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Eat and Drink

Before the L train shutdown, get to know these restaurants and bars

"The best thing I can do ... is engage, engage, engage the neighborhood and really foster a sense of community within Bushwick," one restaurant owner says.

Ammazzacaffé bartender Victoria Ratermanis takes dinner orders from

Ammazzacaffé bartender Victoria Ratermanis takes dinner orders from Brooklynites Jesse Schwartz and Yvette Grant on Nov. 13, 2018. Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz-Gordon

Ahead of the looming closure of L train service between Manhattan and Brooklyn, residents and businesses in the neighborhoods that the L cuts through are wary of how it will affect them.  

While the L will run as usual throughout Brooklyn and Queens, starting April 27, 2019, for 15 months, passengers will have to find other routes to get to and from Manhattan. This will undoubtedly make it difficult for people to get to the many restaurants, bars and cafes in the areas for which the L is the only nearby train available, and that has some businesses worried about the potential hit on their sales.

Forrest Point in Bushwick, for one, is a restaurant that draws in many customers from outer neighborhoods and boroughs, and its owner Darin Rubell is “fearful” that the train closure will have a big impact on his business. 

“Taking the train away is like taking away the boardwalk. You need the boardwalk to get to the sea. If you take that away, people are not going to get there,” Rubell said. 

Many more businesses that live along the L line in the East Village, Williamsburg, Bushwick and Ridgewood may feel the same brunt, but the good news is there is still time to make the trip out to these places before the commute becomes more difficult. 

Aside from the widely popular hot spots, such as Please Don’t Tell, Lilia and Roberta’s, to name a few, here are some lesser-known gems off the L. 

Luckily for Manhattanites, there are only a couple L train stops that don’t have another train line available for transfer: First Avenue and Third Avenue. The East Village has become somewhat of a food mecca, with a plethora of options for food and drinks. 

Along with the obvious hubbubs such as Superiority Burger and Caracas Arepas Bar, Nai Tapas Bar, a Galician-style tapas bar, is another spot to check out. The restaurant serves a wide variety of Spanish small plates such as Bruselas con lacón, or Brussels sprouts with pork belly and apples ($13.50), and almejas a la brasa, or broiled clams with lemon zest and yuzu ($11 for a small or $18 for a large). Sangrias ($9 for a glass, $30 for a pitcher), which come in blueberry pomegranate, mango tropical and other flavors, are a refreshing and popular favorite as well. On Thursday and Saturday nights, the restaurant hosts live flamenco music and dance performances. 

In Brooklyn, there are more areas where the L is the only train option, including the ever-bustling Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. There are several frequently spotlighted restaurants around here -- Lilia and Traif come to mind -- but perhaps a spot that’s not as widely known is Midnights, a modern American spot just one block south of the train station. Midnights offers appetizers such as roasted beet and apple salad ($16) and hanger steak skewers ($18), and its entrees include mushroom ravioli ($23) and grilled branzino ($28). With a large patio in the back, it also hosts live DJ events from Wednesday to Saturday nights and has happy hour all day Mondays and 4:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.   

A couple of stops over on the L at Graham Avenue is Lella Alimentari. This small and cozy Italian cafe is “a little piece of Italy in New York,” according to Quentin Notte, a startup founder who particularly enjoys the restaurant’s piadinas, or Italian flatbread sandwiches. The piadinas are just like the ones in Bologna, Italy, Notte said. Lella Alimentari also serves coffee ($2.75 for espresso to $4.50 for a latte) and light breakfast/brunch fare such as frittatas, poached egg bowls and sandwiches ($12 to $16). 

Another Italian spot worthy of a trip is Ammazzacaffè, closer to the Grand Street stop. A full-service restaurant with modern décor and intimate lighting and setting, Ammazzacaffè offers a variety of Italian dishes, with skewer appetizers ($6 to $7) and plates for the table such as the sea trout tartare ($17) for the first course.

For the main, pastas including the reginette with pork shoulder ragu and fusilli with speck and black pepper are available ($18 to $23), as are three main dishes, with the likes of branzino and dry aged duck ($28 to $37). Ammazzacaffè also has a full wine list and house-made cocktails. 

