too, the sort of place that people try to copy to be "authentic." I was in the neighborhood recently ... Leonardo's pizza with all teh religious statues in the garden was nice too. Lots of stuff is missing but the neighborhood still not bad :) Glad the kid Freddy who used to paint buildings now runs Zitouns the resturant on Sackett!

Mike said...

Mazzola Bakery has the most yummy beard. Thanks for sharing this by the way. I wasn't aware of all the restaurants in this area.

Anonymous said...

Anyone remember La Barbera bakery on Henry between 1st place and Carroll st?...which was next door to Louie's Candy Shop...Louie's had the old fashion soda fountains but they were shot in the 80's....We went to Louie's to play Ms Pacman and get mom's lotto ticket!

Unknown said...

My father-in-law, Joe Tomo, owned the variety store / toy store next to and across the street from Ferdinando's. In the late sixties, every morning I would push a push cart from Degraw Street to help open the stores. Joe was also known as the watermelon king as he used to sell watermelons during on Union Street back in the old hay day. I loved the potato special sandwiched but my favorite was their tripe in a tomato gravy!

Unknown said...

I used to live in this neighborhood. I'm just loving your blog. It makes me ache but at least I can still visit my city here.

Mike Boles said...

My Aunt & Uncle Edna and Tom Guzzi owned Guzzi's Bar & Grille Back in the late thirties/forties up to the 60's I have pictures of my Moms standing the door way thee circa 45-6

Linda Norton said...

No mention of chocolate Italian ice on Court Street? It got me through my pregnancy and I seek it out whenever I am back in Brooklyn. We used to live above Saul Goldberg's glass-cutting shop, which had belonged to his parents before him. Then we lived on 1st Place. I remember coming out to the sidewalk with babe in arms to buy basilico from the man with his cart, and walking to see the men carrying the giglio down the street. This was in 1995. I am Sicilian, not Neapolitan, but the neighborhood was home to me and reminded me of my Nonie.