In The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook: A Collection of Stories With Recipes (out October 11), Joy Garnett writes of vinegar—a big, stinky vat of red wine vinegar, to be precise. She decided to ferment her own when she and her husband were told by their landlord that they’d have to leave their Mercer Street loft during the Great Recession. As they prepared to move to Brooklyn, like so many before them, she turned her own piss and vinegar feelings about the situation into something useful and delicious, something to be used in their new Greenpoint-based life.
Her story of catharsis through edible creation is like many in the beautifully illustrated book, edited by Natalie Eve Garrett and illustrated by Amy Jean Porter, where tales of food and life intertwine. Garnett, whose paintings and photographs have been shown around the world, is currently writing a book about her maternal grandfather, an influential Egyptian poet and beekeeper in the 1920s to ’40s. To get an even better sense of how this consummate New Yorker likes to eat, we asked her to tell us about her essential restaurants.
A few years ago, a fish market finally opened in my neighborhood: Greenpoint Fish and Lobster is a bite-size fishmonger that doubles as a restaurant and raw bar. It occupies a corner on Nassau Avenue near traditional Polish bakeries and produce markets. They offer a wide variety of fish, responsibly sourced and beautifully displayed on mounds of ice: red fish, striped bass, John Dory, hake, weakfish, nluefish when they run, Arctic char, branzino and more. The staff will de-bone your filets even if they’re very busy, and they’re fine with shucking oysters for you to take home. I have been known to succumb to the cool, white marble lunch counter for a snack. The chowder is the real deal, but I’m partial to the fish tacos, which are composed of pollack (grilled or fried) cradled by hot corn tortillas and topped with a crunchy slaw, lime mayo and thinly sliced radishes. Wash them down with a cold draft. More good news: I hear the owners just opened another location in Long Island City.
When I first saw the old pigeon-fouled awning being pulled down from Greenpoint’s beloved Mark Bar, my heart sank. This was one of the all-time iconic seedy bars, high-ceilinged, with a mellow vibe and a pool table in the back. But to my relief, the original owners were remodeling it as a not-seedy whiskey and burger joint. The pool table has since been replaced with tables for eating and wide booths, but the bar itself has kept its mellow tone. While there are delicious dishes and specials on the menu (and a stunning array of whiskeys), we always go for pints of Guinness and the “Whiskey Burger,” which comes with a green salad or fries. The meat is juicy, and it almost doesn’t need the slices of red onion, lettuce and tomato, special whiskey sauce, fried shallot rings and BACON. I order mine rare. It comes from grass-fed, magical unicorn cows raised in sun-soaked bliss on a nearby pasture.
Lodged inside what looks like a former storefront in the old Italian section of Williamsburg, this is the tiniest fine-dining establishment I’ve ever experienced. Since they don’t take reservations, you have to know when not to show up. Locals jockey politely for a seat on the small rustic bench outside, and wait. Once inside, Okonomi is warm and welcoming, an uncanny melding of cozy and formal. There is no menu; you are presented with two, sometimes three kinds of fish, which can be cooked four different ways. You must choose: salt-roasted, miso-roasted, sake lees or kombu jime. As you slurp miso soup, your yellowtail collar and tile of fresh bluefish are being poached, steamed, fired, torched and scorched a few feet away. Once cooked, the fish is immediately served with a bowl of rice, vegetables, and an optional soft-boiled egg that has been marinated in sake, soy and mirin. The egg arrives in its own tiny bowl, a semi-translucent orb, miraculously firm and ice cold. Once broken, the velvety yolk unites in your mouth with astringent oshitashi and pickled carrot. Otherworldly, down-home cookery.
My studio used to be in a big industrial building full of artists and manufacturers located on the border between Bushwick and Ridgewood. I would get off the L train at the Jefferson stop and dart into the Queen of Falafel for their excellent red lentil soup before continuing to the studio. If I was really hungry, I’d have a falafel sandwich or eggplant sabich (roasted eggplant, egg, tomato, cucumber, onion, parsley, tahini, chili garlic dressing), or shakshuka (poached eggs in a harissa-tomato sauce). Their falafel is everything I want in a spicy ball of fried ground chickpeas, and for some reason their pita is very soft, almost bouncy. Maybe that has something to do with the circus troupe around the corner: The café connects to the backstage dressing room of the performance space known as the House of Yes. In addition to Moroccan and other Middle Eastern dishes, the Queen of Falafel offers homemade condiments such as zhug, a fragrant Yemenite sauce made with green herbs and garlic. The decor, like the recipes, is drawn from the owners’ North African origins. Ceramic tiles, dried flowers, old photos, tin teapots, seashells, a glass cooler of minted water, and above it an old fading portrait of King Muhammad V of Morocco, adorn the cozy space.
The Rtisan Coffee Project on Front Street is my go-to place for espresso and iced drinks whenever I’m near the Fulton Market in the Seaport District (which is often). Presided over by its charming and voluble owner, Mauricio Orgegon, this little café has successfully blotted out any awareness I might have had of other coffee joints in the hood, many of which are chains or tourist traps. In addition to a perfect espresso (the beans are from Porto Rico Importing Co.), Rtisan offers an assortment of baked goods, chocolates, bottles of cold brew, jars of small-batch jams and jellies from Vermont, and goodies from local purveyors such as Brooklyn’s own Blue Marble Ice Cream. I like to take my coffee and croissant and sit outside at one of Rtisan’s three tables, and watch the Seaport wake up.