If your idea of Brooklyn is pizza, hot dogs and the Coney Island Cyclone, it's time for a fresh look. In the last decade, the borough has developed some sophisticated neighborhoods with dining, drinking and cultural scenes all their own. Mustachioed barmen serve drinks at new Brooklyn watering holes, and talented young chefs are serving up great food, without the Manhattan celebrity spotlight. Add a new park, a new cooking school, and three elegant new hotels to the mix, and it looks as if the Brooklyn renaissance is in full swing.
Here's the lowdown on what to do where in New York City's coolest borough - from jewelry shopping and bridge-crossing to butcher classes and underground tunnel exploration. And, OK - since Brooklyn still has some of the world's best pizza, we tell you where to get a slice.
BOERUM HILL, COBBLE HILL AND CARROLL GARDENS
This leafy string of neighborhoods make up the foodie haven of Brooklyn, with restaurant and cafe gems lining Smith Street. The residents are artists, writers and creative types, who mingle with Yemeni, Italian and Lebanese families.
COFFEE Creative types gravitate to Boerum Hill's Building on Bond (112 Bond St., 718-852-0301) a sunny place to settle in for a coffee, a Brooklyn Lager or a homemade veggie burger. The laid-back cafe is run and owned by Hecho, a design firm responsible for some of NYC's hottest restaurants.
SLICE As artisanal pizzas go, Lucali (575 Henry St., 718-858-4086) is considered one of the best in the city. Prices for the wood-fired pies run high - upward of $30 - but purists swear by its mix of neighborhood charm and top-notch ingredients such as imported Italian artichokes and fresh basil, not to mention a BYOB policy.
SHOP Stock up on hard-to-find Middle Eastern goods such as preserved lemons and the city's best hummus at Sahadi Importing Co. (187 Atlantic Ave., 718-624- 4550, sahadis.com). Nab some syrah and chardonnay at the under-$12 table at Brooklyn Wine Exchange (138 Court St., 718- 855-9463, brooklynwineexchange.com) and then head to Stinky Bklyn (261 Smith St., 718-522-7425, stinkybklyn.com) for some Abrigo, McClure's Pickles and Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Ham.
MEAL Michelin-starred Saul (140 Smith St., 718-935-9844, saulrestaurant.com) plates up seasonal American fare such as caramelized Block Island swordfish and Jerusalem artichoke soup in a casual but romantic atmosphere, while homey newcomers like Buttermilk Channel (524 Court St., 718- 852-8490, buttermilkchannelnyc.com) has more affordable $25 prix-fixe Monday night dinners. Prime Meats (465 Court St., 718-403-0033, frankspm.com) offers up a farm-y urban vibe and flavor that's pure Brooklyn.
DRINK Henry Public (329 Henry St., 718-852-8630) opened last fall and sports a handsome 19th century saloon decor. They serve up oysters, homemade pickles, handcrafted cocktails using birch root sap and maple syrup, and "hamburger sandwiches" that are fast becoming cult favorites.
FOR MUSIC LOVERS
Williamsburg is hands down NYC's hottest, hippest and sexiest neighborhood. Visually, it's one of Brooklyn's least attractive, but the people are what make it pop, and they can be found mingling on Lorimer Street and Bedford Avenue, or lounging at McCarren Park, which has showcased a variety of bands in recent years.
COFFEE Drinking coffee and checking out the styles of others in the room is an art form at the Atlas Café (116 Havemeyer St., 718-782- 7470, atlas-cafe.com), a sunny place (with free Wi-Fi) for bagels, scones and muffins.
SLICE The wood-fired brick ovens at Motorino (319 Graham Ave., 718-599-8899, motorinopizza.com) are stoked by Belgian pie-master Mathieu Palombino, who earned a Michelin star at BLT Fish in Manhattan but now churns out pies topped with Gorgonzola, speck (a cured dry sausage) cippolini onion and burrata cheese, earning him cultish fame.
