On visiting New York I had presupposed that Manhattan would be the biggest draw, especially in terms of food.
I found myself in Brooklyn almost entirely by chance, owing to the fact that it cost a fraction of the price of staying in Manhattan. I thought it would be simply a base from which to explore the more well-known New York sights and tourist attractions. I was thrilled that it had been the childhood home of some of my favourite people including Woody Allen, Barbra Streisand and Walt Whitman, yet I thought the attraction would end there. But it was Brooklyn that took me completely by surprise; I had not expected to find, in a leafy borough of one of the most urbanized and cosmopolitan cities in the world, a community besotted with craft produce, artisan producers and ethical provenance.
It was in Brooklyn that I found my favourite chocolate producer – Mast Brothers Chocolate. Rick & Michael Mast are American craft chocolate makers who take immense pride in their bean-to-bar operation. They personally visit the farms and co-operatives that grow the finest cocoa beans in order to understand the raw material, but also to involve the growers in the process of which they are integral. They source the beans in small farms that are deeply involved with their local communities. The Mast Brothers believe that there are two stages to making excellent chocolate: using the best ingredients in the world, and great execution. This execution is shown at every stage – right down to the exquisite packaging that is designed, printed and used to hand-wrap the bars in-house.
What struck me in Brooklyn is its similarities with Ireland in terms of its approach to food. Among the plenitude of cheap and nasty convenience stores there are jewels to be found, offering artisan produce from the surrounding area, grown or made by small farms and producers with an attention to detail. One shining example of this is Dépanneur, only a few doors down from Mast Brothers.
Dépanneur curate truly excellent American craft produce, both from the local area and some from further afield, and showcase them in their offbeat and brilliantly designed Williamsburg shop. A poured concrete floor, exposed pipes and barnwood counter are adorned with giant quirky blackboard drawings and hanging kitchenalia. This creates the mise-en-scene for these curators of local cheeses and cured meats, single estate milk, cold brew coffee, goats milk caramel, locally farmed fruit and American craft beers.
Along a similar vein is Marlow and Sons, a tiny general store which also houses a Lilliputian oyster and cocktail bar. Dimly lit and romantic it makes some of the best cocktails I have ever tasted, of particular note is the Shadowfax: Whiskey, Earl Grey, lemon and egg white – sensuous, bold, unexpected and not to be missed. It is owned by Andrew Tarlow, who also owns the specialist butcher shop Marlow and Daughters as well as a handful of restaurants including Diner , Roman’s and Reynard at the astonishingly pitch-perfect Wythe Hotel, whose windows I could only stare enviously through but which would be my first port of call after a windfall.
Another truly great highlight is The Brooklyn Kitchen and adjoined Meat Hook, a little out of the way but worth the jaunt, especially for those who, like myself, are obsessed with oils and vinegars. Among its enviable range are the glorious Noble Handcrafted Tonics range of maple syrups and vinegars, such as:
- Maple Matured Sherry Bourbon Oak Vinegar
- Pharaoh’s Heirloom Lemon Matured White Wine Vinegar
- Tuthilltown Bourbon Barrel Matured Maple Syrup
Their tonics are aged in bourbon barrels from Tuthilltown distillery which is New York’s first whiskey distillery since prohibition and which sources its fruits and grains from within a ten-mile radius for its handmade whiskeys and bourbons.
I did not expect to go all the way to New York to find in Brooklyn a place that shares the values I love most about Ireland.
Sometimes it is the surprises that are thrown up along a planned path that are the most thrilling of all.
Photos and styling by Kate Packwood