For my sixteenth birthday, when most other newly-licensed kids would be begging their parents for their first (beat-up) car, I was begging mine to go to New York. The Met was about to put on an exhibit of Richard Avedon’s portraiture, you see, and I was just precocious enough to understand how cool that was. Probably relieved that I wasn’t bugging him for my own set of wheels, my dad relented, and that’s how I got my first taste of New York City.
Since then, I haven’t stopped returning. Not a year goes by that I don’t hop up to the city—for an Eric Clapton concert in Madison Square Garden, maybe, or to stand in Grand Central Station on Halloween and gawk at the costumes, or just to visit the Strand and look at their awe-inspiring selection of used books. (Once I snagged an Avedon coffee-table book filled with his photos for Versace; it’s still my favorite find!) But every year, I’d always wander Manhattan and ignore the boroughs. This past weekend, I broke that streak when I watched some wonderful old friends run the Brooklyn Half-Marathon.
I arrived far too late on Friday night, and groggily clambered into a subway car far too early on Saturday morning, passing Russian billboard advertisements on the way to Coney Island. There, I was greeted by the rickety wooden Cyclone roller coaster, a Ferris wheel decked out in primary colors, vendors hawking funnel cake and hot dogs—and the finish line of the half-marathon! Not a minute after sauntering up to the sidelines, my friend Anna sprinted by, hardly more than a flash of color in her track club jersey—and two of my college classmates followed soon after. It was completely thrilling. This was my first time as a race spectator rather than a participant, and to cheer people on as they pushed through the 13.1 miles, pain and determination plastered on their faces? I can’t think of anything more inspiring.
We all celebrated together afterwards, sipping coffee and devouring bagels on the boardwalk steps. Later, back in Anna’s neighborhood, there was more food-centric celebration at the incredible Franny’s. We split an order of crostini spread with ramp butter and pancetta, and then a deliciously charred brick-oven pizza topped with tomatoes, mozzarella, and sausage. We couldn’t resist the call of their salted peanut gelato, either. Why should we have, after spending the morning engaged in (or at least observing) so much athletic activity?
It was then that we really began our tour of Brooklyn. Sticking to the area surrounding Park Slope, we peered into boutiques and restaurants along our stroll: there was the Chip Shop, where you can bring in anything to be deep-fried, and The Chocolate Room, whose concept was as simple and mouthwatering as you can imagine. I noticed, too, that the bike culture in Brooklyn was thriving. There was a set of wheels chained to the fence of every brownstone we passed, bike lanes on many of the streets, and as many cyclists running errands as drivers. By the time we reached Prospect Park, I desperately wanted to be one of those cyclists! The park was huge, ridiculously verdant with rolling hills, and lined with roads and trails (all flooded with happy bikers, runners, and dog-walkers). I started to get the sneaking suspicion that Brooklyn had the cool factor of Manhattan without the stress, a walkable and cultured place that was strangely free of angry cab drivers.
Without even trying, we ran into a farmers’ market—still open for business at 4:30 p.m.!—and snagged a baguette and salad greens for dinner. Back in Anna’s brownstone, her hilarious boyfriend joined us and they got to work cooking a Marcella Hazan dish. We sat down to penne with peas, prosciutto, mint and cream, emptied a bottle of Chardonnay, and noshed on black-and-white cookies and Champagne until we all collapsed.
Fortunately, Sunday brunch is a rejuvenating thing, and it’s taken very seriously around those parts. At Israeli joint Miriam, I took my eggs in the form of shakshuka, where they’re poached in a spicy tomato and pepper sauce. Sides of thick, fluffy pita bread and protein-y hummus kept me from falling into my usual post-brunch sugar coma, which meant I had enough energy for shopping! I spied a floral sundress in the window of Lucia and snapped it up immediately—I felt slightly drunk on the sight of so many independent shops, where I could buy something one-of-a-kind for once. There’s freedom from malls in Brooklyn, and I found that to be a beautiful thing.
Still more beautiful? Prospect Park, where we returned for a jog. (Yes, it was all I hoped it would be.) Also, the community garden at the end of Anna’s street, where urban gardeners could have their plots of soil and till them, too.
So it was really a shame when I had to buy my farewell New-York style bagel, board the bus to Washington, and leave Brooklyn behind. I fell in love last weekend, though I hadn’t expected to. But who can blame me, with such wonderful friends as tour guides? In fact, I felt so nostalgic that my first dinner back home was something that looked suspiciously like Anna’s amazing pasta with peas, prosciutto and cream. As far as you might be from Brooklyn, it might make you nostalgic for the boroughs, too.