The neighborhood of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill is a historic community with a strong sense of racial harmony, where residents hit every level of the race-income matrix and many of the gorgeous brownstones are part of one of Brooklyn's largest historic districts. With the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Pratt Institute, you could also say its the cultural center of the borough. But all the new bars and restaurants popping up could mean its the latest foodie mecca. It doesn't matter how you describe it; the area is a blooming hybrid of everything we love about Brooklyn. The only thing that really matters is how fast you can get there.
If it's a weekend, start with the Brooklyn Flea. This event has become one of the most talked about markets in the city, and with good reason. Even if you’ve been to the Flea a million times, it’s worth repeating because with more than 200 vendors, you never know what you’ll find. Sure there are a lot of regulars, selling the same handmade jewelry and pickled vegetables, but new vendors show up each week. Plus, the vintage and antique stands always have great new finds. One week you could buy an art deco framed mirror, and the next week the same guy will sell you a set of Russian nesting dolls. In the summer, the Flea takes over the parking lot of Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School on Lafayette Avenue, and during the winter it moves into the Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower at One Hanson Place.
One of our favorite brunch places in all of Brooklyn is Olea Mediterranean Taverna on Lafayette Avenue. Their savory parmesan French toast with a poached egg is everything you've been looking for in brunch. Served with peas, pea shoots and scallions, there's enough green on the plate to make it seem healthy, but the star is the divine avgolemono sauce, a Mediterranean-style Hollandaise-esque sauce. The chorizo and manchego (two of the best ingredients on the planet) sandwich is also insanely good. Of course, everything is better if you snag an outdoor table and treat yourself to a glass of the sangria.
The area boasts a few bustling business districts — Fulton Street and Dekalb Avenue — so pick one and get your shop on. On Fulton, you'll find Greenlight Bookstore, a regular on our literary calendar, Yu Interiors, a great place for well-designed, affordable home furnishings, and Moshood, a contemporary boutique with African inspiration. Also on Fulton Street is Cake Man Raven, home of the famed red velvet cake, so make sure to stop in for a slice. The shop is celebrating its 10th anniversary this weekend with a parade on Sunday and live performances until 10pm.
Along Dekalb Avenue, you can shop at Thistle and Clover, a small boutique run by two up-and-coming designers who pick the clothing and handmade accessories, and pick up cute toys and fashionable outerwear for your pup at Kiki's Pet Spa and Boutique. Tillie's coffee shop is just across the street, so stop in for an iced chai. But don't limit yourself to the main drags; shops, cafes, and galleries are sprinkled throughout the neighborhood. So take a walk and while you're admiring the brownstones, you might find yourself in front of an awesome little shop like RePop, a boutique that sells everything from antique picture frames to ball gowns to modern furniture. On the first Friday of every month, they open a new art exhibit by Pratt students.
More student work can be seen at Pratt's gallery on Willoughby Avenue, which shows work in all mediums by graduating students. Another really great place to see interesting and thought provoking art is the Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Arts.
Fort Greene Park is one of our favorite parks in the city. It's small enough to walk through entirely, but big enough that you can still escape the street noise. Spotted with monuments for everyone from Walt Whitman to Howard Taft, the park hints at the neighborhood's rich history. On Saturdays, a Greenmarket takes over the eastern part of the park, bringing fresh bread, cheese, produce and baked goods to the area. So pick up a few tasty treats and enjoy a cheap, lunchtime picnic in the park.
If it’s raining — or blisteringly hot — escape to a $7.50 matinee (before 3pm on weekends) at BAM’s cinema, which shows classics and new releases. BAM cafe offers performances by local musicians and stand-up comedians, so make sure to regularly check their calendar.
For an inexpensive dinner, check out Black Iris, a small, delicious Middle Eastern restaurant. If you're one to normally skip the appetizer course, don't. The appetizers are some of the best things on the menu, especially the babaganoush. The creamy eggplant dip has the perfect amount of tang and a healthy sprinkling of paprika gives it just the right kick. The place is BYOB, with no cork fee, so pick up a bottle of vino at Thirst Wine Merchants just two blocks down the road.
If you’d like to turn up the fancy for your evening meal, indulge in the culinary delights of chef Tyler Kord at No. 7 (one of Ted Allen’s favorite spots, for all you Food Network geeks). The appetizer of fried broccoli with dill, grapefruit and black beans sounds strange, but the flavors meld beautifully, hitting all the right notes. The tilefish and cockles in an old bay curry broth is a seafood stew, light enough for summer, and the BBQ roasted chicken with potato salad is like an upscale picnic on your plate.
Our go-to outdoor drinking spot is Habana Outpost, which just so happens to be in Fort Greene. With $2.75 Six Point drafts and crazy-good Tex-Mex food, it doesn’t really get any better than this. You must, absolutely MUST, get the famous corn (that’s actually what it’s called on the menu). It will change your life. It’s corn on the cob, grilled, then covered with a magical combination of mayonnaise, cayenne and chili powders, and cotija cheese, and squirted with lime juice right before eating. At only $2.25, we have a really hard time not stuffing our faces.
Habana’s only negative is that it closes at midnight, but Fort Greene and Clinton Hill are not without many more watering holes. Last summer, the ‘hood’s first beer garden opened on Fulton Street, just a few blocks from Habana. Started by a German expat, Der Schwarze Koelner has 17 German beers on drafts, another 29 bottles, and offers traditional German bar snacks of bratwurst and pretzels. For dive-bar lovers, Alibi could be your new paradise. As the neighborhood has upgraded, this dusty, downstairs dive has stayed true to its roots, not even bothering to put a fresh coat of paint on the walls. But with stiff, cheap well drinks and $1 mugs of Bud, we don’t really care what the place looks like.
This post was updated Spring 2012.