In a city that has everything, it can be options overload when trying to decide what to do or where to eat. But if you choose the right neighborhood, like Kensington and Windsor Terrace, you'll find a nice variety of eateries and entertainment that doesn't overwhelm. Just southwest of Prospect Park, the neighborhoods are a mix of Jewish, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Hispanic, and Russian residents that offer a peaceful escape with a manageable selection of restaurants, bars, and shops, not to mention the historic Green-Wood Cemetery and the only horse stables left in Prospect Park. Quiet, but far from sleepy, these diverse neighborhoods show that sometimes less really is more.
If you're interested in grocery shopping across continents, visit our post on where to Buy Food from Ten Countries in Five Blocks on Church Avenue in Kensington.
For a good breakfast that's light on your wallet, start your day at Faros Restaurant, right by the Church Avenue F/G train stop. Like most diners, their menu is extensive, with more than 30 options for omelette fillings and a dozen different ways to have your Belgian waffles. For only $7.25, the Greek omelette is stuffed to the max with gyro meat, feta cheese, and spinach, and the fluffy pancakes come with your choice of fresh fruit, which they generously pile on top. But our favorite part? The bacon. It's nice and crisp, not chewy, just how we like it. If you'd rather start your day later — and not in a diner — go for brunch at Le P'tit Paris Bistro on Prospect Park West. The restaurant just opened last winter, and it has already become quite popular for its $10 brunch menu. The croque monsieur is perfectly cheesy with a crisp toasted top, and the salmon nicoise salad is, according to one regular diner, "mind-numbingly good."
Prospect Park is always a lovely place for a walk, but have you ever enjoyed the trails perched high on a horse? Kenginston Stables offers guided horseback trail rides, giving you the chance to see your favorite park in a whole new way. Built in 1930, the barn is the last remaining entity of the Ocean Parkway Riding Academy, and the stables are the only ones left in Prospect Park. A ride along the three and a half mile path starts at Park Circle, and takes you through the woods, down a ravine and along the lake to Long Meadow. Your guide an share historical information about the park, or you can simply enjoy a quiet ride through nature. Plan ahead as appointments are required and cost is $37 per person for an hour long ride.
When you're leaving the park, take some time to stop by a couple of the neighborhood shops. They're somewhat scattered, but a few gems are worth your time. Sneaker Drama is a great hip hop boutique that carries several different lines of high-end urban sneakers, including limited editions, as well as t-shirts and jeans, with almost no items costing more than $150. On the other side of the shopping spectrum, Saposh is a lingerie shop run by a Jewish woman and her daughter. The women carry a small, but high quality, selection of ladies' under things, and their friendliness is genuine; they told us they run the store simply because its fun. Just down the road from Saposh is Le Chocolat, a kosher chocolate shop that may very well be a little slice of heaven. All of the treats are made in small batches to insure freshness, and oh my, how fresh they are. Our favorites? The peanut crunch truffle and the homemade Kit Kat.
If you're in the mood for a spicy lunch, stop at Mi Barrio, a small, authentic Mexican joint. Fans swear its the best Mexican food in the city, and they might not be wrong. The $2 tacos are superb and the carne enchilada burrito should have its own special place on the menu, but the star of our meal was definitely the camarones a la diabla, spicy sauteed shrimp. They're extra hot, but the spot-on flavor is worth the spice-induced pain. Another great lunch spot is Brancaccio's Food Shop, a new (just opened in January) Italian take-out place. Chef and owner Joe Brancaccio created a menu made with the highest quality ingredients, yet all the dishes are super affordable. The sandwiches are served on bread from Caputo's Bake Shop in Carroll Gardens. The roasted chicken with gorgonzola dolce and guacamole is as tasty as it is interesting, and the meatball sub, with pine nuts, raisins, and fennel sauce, is a savory and sweet take on the old New York classic. At $8, its on the steeper end of the menu, but it is seriously bigger than your arm. They also sell home-style dishes like flank steak, pasta bolognese, pot roast, and macaroni and cheese with truffle butter by the pound, so its the perfect place for a take-out dinner as well. Plus, it may very well be the only place in the city where you can get a whole roast chicken for $6.
Spend the afternoon strolling through Green-Wood, a nearly 200 year old cemetery and National Historic Landmark that borders Windsor Terrace on the West and Kensington on the North. With 478 acres of hills, valleys, glacial ponds and paths and one of the largest outdoor collections of 19th- and 20th-century statuary and mausoleums, the cemetery is an oasis of calm in the middle of Brooklyn. You can go on a guided walk, learning the stories behind many of the graves and mausoleums, and if you go on a Wednesday or the last Sunday of the month, you can take a two-hour trolley ride through the grounds. Or you could wonder through the lots of the 560,000 permanent residents on your own. Keep an eye out for the headstones of such famous people as the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, the infamous Boss Tweed, toy store founder F.A.O. Schwarz, and the parents of Teddy Roosevelt. Be sure to stop by the statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, whose outstretched arm greets Lady Liberty's torch 3.5 miles to the East in her direct sight line.
When hunger strikes again, head to Am-Thai Chili Basil on McDonald Avenue if you're feeling low key. The exhaustive menu is practically bigger than the restaurant itself — it only has one table inside and two booths on the sidewalk — but the flavors they deliver are straight off the streets of Bangkok. New York Magazine raved about the duck Thai herbal, a salad of fried Thai basil and lemongrass with smokey, crispy spiced duck, and the Village Voice fell in love with the beef Penang curry. For a little more space while you eat, The Double Windsor cooks up a limited but excellent menu, which you have to order from a window near the kitchen. This is very far from your standard pub grub – a few of their fancy offerings include a burger made with their own blend of ground beef from Pat LeFrieda, pork ribs served with homemade baked beans, and a shrimp BLT made with thick-cut nueske bacon, poblano aioli, and roasted cherry tomatoes. Wash it all down with a $6 drafts, then stick around and work your way through their long brew list until they kick you out.
If you're looking for a more authentic neighborhood watering hole, Shenanigans Pub should do the trick. This low-key dive bar has some of the cheapest drinks you'll find ($4 vodka tonics? $2 beers? Yes, please), and some of the friendliest locals. Every Saturday night, they do karaoke, which attracts quite a crowd. If you're not in the mood to belt out Bon Jovi, you can escape to the back patio. Another nearby dive bar is Denny's Steak Pub, which made the list of "real dives" in the Village Voice last year, and it most definitely is a real dive bar. Don't be fooled by the name, they don't serve food, unless you count the Cheetos at the bar, but they do have $1.75 mugs of Budweiser. It's conveniently located right beside the entrance to the subway, so at the end of the night, all you have to do is stumble out the door and onto the train.
(Feature image via the New York Times, Horse trail image via Kensington Stables,Brancaccio's Food Shop image via GardenFork, Minerva at Green-wood Cemetery photo by amg2000 via Flickr, Double Windsor photo via Sam Horine)
This post was updated Spring 2012.