SHOP Two Jakes (320 Wythe Ave., 718-782-7780, twojakes.com) is a warehouse packed with used office equipment and stylish machine-age furniture, including one-of-a-kind used desk lamps, typewriters, Herman Miller and Frank Gehry pieces.
DO The newly opened Brooklyn Kitchen Labs (100 Frost St., 718-349- 5033, thebrooklynkitchen.com) offers butcher classes and cooking workshops for aspiring chefs and scruffy neighborhood foodies.
MEAL Dressler (149 Broadway, 718-384- 6343, dresslernyc.com) holds another one of Brooklyn's Michelin stars, and this lacy, tried-and-true restaurant deserves it, and then some, for its superb salads and dishes such as dayboat cod with savoy cabbage and Hudson Valley chicken with potato dumplings.
petescandystore.com) offers live music every night in a sometimes cramped space that resembles a general store, frozen intact in 1919.
FOR THE ECO-CONSCIOUS
Sidewalk jockeying is an art form in Park Slope, home of latent hippies, posh pram-pushers, writer after writer after writer, and those who seek adjacency to leafy Prospect Park. The neighborhood's brownstones, museums and parks are trek-worthy.
COFFEE This modest coffee spot has a cult among Brooklyn's java elite and brews some of the finest and strongest in the city. Gorilla Coffee (97 Fifth Ave., 718-230-3244, gorillacoffee.com) was also the first fair-trade roaster in New York. Roasting is done in Brooklyn.
SLICE Considered by many to be the city's best pizza, Franny's (295 Flatbush Ave., 718-230-0221, frannysbrooklyn.com) offers another taste of Neapolitan-style pie. Try a naked pie with extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt, or nibble on crostini with wood-roasted pancetta and fennel butter.
stkildajewelry.com) is a small, well-curated jewelry shop owned by young Odessa native Nora Kogen. She specializes in offbeat and unusual designs such as white-topaz tiger's tooth necklaces and 18-karat gold safety pins set with diamonds.
DO Brooklyn Botanical Gardens (1000 Washington Ave., 718-623-7200, bbg.org) offers classes in sketching, tai chi and brownstone gardening and features exhibits about the flowers in bloom and native plants in New York.
MEAL Cafe Steinhof (422 Seventh Ave., 718-369-7776, cafesteinhof.com), at Park Slope's southernmost end (aka the South Slope), is the ideal place to settle in for a plate of Austrian comfort fare, such as Wiener schnitzel on a kaiser roll, smoked pork loin or black sausage strudel.
DRINK Park Slope is not a nightlife destination, but its bars are cozy and conversation-friendly. Pacific Standard (82 Fourth Ave., 718-858-1951, pacificstandardbrooklyn.com) is a wood-paneled California expat hangout where you can play Boggle and down Cali-crafted microbrews such as Kelso IPA and Lagunitas Olde GnarleyWine.
FOR AMATEUR HISTORIANS
This salty old wharf neighborhood is known for a few things - New York's biggest pool, the ballpark vendors hawking Mexican and Central American street food and the most parking spots in all of Brooklyn. But the neighborhood's historic nautical vibe is like NYC time-travel, and a walk down its cobblestone streets offers great views of Lady Liberty.
COFFEE Baked (359 Van Brunt St., 718-222-0345, bakednyc.com) is a small hipster-frequented bakery that's been raved about by Martha Stewart and Oprah and helped put Red Hook on the map. Coca-Cola Bundt cakes, butterscotch tarts, biscuits, quiche and strong coffee give the bakery an original flavor.
SLICE Technically speaking, Luna Rossa Pizza (552 Court St., 718-875-1384, lunarossabrooklyn.com) is in Carroll Gardens, but it's an easy stop during a Red Hook day- trip. Soft but flavorful brick-oven Neapolitan pizzas topped with broccoli rabe are the favorite order here, while the owner - who hails from Naples - keeps check on quality.
