The fortunes of Brooklyn's Smith Street have ebbed and flowed over the years, but right now the area is at an all-time high with a wave of worthy eateries. There's barbecue and bourbon specialist Char No. 4 and newcomer Nightingale 9 where Southeast Asia meets the American South over catfish and rice noodles. Versatile chef Robert Newton helms the latter as well as the Arkansas-inspired Seersucker and the Counter Culture coffee and baked goods hub Smith Canteen. Francophiles are fulfilled at patisserie Bien Cuit and the hopping Bar Tabac, whose sidewalk tables afford great views for people-watching. Patrick Watson and Michele Pravda further help anchor the thoroughfare with Stinky Bklyn, selling the best cheese on the planet, Smith & Vine for eclectic wines and spirits and The JakeWalk for craft cocktails and savory bar snacks. The umbrella name for the area is BoCoCa, an acronym for the fluid borders of Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens. Boundary disputes aside, we trust you won't have any beef with the places we're highlighting in our slideshow.
Avlee Greek Kitchen
349 Smith St., 718-855-5125, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
High-caliber Hellenic comfort food at very fair prices makes Avlee one of the most appealing restaurants on Smith Street. Ingredients come from local farmers whenever possible, and you won't find a better gyro or fresher Greek salad in Brooklyn—or any other borough, for that matter. Golden fried pita bread with tirokafteri spread is a must: a spicy feta and red pepper blend that calls to mind pimiento cheese dip. Sides like gigandes, giant white beans in tomato stew, and horta, a leafy green similar to escarole, liven up grilled whole Mediterranean sea bream. Most of the generously portioned appetizers are under $10 and main courses are generally under $20; glasses of Greek wine poured in Ball jars start at $6. The restaurant is casual, with a modern-rustic design, especially quiet and pleasant at lunch.
255 Smith St., 718-852-8321, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
Battersby is what the new Brooklyn is about—individuality, creativity and coolness. Co-chefs and co-owners Walker Stern and Joseph Ogrodnek are restive talents, constantly changing the menu while shrewdly not changing the browned, fresh-from-the-oven rosemary bread with runny ricotta. An eager and knowing clientele slips into the 10 bar seats early since table reservations are limited. Right now you might get an amuse-bouche shot glass of butternut squash soup with a froth of crème fraîche, so remarkable you'll be temporarily speechless. From watching the barman slap fresh herbs into drinks and the chefs' intense focus in the galley kitchen to the swiftly arriving plates of crispy kale salad and seared scallops, there are no moments of boredom. You may even forget to check your phone.
214 Smith St., 718-625-3815, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn
Café Luluc has the convivial air of a retro French bistro with racks of free reading material. It's fine to linger and nurse your coffee as long as you want. Tables are closely spaced, affording plenty of opportunity to eavesdrop on conversations (a recent sampling included customers comparing auditions, rent hikes and therapists). This longtime neighborhood favorite is particularly packed at brunch when the most beloved dish is fluffy, glorious pancakes. Abundant salads and sandwiches predominate at lunch; at dinner are good pastas and steak frites. The menu is actually more Mediterranean than strictly French, the prices low enough that its cash-only policy isn't aggrieving. On nice days ask for a table in the tranquil back garden and bask in the gentle sunlight filtering through the branches of a massive oak tree.
210 Smith St., 718-855-7939, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
Esquire named Clover Club one of the best bars in America, but did you know there's good food here too? Founder Julie Reiner and her crackerjack team possess encyclopedic cocktail knowledge; soaking up their wisdom takes time. As long as you can get some oysters, deviled eggs and sliced steak on a toasted baguette there's really no reason to leave until closing time—2am on weekdays, 4am on Fridays and Saturdays. The handsome space is appointed with comfy chocolate leather banquettes and in back is a room for private parties. Brunch highlights are curative, detail-oriented bloody marys, three styles of thick-cut bacon, baked eggs with chorizo and manchego cheese and braised pork with cheddar cheese grits.
