Imagine yourself driving through East Williamsburg along the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, peering out the window. Do you wonder how terrible it must be to live within spitting distance of this grungy hunk of concrete? Hardly.
The BQE represents many ideas: Robert Moses' iconic roadway, the fastest route between two boroughs, ridiculous rush-hour traffic, and now, industrial chic. As more Brooklynites are priced out of crowded downtown Williamsburg near Bedford Avenue, they're moving east to populate the area's more affordable houses. Unlikely as it seems, this migration is turning Meeker Avenue, the street that runs alongside the elevated BQE, into an urban promenade in East Williamsburg and a respite from hipster fatigue.
Brooklyn restaurants have been surpassing their expensive Manhattan
counterparts for years, and while cafés are dropping like flies across
Manhattan, there are still some great ones thriving in Brooklyn. Boneshakers
is arguably East Williamsburg's finest cafe, an ideal hangout for any
creative mind in need of good coffee and wireless access. There's plenty
of room to spread out and, as a result of the offbeat location, you
won't have to fight for a seat or be shuffled out the door to make way
for new customers. Boneshakers also has a light vegetarian menu of fresh
sandwiches, salads, burgers, and baked goods. Grandma Rose's
is an unassuming Italian joint that literally lies in the shadow of the
BQE and has some of the best pizza in the entire city. All pies are
made-to-order with an impeccable crust and garden-fresh toppings. Large
pizzas are only $9 on Wednesdays and be sure to try their risotto balls.
is simply an affordable, all-American diner with no frills
or pretensions. Grab a booth, take advantage of the free wireless, and
order up your diner favorites, from triple-decker sandwiches and
breakfast all day to burgers and fries.
Shoppers, especially gourmands, are practically guaranteed to find
something of interest at any of these specialty establishments. The Brooklyn Kitchen
has been providing unique cooking supplies to local foodies since 2006.
Previously located a few blocks south, their new location on Meeker
Avenue is bigger and better with more room for dairy products, spices
and flours, chocolate, pickling supplies, and more. They share the space
with The Meat Hook
providing a small but impressive counter of local products from beef
and poultry to sausages made fresh daily, including red wine &
rosemary, toasted fennel, red and green chorizo, and bahn mi dog, among
others. The Brooklyn Kitchen also offers a full calendar of classes on
every possible subject: knife skills, urban chicken raising, cookie
baking for kids, pickling and canning, beer brewing, pig butchering, and
the list goes on. McCarren Park Farmers Market
is practically the only game in town for farm-fresh produce, so drop by
on Saturday mornings to get your groceries or picnic supplies. You’ll
find vegetables, fruits, bread, honey, jam, meat (from beef to rabbit),
dairy, and flowers, enough to give the Union Square Farmers Market a run
for its money. In a city where so much food is trucked in from hundreds
of miles away, take this chance to eat something refreshingly local and
seasonal (watch out for classes and events as well). Family-owned and
-operated BQE Wine & Liquors
is far more than meets the eye. Hugely popular with the locals, BQE
offers notably low prices and an extensive selection, especially for
wine, scotch, whiskey, and vodka. With amazing customer service, this
beats your typical New York bottle shop hands down. There are also
discounts available when buying in bulk, making it ideal for party
Aside from foodie supplies, perhaps the best shopping is at Meeker Avenue Flea Market
a recent addition to the neighborhood featuring an impressive range of
antique furniture, some of it pricey, most of it downright beautiful.
Looking for an old piano? Meeker Flea. 1960s loveseat? Meeker Flea.
Turn-of-the-century end table? Meeker Flea. The market also features
vintage clothes, music, housewares, and all those odds and ends that
make flea markets so addictive, plus they hold occasional auctions on
Sundays. They’ve included an ATM at the entrance and some vendors may
deliver. Don’t forget, there’s another floor of merchandise upstairs.
North Brooklyn does indeed have nice parks, but in any event, if you
happen upon a Greenstreets along the BQE you might as well take
advantage of it. While some of these parks are greener and shadier than
others, the benches are a commodity in themselves. Grab an Italian hero
or some prosciutto and melon from the Italian butchers on Graham Avenue
and have a picnic. You'll find Greenstreets sporadically right next to
the BQE, on both the north and south sides of the expressway, the nicest
being located at the tree-lined corner of Meeker Avenue and Leonard
Street, a popular neighborhood hangout for kids and adults alike.
McCarren Park, the biggest, finest park in all of North Brooklyn, is
only two blocks north of the aforementioned corner. Not only is there a
running track, basketball courts, tennis courts, a baseball field, and a
skate park, but plenty of benches and grassy places to sit with clear
sightlines to the Empire State Building. This park is remarkably clean
and ideal for all ages, singles and families alike. The ubiquitous soft
serve ice cream truck makes its rounds and on Saturday mornings, come
for the farmers market. McCarren Pool
, former free concert
venue, is now scheduled to become a pool again, but look out for those
concerts at the waterfront in Williamsburg proper. And for a bit of
indoor exercise, Greenpoint Shotokan Karate
is like a gym without the irritating membership policies,
and it's one of Brooklyn's longest running karate schools, established
in 1990. If you ever wanted to take up martial arts or self-defense,
this is your chance. Kids are more than welcome and be sure to inquire
about a free trial lesson.
This stretch of the BQE may not be bursting with arts and nightlife
options, but there are a couple of notable upscale spots. Eyelevel BQE
is an intimate gallery space that
throws a spotlight onto adventurous artists from Brooklyn, Queens, and
abroad with a solid Hispanic contingent amongst many talented designers.
This is one of those places that keep the neighborhood interesting and
the gallery attendants are pleasantly informative. The Richardson
is the area's nicest spot for
cocktails, or as they put it "a proper American bar," offering small
plates of refined food. It might not be the cheapest drink around, but
the atmosphere is elevated, plus there's outdoor seating.
If you need a breather from the expressway, a quick stroll down Graham
Avenue (heading south from the BQE) leads to all sorts of fantastic
Italian establishments. Be sure to visit Emily's Pork Store
and cheeses, Caffe Capri
for coffee and a pastry, Carmine's
for the only
pizza in the neighborhood rivaling Grandma Rose's, and Uncle Louie G's
for some excellent spumoni ice cream.
East Williamsburg's BQE might appear to be an enormous, gritty,
exhaust-ridden expressway, but people are slowly discovering what gems
are lurking underneath the surface and some folks are even moving here
on purpose. The area doesn't need its own witty acronym yet, but I
suggest checking it out before it gets one.
Listings associated with this Feature: