L-evated Cuisine: Dining Along the L Train

Julie Besonen

The L train cuts through downtown Manhattan, hurtles under the East River and punctuates the happening Williamsburg and Bushwick neighborhoods. The platform at each stop in those areas serves as a runway for the best hipster fashions in the City, so it's no surprise to discover that there's plenty of inventive cuisine in the vicinity of each station. Around the L's Bedford Avenue stop in particular, there are more restaurants and bars than we can count, but DuMont Burger and Allswell top the list. Lorimer, the next stop in, is the way to The Brooklyn Star's rocking inventive Southern-style cuisine. The extraordinary and eccentric Roberta's is the main attraction at the Morgan Avenue stop, and at Jefferson Street it's all about the wonderful Northeast Kingdom. For our slideshow we've found several other places with great eats, all them worth racing to catch the next Brooklyn-bound L.

Photo: Joe Buglewicz

L Train Stop: Bedford Ave.
296 Grand St., 718-384-7770, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
There are a crazy number of eateries near the Bedford stop in Williamsburg, so it's hard to single out just one for your consideration. Bozu flies under the radar and is a sound candidate to shine a light on. It's an untraditional Japanese hangout that's as dark as a speakeasy, romantic for dates and amusing for group get-togethers, especially after midnight when a late-night ramen menu is in place. The quirky design includes an overhead thatch of bamboo, which casts ghostly shadows. A swinging curtain of red daruma dolls (Japanese lucky charms) are scribbled with patrons' wishes for love and success. A feeling of good will is inevitable when sharing rice croquettes melded with squash, cheese, walnuts and sage, and a party "bomb" platter of sushi bites that include tuna with avocado and wasabi cream. There are plentiful sake choices, as well as Asian-inspired cocktails shaken up by a cool Japanese staff.

Photo: Michael Parmelee

L Train Stop: Lorimer St.
145 Borinquen Place, 347-789-7742, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Lighthouse is flooded with light before the sun goes down, acting as a beacon in formerly desolate South Williamsburg. Rocker types in motorcycle jackets and jeans as tight as tourniquets, some of them carrying babies as accessories, populate the long wood tables. The cherrywood bar is good for hanging out, especially since the sibling owners, Naama and Assaf Tamir, used to work at Employees Only and know their way around interesting spirits and well-balanced cocktails. The food is eclectic and responsibly sourced, prepared in an open kitchen. Quinoa salad with grilled strips of nutty halloumi cheese, chickpeas, peppers and avocado, is a healthy way to go. Less healthy, but no less good, is a quarter-pounder burger with manchego cheese and caramelized onion jam. And on at least part of their menu, it seems they've taken a page from Portlandia—pickled mushrooms, peppers, olives, eggplant and jalapeños are among the many delicious items on offer.

Photo: Joe Buglewicz

L Train Stop: Graham Ave.
Graham Avenue Meats & Deli
445 Graham Ave., 718-389-9777, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
At this old-school Italian deli and butcher shop, the holy grail of hoagies might be the Godfather, a foot-long crusty loaf with thinly shaved mortadella, capicola ham, provolone, tomato and red onion, the bread lightly doused with olive oil and vinegar, sprinkled with herbs and spiked with hot chiles. It's a beast of a sandwich, a deal for under $10 and so expertly constructed it holds together when your jaw clamps down. There's a long roster of other superb subs to choose from, but ingredients may vary depending on availability and which friendly counterman is in charge; he'll rattle off the cold cuts, cheese and vegetables so fast it'll make your head spin. This place is a trip and worth the trip, but there's no seating. If you can wait until you get home, applying heat to the Godfather makes it even more scrumptious.

Photo: Amy Gao

L Train Stop: Graham Ave. or Grand St.
Gwynnett St.
312 Graham Ave., 347-889-7002, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Gwynnett St. is a destination restaurant no matter where you're coming from. Dulcet-toned greetings of "Good evening" and "May I take your coat?" signal it's serious. The dark, exposed brick dining room is inviting and the New American food, via executive chef Justin Hilbert (wd~50, the Michelin-starred Mugaritz in Spain), is revelatory. Straight off, spring $5 for whiskey bread with cultured butter. It may be the best bread you've had all year—dense, cushy, slightly sweet with a crusty lid. Contemplate the $85 tasting menu ($115 with wine pairing) to get the full effect of Hilbert's talents or order á la carte, such as stinging nettle soup with clams and kombu, salmon with wild mustard and white beer, and chicken with rutabaga, shallots, pineapple and clove. Nothing is ordinary here—that's the excitement.

Iron skillet pork chop. Photo: Paul Wagtouicz

L Train Stop: Morgan Ave.
Dear Bushwick
41 Wilson Ave., 929-234-2344, Bushwick, Brooklyn
Contemporary English cooking by Jessica Wilson (ex–Goat Town, A Voce Columbus, Prune) hits the sweet spot in Bushwick, an up-and-coming enclave fed by the tentacles of Williamsburg and the L train. The narrow, pub-like space could have been appareled by a Cotswolds thrift shop—aristocrats in gilt frames, foxhunting images, birdcages and milk bottles repurposed as light fixtures—yet it stops short of twee. In brief, there's a lot to look at, including a beatnik crowd with unfastidious hair, rumpled jackets and slipshod scarves, suggesting the cast of an early Godard film. And the food? It's really good. At dinner is roasted mushroom pie and an iron skillet pork chop with fig bacon vinaigrette. Brunch offers Yorkshire pudding pancakes, jars of candied bacon, egg sausage rolls with smoked tomato relish and French press coffee served with a cream pitcher in the shape of a brontosaurus.