SHOP Red Hook is also a gardening center, with everything from water lilies to 20-foot Yucca trees at the Liberty Plant Center (204 Van Dyke St., Pier 41, libertysunset.com, 718-858-3400), and astilbe and delphiniums galore at the Chelsea Garden Center (444 Van Brunt St., 718-875-2100, chelseagardencenter.com).
DO Climb aboard the Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge (290 Conover St., 718-624-4719, waterfrontmuseum.org) and explore the shipping era of New York harbor. The cozy 1914-built Lehigh Valley Railroad Barge #79 is the last of its kind, one of thousands of barges that once crowded the harbor.
MEAL Cozy brick-lined Good Fork (391 Van Brunt St., 718-643-6636, goodfork.com) is a homey and handsome charmer that plates up zesty steak and eggs Korean style, and tender cod with artichokes and lobster butter. Nautical-themed Hope and Anchor (347 Van Brunt St., 718-237-0276) is a diner that feeds low-budget locals with big bowls of New England clam chowder, heaping plates of fat pierogies with apple sauce and sour cream, and fragrant chicken pot pies.
DRINK Ft. Defiance (365 Van Brunt St., 347-453-6672, fortdefiancebrooklyn.com) is a newcomer to the scene, and, though it's far more than just a cocktail joint, owner St. John Frizell is definitely an expert with spirits. Vesper martinis and Chartreuse-charged Cloisters make for great companions while pondering the eponymous fort dating to the Revolutionary War. Try a meat-layered muffaletta sandwich when you're ready for a bite.
Once the site of derelict warehouses and crumbling cobblestone streets, DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) has become one of Brooklyn's most visited tourist destinations since it's the terminal neighborhood for a trip over the Brooklyn Bridge. Photographers and romance-seekers line up along the promenade, while the water taxis, weekly Thursday night outdoor movies and performances attract crowds.
COFFEE DUMBO General Store (111 Front St., 718-855-5288, dumbogeneralstore.com) is the coffee spot in DUMBO and an ideal den in which to hole up for strong brews, thick BLTs and heaping salads.
SLICE Don't let the lines outside Grimaldi's Pizza (19 Old Fulton St., 718-858-4300, grimaldis.com) scare you off: it's worth the wait for a pie from the piping hot coal-fueled brick oven at this Brooklyn classic.
SHOP Tourists go straight to the much-inked Jacques Torres (66 Water St., 718-875-9772, mrchoco late.com) chocolate shop in search of creamy Champagne truffles and chocolate bars, and neighborhood regulars and insiders can be found flipping through art and design books at Powerhouse Books (37 Main St., 718-666-3049, powerhousearena.com).
DO The first segment of the new 1.5-mile waterfront Brooklyn Bridge Park (brooklynbridgepark.org) opened in March, with future segments opening all spring.
MEAL Though the River Café has a Michelin star, and arguably NYC's best restaurant view, Vinegar Hill House (72 Hudson Ave., 718-522-1018, vinegarhillhouse.com) is raising the bar for DUMBO's other eateries. Dishes such as braised beef cheeks in chestnut honey and braised kale with nutmeg have placed the rustic eatery firmly on the city's foodie map.
DRINK The stylish and splashy canal-lined Galapagos Art Space (16 Main St., 718-222-8500, galapagosartspace.com) moved here in 2008 and has various themed events every week, such as the Floating Kabarette.
ABOUT THE PARKING . . .
Though the LIRR ends at Atlantic Terminal a subway hub in Fort Greene, driving to Brooklyn might be easier for many Long Islanders.
ON THE STREET Free street parking in Brooklyn can generally be found in each neighborhood mentioned here, and in Red Hook, it's exceptionally easy to park. Borough-wide, it's easier to park on weekends.
GARAGES brooklyn.citysearch.com and yelp.com/brooklyn are great sources to find the best-priced parking garages in Brooklyn, though Twitter street parking services are giving garages a run for their money. Roadify's Parking Around Me Tweet Service (twitter.com/roadify and roadify.com) notifies residents when free parking spaces are available. Expect to pay $20-$30 for up to 24 hours of garage parking on a weekend.