The Gr-Eat Outdoors

Julie Besonen


For all of New York City's concrete, there are still oases of calm where you feel you've fallen off the grid. Now is the time to seek out restaurants with backyard patios, leafy enclosures where you're away from traffic and life slows down. The wood-fired fare at August and the raw vegan creations at Pure Food and Wine taste even better outdoors. Alfresco tables at Quartino Bottega Organica and Da Nico can be as blood pressure–reducing as a trip to Italy, while the expansive courtyards at B Bar & Grill and The Park are happening places to model your cool summer fashions. Speaking of fashionable, there's always Brooklyn, where you'll find outdoor alcoves at a number of the borough's hippest places, including Do or Dine, The Pines, Roberta's and DuMont. Check out our slideshow for details on our other favorite patches of paradise.

Photo: Joe Buglewicz

Back Forty
190 Ave. B, 212-388-1992, East Village, Manhattan
Is this Avenue B or Bridgehampton? The young crowd at Back Forty looks ready for the beach, convening parties around big farmhouse tables and out back in the garden. It's an animated cloister that's the epitome of relaxation; during the day it can be sunny enough to work on your tan. Year-round this New American restaurant is good for burgers, baskets of rosemary-dusted fries, craft beer and cocktails, but what makes it special all summer long are the Tuesday-night crab boils. The $45 feast includes a pile of beer-steamed blue crabs, market vegetables, stone-ground cornbread, fruit cobbler and, of course, pitchers of beer. All seating is communal and reservations are taken online the week prior. Owner Peter Hoffman is a farmer whisperer, so you can also expect a wide variety of salads and sides that are locally harvested and pesticide-free whenever possible. 

Photo: Daniele Teodoro

246 Tenth Ave., 212-206-6766, Chelsea, Manhattan
Rain may patter down and a chilly wind might blow, but you'll still be able to dine in comfort on Bottino's chic alfresco patio. A greenhouse roof will shelter you, and heat lamps hang overhead. Even the mid-century modern dining rooms are indoor/outdoor affairs, with sliding glass doors and gallery white walls that soak up sunlight. The West Chelsea art community has embraced this canteen since its 1996 debut, and the prices can't hurt. The Tuscan lunch and dinner menu offers several salads for under $10, such as pear, Gorgonzola and walnuts with baby arugula. Pastas like orecchiette with broccoli rabe and boar sausage are under $20 and can be matched with a bottle of Italian wine for under $40. The attitude is European in the best sense, pleasant and accommodating.

Photo: Paul Shaked

The Cleveland
25 Cleveland Place, 212-274-0900, NoLIta, Manhattan
It's surprising to find such a sprawling patch of land in downtown Manhattan, almost enough real estate to put up another building. The Cleveland's brick-lined backyard, bordered by raised planting beds and vines creeping up trellises, provides privacy and peace. Its blue and white patio chairs suggest the Mediterranean Sea; suitably, Greek and Middle Eastern accents embroider the New American menu. At breakfast are eggs with chopped salad, labne and feta, and at lunch there's a healthy mix of sandwiches and seafood. Dinner includes roast chicken with black quinoa and seven-hour braised lamb shank with couscous. Fans of biodynamic and organic wines will be glad to find a compelling collection chosen by savvy, young owners Paul Shaked and Hudson Solomon.

Photo: Joe Buglewicz

The Good Fork
391 Van Brunt St., 718-643-6636, Red Hook, Brooklyn
Hurricane Sandy did a number on Red Hook, but the tight-knit community has made a strong comeback. The Good Fork, open since 2006, took a couple of months to rebuild and reopen—but to look at it now, you'd never know the damage it sustained. The curved, glossy wood ceiling looks like the interior of a sailing ship, and the backyard is Shangri-La, where it feels impossible to be unhappy. Sohui Kim's pork and chive dumplings are minor miracles, offered both at brunch and dinnertime. Korean influences fleck the New American menu elsewhere as well, with dishes like classic bibimbap and steak and eggs with kimchee rice. Kim's personal stamp reflects global interests, such as seasonally inspired kale vichyssoise with pistachio butter and handmade ricotta gnocchi with ramp pesto and buttered almonds.

Courtesy, Vinegar Hill House

Vinegar Hill House
72 Hudson Ave., 718-522-1018, DUMBO, Brooklyn
The enchantment begins before you even walk in the door of Vinegar Hill House, thanks to the sweet Brooklyn block on which it's cocooned. A table in the back garden further beguiles, framed by trees, verdant vines and a wood fence. Should you have to sit inside, you will not be shortchanged. Design touches include a copper-topped bar, stained glass, vintage wallpaper and wainscoting, conveying a cross between an old-timey saloon and Catherine Sloper's parlor in The Heiress. This is the ultimate date place and also where to take your parents to celebrate your engagement. What a boon that chef Brian Leth's farm-to-table food is delicious. Dependent on available ingredients, the menu changes frequently. If you have an inclination toward chicken livers, the pistachio-topped mousse whipped up here is dreamy. Pastas are fortified with long-cooked ragùs, and meats and fish are fired in the wood-burning oven.


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