The blocks around Jefferson Street and DeKalb Avenue stops are a booming area in Bushwick, with many clubs, bars and restaurants. Among places like Three Diamond Door, the infamous club House of Yes and Heavy Woods, there’s a French bistro called Mominette that adds to the neighborhood’s charm. Serving moderately priced French fare and drinks, Mominette has fresh oysters ($1 to $2 each) and mussels with fries ($15 to $17), as well as classic French entrees like coq au vin ($24) and duck confit ($24). The restaurant also has brunch, happy hour and a garden in the back open in the spring and summer. 

Then there is the aforementioned Forrest Point, a restaurant and bar off Morgan Avenue with a blend of American, Mexican and Middle Eastern cuisines. This spot is known for its brunch offerings, including the Mediterranean breakfast ($13) with cucumber Israeli salad and naan, and chilaquiles ($12), and it's the leafy outdoor area, which Rubell said attracts a lot of Manhattanites and residents in other neighborhoods. 

“I think we have the best outdoor space in Brooklyn,” he said. “It gives a sense that you’re away from New York.” 

Because Forrest Point has less of a local following, Rubell worries that the train closure will hurt his business, but he is hopeful it will also encourage more Bushwick residents to visit Forrest Point and become regulars. In the lead-up to the closure, Rubell will be looking for ways to amp up advertising and get more involved in the community.

“The best thing I can do … is engage, engage, engage the neighborhood and really foster a sense of community within Bushwick,” he said. 

One of the neighbors that Rubell mentioned does have a bigger customer base of regulars is The Narrows. A retro-chic and minimalist cocktail bar, The Narrows offers specialty cocktails for $12 and classics for $12 to $13, alongside beer and wine. The space has bar seating on one side and small booths on the other, plus a longer communal table to accommodate bigger parties. This cash-only bar has an intimate and romantic vibe, with soft music playing in the background, fitting for a first — or subsequent — date spot. 

Deeper into Bushwick, another hidden gem is Trans-Am Cafe on Wyckoff Avenue. A rustic and eclectic coffee shop, Trans-Am may not look like much from the outside, but the inside offers not just a cozy space for working and drinking coffee but also access to an outdoor garden that is shared with neighboring music venue Trans-Pecos. 

Freelance writer Ryan Meehan is a regular of the cafe even though he lives in Crown Heights because of Trans-Am’s welcoming vibe. He enjoys the coffee ($2 to $5.50) and sandwiches ($7 to $10) offered but also appreciates that the place is supporting local artists who perform in Trans-Pecos’ shows. 

“This is a very vibrant spot for the arts community,” Meehan said. 

He also says it’s a great spot to get work done, which is why he frequents it once or twice a week. 

“It’s just very inviting,” he said. “This place in particular for me is very both secluded but also warm.” 

Like Trans-Am and The Narrows, 1080 Brew off the Halsey Street stop also has a sizable group of regulars, thanks to the adjacent yoga and artist studios, according to the coffee shop’s barista Jahan Hashemi. Hashemi thinks it’s definitely possible the store’s sales will be affected by the closure. Nevertheless, he is optimistic that 1080 Brew’s local following will keep it afloat. 

“It’s a really special place,” Hashemi said. “It’s a warm environment.”

The coffee shop is a two-story loft with lots of bright lighting, big windows and a cozy sitting area with a swing chair. The cafe has a cheery yet relaxed vibe and offers coffee and tea ($2.50 to $4), salads and sandwiches ($8.50 to $9), pastries from Ovenly and plenty of vegan and gluten-free choices. 

And close to Wilson Avenue is Father Knows Best, a breakfast and brunch cafe during the day and a bar by night with Mexican-inspired dishes and various sandwiches. Further up on Cooper Avenue, there is also Nowadays, a bar that has separate outdoor and indoor bars and also serves barbecue plates on Saturdays. 

To keep the impact of the train closure minimal, these businesses and others will have to work harder and be more involved within the community, Forrest Point’s Rubell said. In the coming months, he plans to be more proactive in his finding ways to prevent a big dip in sales, seeking input from the MTA and community boards.

At the end of the day, community engagement is key, Rubell said.

“In times like this, we just have to get better,” he said. “You know, try to do as much as you can with and for the community and let them know that we love and appreciate them and give them a reason to come.” 

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