New York City
Crack all the jokes you want about hipsters in Brooklyn, but those kids sporting skinny jeans and anachronistic facial hair are on to something. Brooklyn—and all of New York City—is showing the rest of the country exactly how to go back to basics and focus on artisanal, small-batch, and local food. The road to "food done right" runs right over the Brooklyn Bridge.
ACME Smoked Fish
Young food turks can learn a thing or two from ACME smoked fish. The company has been procuring the freshest fish and smoking and curing for four generations. Since 1954, they have been crafting New York delicatessen-style smoked fish that they sell mostly to retail outlets, but locals know to show up at the Smokehouse Outlet every Friday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., when they sell their preservative-free smoked salmon, whitefish, sable, and trout directly to the public at bargain prices. Raw and finished products are tested and tasted several times throughout the curing process to ensure only the highest quality. And their cold-smoked, brilliant red and wild sockeye salmon has a firm texture that makes it meaty enough to eat without a bagel.
Brooklyn Brine Co.
After three years of selling his small-batch, locally grown, seasonal pickles at local food shops, Shamus Jones has opened a brinery store in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Located in the same building where he packs his pecks of pickles is a storefront featuring hip takes on this ancient craft, like his Whiskey Barrel Sauerkraut, which is cabbage fermented in reclaimed whiskey barrels from New York’s Finger Lakes Distilling Co. His collaborations with other likeminded artisans, like Dogfish Head Craft Brewery’s Sam Calagione, have lead to other quirky concoctions, like the Hop-Pickle. A shining example of clever product innovation and artisan alliance, the Hop-Pickle is made with Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, caramelized onions, and Cascade hop oil, and has raised eyebrows in the fermented food world.
And Mr. Jones has even more intriguing tricks up his sleeve, like his Moroccan Beans, made with green or yellow wax beans (depending on the season) soaked in a coriander-caraway-cumin-lemon brine and why-didn’t-I-think-of-that chipotle carrots that smolder in their jar with a brine that includes fair trade evaporated cane sugar and smoked paprika. But don’t skip out on their classic nod to New York with his NYC Deli Pickle—just the sort of cuc you might find at an old-time Jewish delicatessen. With playful preserves like these, Mr. Jones is driving the age-old art of brine to the forefront of today’s taste.
Empire Mayonnaise Co.
A perfect BLT or lobster roll relies almost entirely on the quality of the ingredients. Summer-kissed tomatoes, high-end bacon, and of course, really good mayo. Elevating such a simple treat takes more than your average grocery-store spread. Chef Sam Mason and designer Elizabeth Valleau opened Empire Mayonnaise in 2011—with a brick and mortar location in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights neighborhood—using only non-GMO canola oil and New York State egg yolks in their emulsified concoctions. The pair whips up a classic standard mayo along with intriguing takes like black garlic, vadouvan, and lime pickle. Empire also makes a point of using real ingredients in everything. Their truffle, for instance, is made with real truffles that have infused in a combination of olive and non-GMO canola oil; those mushroom-inflected oils are then whipped by hand with eggs into a lush spreadable sauce. While it’s true that an artisanal mayonnaise shop may sound like a pretentious endeavor, when the final product is as pure as Empire’s, it’s easy to get behind.
Kings County Jerky Co.
After deciding to trade in their corporate cubbies for a tiny Brooklyn kitchen, owners Chris Woehrie and Robert Stout searched for an untapped niche in artisan food. Kimchi, salsa, and every kind of pickle imaginable came to mind, but they settled on what they believed to be a hole in the market: beef jerky. When the pair first started making their renowned jerky they had to get creative with a box fan and air conditioning filters. Since then they’ve upgraded their equipment, but every piece of their dried beef is still cut and dried by hand, ensuring a super-lean, very high-end product—if you can imagine beef jerky being a high-end product. The quality of their jerky relies directly on the provenance of their beef. All of their meat comes from a nearby organic farm in the Garden State where the cattle are grass-fed, pasture-raised, and antibiotic- and hormone-free. Flavors range from Sichuan Ginger to Korean BBQ and are made with only natural ingredients and without MSG.
Marlow & Daughters
Tom Mylan and his gang of hipster butchers have been breaking down whole animals at this old-world-style butcher shop since opening in 2008. The store vouches for their products by building personal relationships with the local farmers that supply them with pasture-raised animals. Each day the shop churns out a bevy of fresh sausages, including chorizo, bratwurst, andouille, and both hot and sweet Italian. Their specialized cuts of beef, pork, chicken, and lamb cost a premium, but are well worth it. In the shop customers will also find Marlow & Daughters’ own charcuterie, which is sold along with local cheeses, pastured eggs, and local, organic produce. And in addition to preaching the porcine gospel at the shop and through his butchery classes at Brooklyn Kitchen, Mylan has written for outlets like Gourmet magazine and The Atlantic, where he delves into the quirky stories of what it’s like to be a post-modern butcher.
