Baba's Pierogies. Courtesy, Bethany Bandera
Gowanus is easy to navigate when it comes to good restaurants, several of them clustered around Third Avenue, the industrial neighborhood’s Main Street. In addition to novel eateries are new residential developments near the banks of the canal. Even though change is afoot, there’s still a romantic, old-fashioned vibe, the landscape lined with 19th-century architecture and repurposed warehouses. Read on for our top 10 places to snack, drink and dine while exploring the area.
Photo: Bethany Bandera
Lucky for us, Helena Fabiankovic mastered her Slovakian grandmother’s recipe for pierogies, rolling the dough thin and stuffing—but not overstuffing—the pockets with heartwarming ingredients. The boiled dumplings are buttery and slippery soft; for a crunchy texture, order them pan-fried. Traditional fillings include potato and farmer’s cheese; creamy mac and cheese and smoked bacon, cheddar and potato are twists with an American bent. The café is adorned with family photos and feels as handcrafted as the pierogies.
Courtesy, Black Mountain Wine House
On a Brooklyn corner, this clapboard cabin appears almost like a mirage, its front patio resembling a campsite set with Adirondack chairs that look cut and hammered together by a lumberjack. While Black Mountain embodies rusticity—scuffed surfaces, a fireplace and farm tools on display—it’s actually an urbane wine bar. Food is designed to go along with the wine list: try plates of charcuterie and cheese, fondue and pork meatballs with spicy marinara. There’s also a well-chosen list of craft beers.
Oaxaca is a gastronomic and mezcal-drinking capital down in southern Mexico, and Brooklyn’s Claro may be the closest local version of real-deal regional cooking. Chef T. J. Steele is devoted to the area, employing Oaxacan artists, craftsmen and farmers for the restaurant’s tile work, dinnerware and ingredients. Other details include heirloom corn, sourced from Oaxaca and stone-ground in-house for tortillas and tostadas. The seasonal menu might feature spicy pork memelas (similar to tostadas) and chile relleno with braised duck leg in a pool of vivid, multilayered mole chichilo.
Meat smoked over maple and red oak scents the air at Fletcher’s, a small barbecue joint in Gowanus. Burnished and glistening pork ribs and burnt ends are laid out for tempting viewing, and they deliver on flavor. Communal wood tables make it easy to share everything family-style. Do get portions of tender brisket and char siu, Cantonese-inspired pork shoulder marinated in ginger and soy. Save room for pie at on the same block.
Even if you’re not someone who orders grits, get them at Freek’s Mill, named for a colonial-era gristmill once located on this Gowanus property. The Anson Mills grains are creamy and cheesy, spiked with lemon and topped with fresh ingredients like ramps, a garlicky wild leek that grows in spring. Executive chef Chad Shaner’s menu also offers a flowing list of seasonal variations on pasta, fish, poultry and steak. The warm space is old-timey meets modern, plus there’s a welcoming bar.
Courtesy, Lavender Lake
Locals long ago dubbed Gowanus “Lavender Lake” for the canal’s strange purplish shade owing to pollution. This charming tavern is near the water (an ongoing cleanup has improved the color) and often jammed, not only because the drinks are solid but for food that rises above typical bar fare: the vegetarian cauliflower reuben, fried calamari, fried chicken sandwich and browned fries with jalapeño ketchup are excellent. Out back is a large patio that feels decidedly beachy for the location.
This alluring little seafood shack specializes in heaping fried clam rolls—fat, salty and reeking of summer even when it’s not. They’re reason enough to program a trip to Gowanus. Add some pristine oysters, shrimp toast and pea shoot salad with green goddess dressing, and you’ve got yourself a lovely meal. The cash-only restaurant has endured since 2011, offering good value and a serious collection of spirits, cider, wine and draft beer.
Miami-style Cuban favorites and cafe con leche are dispensed with a smile from this spiffy hole-in-the-wall. Owner-chef Louie Estrada honors family recipes, such as picadillo (seasoned ground meat with rice and beans) and slow-cooked, garlic-laced pork pressed into a crunchy sandwich. It’s hard to imagine a better Cubano anywhere in the City, a flavor medley of ham, Swiss, pork, pickles and mustard on Cuban bread with a side of plantain chips. Finish with the striking guava and cheese empanadas, a snack that doubles as dessert.
Photo: Jeremy Vroman
A smart choice any time of day, Runner & Stone has fabulous almond croissants and cappuccino in the morning, fried chicken on brioche and lentil-quinoa burgers at lunch, and wonderful salads, pastas, steak and fish at dinner. Pretty much everything is made in-house at this farm-to-table restaurant and bakery, from butter to ketchup to English muffins.
Parklife is a lively indoor-outdoor beer garden with the bonus of a taqueria on the premises, keeping the same hours. Carne asada tacos, filling chicken tinga burritos, nachos, chips and guacamole are ordered separately at a kitchen counter but can be enjoyed together with a fine selection of tequila and cocktails from the bar. Depending on the night, look for trivia contests, bingo, live DJs and dancing, with seating at picnic tables or around an outdoor fireplace.