139 Smith St., 718-254-9933, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn
Dinner for under $10 per person, including tax, can be had at Coco Roco, a vibrant, friendly Peruvian restaurant with a lovely back garden. Get the meaty, juicy rotisserie half-chicken and a heaping side of black beans and rice and you'll have enough for lunch the next day too. Ceviche, sautéed snapper with coconut rice, and roast pork with fried sweet potatoes run over $10, but you'll still feel like you're getting a bargain, so plentiful are the portions. The dining room is spacious, the walls brightened with Latin American masks, trinkets, artwork and photography. Spanish-speaking regulars and big groups dominate the room, along with a steady stream of locals coming in for takeout.
Dassara Brooklyn Ramen
271 Smith St., 718-643-0781, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
Dassara is an atypical ramen house, letting loose with cross-cultural concoctions like bacon and egg noodles with pecorino cheese at brunch. Co-owner Josh Kaplan appropriates his Aunt Sherry's matzo ball recipe to cross-pollinate with spicy, tingly cumin lamb ramen. Standout starters include garlic marinated twice-fried chicken wings and steamed buns with oft-changing fillings. The barroom is a hangout for strong drinks, conversation and sports on the flat screen, while the dining room tends to cater to families and dates. Other than some graphic Lucy Liu posters and sake bottles hanging overhead like a bunch of bowling pins, the design is a study in Asian minimalism.
288 Smith St., 718-596-3335, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
Five nights a week, year after year, The Grocery is at the top of its game. The only time partners Charles Kiely and Sharon Pachter aren't in the kitchen are when they're at your table presenting a tasty morsel. Despite astronomical Zagat ratings, they haven't gone the celebrity route or branched out to Vegas, just staying with the program of lovingly, meticulously made seasonal American food. The swiss chard pancake, warm farro salad with seared tofu and black-eyed peas, and the goat cheese ravioli with beets are all gems. The menu leans more heavily on vegetables than in years past, but meat is still done beautifully, such as slow rendered duck breast with caramelized red wine sauce, and guinea hen tagine with Moroccan spices. Dessert is unfailingly dreamy. Fall weather permitting, the back patio is romantic and designed for spontaneity (no reservations). Otherwise, book ahead.
241 Smith St., 718-488-0777, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
Jolie Cantina has a split personality—but it's not schizophrenic. The Mexican-French hybrid is balanced when it comes to duck confit enchiladas, moules frites with chorizo-chipotle sauce and a barman named Pierre who mixes good margaritas. Vintage posters celebrate both French and Mexican cinema; the wallpaper is bilingual, splashed with “Oui!” and “¿Por Que No?” Lest you fear it might be too bizarre for kids, there are unadulterated chicken fingers and burgers with hand-cut fries on the under-12 menu. Adults, take note of happy hour specials like a drink and taco combo for $9, plus free chips and salsa; and Tuesday through Thursday, look for $1 oysters (fried or fresh) and $10 carafes of wine. It's also wise to come at brunch since the eggs are organic and it's generally not as crowded as other spots on Smith Street.
Shelsky's Smoked Fish
251 Smith St., 718-855-8817, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
Shelsky's Smoked Fish is just what the Jewish doctor ordered on Smith Street, purveying artisanal pickled herring that's not too sweet and smoked salmon sliced surgically thin. Owner Peter Shelsky recently introduced the exclusive Tilgner's Ruby Red Olde World Scottish Style cold-smoked salmon and urges it be eaten with a buttered bagel, saying cream cheese is too much of a distraction from its intense alder-wood smokiness. If you want a more basic bagel nosh, there's good old lox with a schmear, plus sandwiches like the Dr. Goldstein Special: duck-fat-laced chopped liver and apple-horseradish sauce served between two schmaltz-fried potato latkes. The offerings are similar to the fabled Russ & Daughters on the Lower East Side, stocking dried fruit plus rugelach, babka and chocolate-covered halvah bars.