Mast Brothers Chocolate
If you think $8 to $10 is too much to pay for a bar of chocolate, then you probably haven’t tasted Mast Brothers. Rick and Michael (the brothers, originally from Iowa) are appropriately bearded for their role as leaders in the Brooklyn artisan movement. Together they have led the charge with their old-ways-done-new approach to chocolateering. By sourcing cocoa beans from single-origin, small-farm sources in Ecuador, Madagascar, and Venezuela, and processing them by hand, the Mast boys have become renowned for their small batches and sophisticated flavors. Their tasting room, a rustic-chic area attached to the factory, where the deep, dark magic happens, attracts chocolate fiends from all around who gather at a long kitchen table to sample the goods. Each bar is wrapped in its own thick-paper wrapper featuring classy, vintage-looking paisley and floral prints. Their most popular flavors include sea salt from Maine, organic almonds from California, and organic maple syrup from upstate New York. Perhaps the most transporting part of the visit is a glimpse into the process by seeing unhusked chocolate nibs ground with a granite roller.
When Rachel Gladfelter found herself baking 22 pies for friends and family the night before Thanksgiving 2010 she realized she was on to something. Now she runs Rachel’s Pies while working her full-time job at a Chelsea gallery. Even though this means late nights and early mornings, the effort is well worth it. Her pies are made with hyper-seasonal ingredients from nearby farms, and her pumpkin pie is a proprietary blend of Neck and Cushaw pumpkins from her family’s Pennsylvania farm, where she learned her craft from her grandmothers, Ruthie and Janet. She often bakes up homages to her Pennsylvania upbringing with modern takes on classic farm sweets like a delicious bourbon shoofly pie, which is a molasses-based beauty still found for sale at Amish and Mennonite roadside stands. Most of Rachel’s pies are only available for a short time every year, but her Chocolate Cream Pie, with its dulce de leche-drizzled pretzel crust is so popular that she makes it year round. Once ordered, the pies are available for pick up in Brooklyn and have quickly become a shining star at Brooklyn’s Smorgusburg food market.
Sullivan Street Bakery
After studying sculpture in college, baker Jim Lahey found his true calling in Italy, where he learned the art of baking bread. Since 2000, he has been churning out some of New York’s finest focaccia using his hand-cultivated wild yeasts to leaven old-world-style loaves and pizzas. Rising to national notice after a New York Times article featured his no-knead bread dough technique, Lahey released a baking book that taught home cooks how to produce bakery-quality, European-style breads using a slow-rise fermentation similar to the rises he uses for his sourdoughs and other breads at Sullivan Street. Thankfully, his recipes are easy to reproduce at home, but if you’re in New York (with a New York-sized kitchen) you may want to leave it to the expert. The menu items at the bakery (and Lahey’s sister pizza shop, Co., at 230 9th. Ave, NYC) feature ingredients that have been locally sourced from nearby farmers, and much of the summertime produce hails from the bakery building’s rooftop. That means that Lahey’s crusty creations aren’t just baked fresh, they’re picked fresh too.
Let’s be honest—most of us aren’t actually thinking at all when we take our first sip of joe in the morning, but at Think Coffee, there’s deep intention brewed into every drop. Since 2006, the owners and baristas have been visiting bean farms, donating 10 percent of profits to the local needy, composting, using only biodegradable coffee-ware, and investing in a Farmer Dividend Program to provide services like healthcare to their growers. All that for just $14 a pound. The beans featured on brew hail from the likes of Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Brazil, and each producer has been vetted by the staff to ensure environmentally responsible farming and labor practices. Think Coffee cuts out the middlemen (roasters and third-party buyers) and goes directly to the source, ensuring the most environmentally and socially responsible purchases. The staff at TC isn’t just interested in supporting international artisan growers either—their food menu is peppered with breads and pickles made by small New York vendors. It’s a cup from far away and a sandwich from down the block, tied together by do-good intentions, that helps us wake up.
Valley Shepherd Creamery
After studying engineering, Eran Wajswol discovered his love of artisan cheesemaking on trips to Provence, Tuscany, and northern Spain. Soon his jaunts became less vacation and more research. He finally decided to invest in Dutch Friesian milk sheep and started producing a Pyrenees-style cave-aged cheese. And that was just the beginning. Since 2005, the goal of the 120-acre farm in Long Valley, New Jersey, has been to create a self-sustaining family farm—and the result has been around 20 varieties of artisan-style cheeses that are sold right on the farm and in his Park Slope, Brooklyn shop. Valley Shepherd has expanded beyond those few original sheep and has now raised and made cheeses using goat, cow, and sheep’s milks. Each batch is made by hand, giving Eran and his cheesemakers the opportunity to experiment with types and style. And every drop of milk used in the process comes from the farm. In addition to making Valley Shepherd’s cheeses, the shop sells their own grass-fed lamb, wool blankets, and even compost for overachieving Brooklyn gardeners.