By Ken Alan
The director signals the young actors in their final scene for the NYU graduate student’s thesis film. The setting is Echo Drug Store along bustling Broadway in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Inside this mainstay neighborhood store, the director, production staffers, sound and video techs, assorted assistants, several moms and me are all gathered on a recent Saturday. Outside, never-ending throngs of people stream by as the young crew records the cinematic drama unfolding inside the closed pharmacy.
When the call came offering our sixteen year-old actor/son the chance at a supporting role, I quickly volunteered to drive him up to the shoot in Brooklyn so my wife wouldn’t have to make the long trek from Philly.
Okay, so maybe my motives were somewhat ulterior: I hadn’t been to Brooklyn in several years and from what I’d been hearing from fellow foodies, Williamsburg is the borough to be in.
The Broadway thoroughfare outside Echo is quite possibly the richest melting pot in the country. Heavy concentrations of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Italians and Polish are neighbored with others from countless countries of origin, and of course, there’s an ever-present confluence of Hasidic Jews. It is almost surreal watching a gaggle of young Latinos skip past elderly paisans sipping espresso curbside while scholarly Hasidim saunter along with furry shtreimel atop their heads and long payot curls flowing on by.
The film shoot is too confining in the back of the drug store and the crew is tripping over me often so I make a getaway into the sunny Saturday afternoon that is Williamsburg. The neighborhood sounds envelope me in an almost musical cacophony – Car horns, bass-heavy car stereos and scores of conversations from passersby; the rumble of the elevated subway above becomes a constant mantra; a street corner Latino gospel group sings and spreads the word of Dios.
Approaching the Williamsburg Bridge I spy famed Peter Luger Steak House down below, considered by many to be the finest steakhouse in NYC, if not the country. Since 1887 this carnivore’s paradise has been packing them in for the best steaks and chops in the land. It’s worth the splurge, but currency-up prior to going – Luger is cash-only.
The bridge’s lengthy span is a walker’s delight offering cool East River breezes and an unparalleled vista of the Big Apple. Soon I’m back on the Brooklyn side where I’m struck by the number of 99 cent stores (about $49.50 worth of them in total) and tiny take-out Mexican joints, all along a two block stretch. The film crew will later order lunch from one of them, a shop called Zocalo (295 Broadway) which I’m told, has yummy tacos & tortas and stays open till 3:00 a.m.
I trek up Havemeyer Street and the heat of the day does what it tends to do to me on the weekend: I thirst for beer.
Banter Bar appears beacon-like just at the right place & time in my day. I take a seat at what has obviously been a local watering hole forever. The primary décor here is an impressive array of scotches lining the bar’s shelves like a glassy cascade, as well as the impressive row of taps touting 24 craft beers. Large screen televisions on the back wall highlight a soccer game, Turkey is upsetting Portugal.
Though the cold KelSo IPA (a local Brooklyn brewery) is slaking my thirst, I’m now hungering for more than the simple sandwich selection Banter offers, so I head outside to find a bite of something wonderful. I try the door at the nearby Post Office Bar but I realize it doesn’t open until later in the day, so I can’t partake of that particular gastro-notable tavern.
Walking a bit aimlessly, I pass the Music Hall of Williamsburg and marvel at the lengthy list of soulful performers on their docket; from the R&B gospel of Bobby Womack to now-big-on-college-radio newcomers The Tallest Man on Earth.
And then I find IT.
IT is the most adorable little city café I’ve ever come across, the one I once walked kilometers to try and find while in Paris – Struggling (in vein) to discover the cutest French café but never really locating it. Who knew it was situated in Brooklyn all along?!
IT is Bistro Petit, an adorable 12-seat storefront with a meticulous open kitchen, cheery soap stone tiled floors and an oh-so-City of Lights atmosphere. Chef/owner Sung Park has quickly made a local name for himself thanks to his creative takes on modern French fare (with a Korean twist here & there). The menu is simple: light but substantial apps, soups, salads, meat & fish, along with a 7-course, $90 tasting menu served from Tuesday through Thursdays, 3-7pm.
Only open for seven months or so, the word is quickly spreading. Bistro Petit is fast becoming the IT place to be in Williamsburg. Paris should be so lucky…
Finishing every last bit of champignon and slurping the deep truffle-y broth, the herb & garlic scented wild mushrooms are amazing, but quickly enough I’m once again walking the ‘hood. I pass several other noteworthy dining spots (Michelin-rated Dumont and newer sibling Dressler), and then I return to the drug store. The film shoot has not quite finished, so I do what everyone seems to on a Saturday afternoon – when in Williamsburg, sit on the concrete steps fronting Echo and just hang out.
I could talk to myself like the old lady next to me is doing.
I could strike up conversations with strangers like the wheel chair bound war veteran nearby.
I could read a book and listen to my I-pod like five other stoop sitters.
Instead, I begin plotting my next trip to Brooklyn, utterly amazed and completely satisfied at what I’ve found during this recent trip.
“Cut! That’s a wrap!”