Brooklyn Bites: Franklin Avenue Crawl

Franklin Avenue’s food, and newly revived atmosphere, is worth a try.

Don Henley’s gritty voice barely reached me over the buzz of a Friday night crowd at the bar, but somehow I caught the refrain of a great Eagles’ classic on an updraft of air conditioning: “Anything can change in a New York Minute,” Henley belted. And oh, how right he was.

Two months ago, the sleek new bar where I was sitting had been a ramshackle dollar store. The restaurant three doors down with its Edison bulbs for decor and soundtrack of The Antlers and Jose James had been a bodega that we were all sure was a drug front.  A year ago, I wouldn’t dare walk Franklin Avenue at night.

Seemingly overnight, a Hipster Spring has taken root in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, with abandoned storefronts transforming into cafes, book shops, boutiques, and apothecaries. And, much to my delight, half a dozen new restaurants have opened all along Franklin Avenue, making the choice for a Friday night out surprisingly difficult.

Last weekend a few stalwart friends and I decided to make a crawl of some of the best restaurants on Franklin Avenue, trying one course at each restaurant.  It was a delightful way to see the neighborhood and sample some of the great food on offer. (We even made videos for our new project, The Ambiance Review!)

Here’s what we discovered:

Chavela’s

Chavelas from Erin Brown on Vimeo.

This cozy little Mexican restaurant has been a neighborhood staple since before gentrification started creeping in. It is jam-packed on weekends (particularly for brunch), so we made this our appetizer stop.  Be sure to get an elote, succulent roasted corn slathered in crema, queso fresco, and chili powder, a combo so deviously spicy, juicy and delicious you will leave a changed woman.  The menu also includes delicious molés, and killer enchiladas, plus the aforementioned brunch menu that makes getting up early on a Saturday worth it. Once a whiff of the chorizo hash catches you, you’ll perk right up.

Cent’ Anni

Cent’Anni from Erin Brown on Vimeo.

With handmade pastas and a whole list of freshly made sauces of the day, Cent’ Anni lured us in for a main course.  We fell in love with the orecchiette with arugula pistachio pesto with potatoes and string beans, as well as the pene alla vodka, the Rigatoni, which comes with a slow-cooked ragu and lots of meatballs.  With an atmosphere that is quiet and intimate, it was the perfect place to sit down and have a chat over some delicious food. Only after we’d eaten our meal did we discover that they also have a gorgeous garden space in the back that is an oasis away from the noisy street.

Mayfield

Mayfield from Erin Brown on Vimeo.

Though it was our dessert stop on the food crawl, Mayfield has since become my go-to for a nice dinner close to home.  They have a great raw bar, with a daily selection of oysters, and several takes on ceviche that are great to share with a date — or a crowd.  The menu is incredibly diverse, ranging from  gorgeously plated roasted chantrelle mushrooms with Parmesan custard and garlic scapes, to corned beef tongue with kraut and rye toast, to a BLT that will knock your socks off.  I’m particularly fond of their seared scallops that come with a savory corn risotto, and the pineapple upside down cake for dessert. For a new American twist on a soul food classic, the buttermilk fried quail is a must try.

So if you’re breezing through Brooklyn on an upcoming trip, take a wander down Franklin Avenue, and give these a try. Who knows, though, by the time you get here, something else new and wonderful may have already sprung up!

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