By Mary Yeung
This summer I learned the secret to good dining in North Brooklyn is to do the early bird thing and beat the summer crowd. I know, I know, early bird sounds kind of old-fashioned and suburban, like something your grandparents would do. But early bird dining in Williamsburg often means before 1:00 for brunch or before 8:30 for dinner, so it’s very do-able. Early in the evening, the wait staffs are in a better mood, the chefs are still paying attention to the seasoning, and you and your friends have the whole damn backyard to yourself.
Earlier this month, I finally got around to revisiting that El Diablo taco truck in the backyard of Union Pool. The first time I went, it was so crowded I couldn’t get a table outside, and so didn’t enjoy the food that much. This time, I went a little early, like before 8:00, and scored a nice long picnic table in the spacious patio. I loved the neon light blinking against the darkening sky. That touch of cheesy glamour made everything very surreal and festive. The grilled corn on the cob was perfectly cooked. It was dressed up Mexican style, with lime mayo and cotija cheeses, and spiced up with chili. The tacos were decent, too. I had the chicken and the al Pastor, and washed it all down with a cold bottle of Mexican coke. The whole meal cost less than $15. That is what summer dining is all about—casual, cheap, and festive. Bring lots of friends, the type who enjoy things a little funky and don’t get too put off by the less than stellar beer drinker bathrooms. The easy-on-the-wallet drink prices keep this bar very busy late into the night. 484 Union Avenue
Some people think Cafe de la Esquina a little too touristy for real Brooklynites, but I always have a very good time there. I like to go early, before 1:00, for weekend brunch. Waffles are my favorite dish here; they’re homemade, topped with fresh mixed berries and a large scoop of caramel goo; you know, that thick, creamy stuff that comes straight from a jar. Not a bad deal for $9. The iced coffee is a little watered down, but there are plenty of margaritas, sangrias, and other fruity cocktails, especially if you go with the Mexican dishes like fish taco, ceviche, mole enchilada, or the guacamole and chips with a big jar of house canned salsa. It’s smoky and spicy with enough tang to wake up anyone’s palate. Unless you’re sharing the quac and chip dish with a large crowd, there will be plenty of salsa left over, so just put a lid on the glass jar and take it home. The backyard is very relaxing, with a couple of tall trees, campy religious figurines, fire-engine red metal chairs, and colorful sunbrellas. When the weather gets stormy, retreat to the posh “diner,” with plush leather booths, glamorous painted mirrors, and classy curios (antique birdcages) with allusions to great literature—Great Expectations? A MidSummer’s Night’s Dream? There is also a selection of the latest fashion magazines on the rack, so while you’re waiting for your food you can ignore your boyfriend and check out the expensive designer garb like a spoiled princess—plush seats, diverting decor, decent Mexican food—I’ll say that’s a pretty sweet life. 225 Wythe Avenue
I heard about No Name Bar’s noodle dishes and had to check them out. Once again, I went for a late afternoon snack to avoid the juiced-up revelers. The sunken backyard was lovely; there’s a falling rain waterfall that reminds you of the South China Sea in some old Hollywood movies, a big old tree providing much-needed shade, and lots of mixed and matched furniture. Rustic, slightly buggy, but super charming. Three young ladies in short dresses were sitting on a back porch swing, giggling and having the time of their lives. We got the bartender to take our noodle orders upstairs and handed our order ticket to the cooks downstairs. Ten minutes later, we got some kick-ass noodles. The noodles ($12) were fresh, broad. and toothsome, dressed with crumbly ground lamb and spiced up with smoky cumin. It smelled wonderful. I squeezed some Sriracha on the whole mess and scarfed it all down in record time. If you’re a big fan of authentic ethnic noodles from hole-in-the-wall joints in Flushing or Sunset Park, you’ll enjoy the food at the No Name Bar. Other choices include chili sesame noodles, hard boiled quail eggs, and veggie cup-a-soup noodles. The soup noodles have a dark, mysterious herbal taste, so if you’re a bit out of sorts or need something for your hangover, they will hit the spot. 597 Manhattan Avenue
On a lazy Sunday afternoon, I dropped by the very new Bedford Baking Studio. This place is truly quirky; the food and the decor are imbued with the owner’s passion and personality. Tolga is a friendly guy who bakes boreks, muffins, and all kinds of sweet and savory pies with a Turkish twist. I enjoyed the bleu cheese and ricotta pie ($4.50)—think spinach pie, only filled with sharp cheeses. For a sweet finish I went for the apricot loaf, which has an old-fashioned denseness, but is very buttery and not too sweet. Many pastries are tinged with rose water, dates, and pomegranate flavors. The Crop to Cup iced coffee ($2.50) was very strong, richly flavored, and not at all bitter. Tolga is a people person, so he encouraged his patrons to mingle, and we ended up talking to two lovely ladies about Middle East politics, British and French quirks, and just about everything under the sun. If you’re looking for a little company, a Turkish twist on pastries, interesting milk puddings, and healthy whole grain salads, check out the Bedford Baking Studio. 347 Bedford Avenue
There are still a couple of weeks of warm weather left. Go out and eat something wonderful under the stars!