“Everyone’s from Brooklyn tonight,” proclaimed Jay-Z during a concert to inaugurate Barclays Center, Atlantic Avenue’s $1 billion home of the Nets basketball franchise.
In return, fans toasted the rapper with plastic cups of Budweiser, a St. Louis beer owned by a Belgian-Brazilian multinational corporation.
There was also plenty of lager, including Coors Light, Miller Lite, Amstel Light, Stella Artois and Heineken, to go around.
Finding a Brooklyn brew at this Brooklyn stadium, whose concessions are run by the Chicago-based Levy Restaurants, is more complicated.
I’ll forgive such Second City influences because much of the grub is good enough. With Greenpoint tacos and Smith Street brats, Barclays Center is a respectable, if not necessarily memorable, tribute to Kings County’s diverse food scene.
Still, there’s something distinctly unsettling when the stadium outpost of Cafe Habana, a fine Carroll Gardens restaurant, offers only Bud, Bud Light or Coors Light. (TAP:US) ($7.50- $9.50).
If you want a Brooklyn Lager, you’ll have to queue up at a separate beer cart (where, understandably, the lines are twice as long). It’s only at the corporate suite level where I found proper access to New York beers like Southampton and Captain Lawrence ($35-$39 the six-pack).
A spokesperson for Levy Restaurants tells me that Brooklyn’s Sixpoint is available on tap, but I didn’t see that brew after multiple laps around the arena over two visits.
Fountain sodas, regardless of your socioeconomic status, is available in a single sixteen-ounce cup, as part of an early compliance with the city’s big-soda ban.
Barclays isn’t quite the ambassador for New York food as is Citi Field or Madison Square Garden. But it gets the job done. Here’s my report from Atlantic Avenue’s newest hotspot:
Calexico: This “Cal-Mex” chain, with locations in Red Hook and Greenpoint, knows how to make a proper fish taco, with a gentle flake and a delicate crust ($14). Thing is, what works in a restaurant doesn’t necessarily work in a stadium. The salsa drips out the rear the second you pick up the snack food. Taco Bell would argue that the correct antidote to this architectural issue is a burrito. We agree.
What’s worse, Calexico shovels out bland guacamole ($7.75) that’s been chilled into an ice-cream like paste. The better call is a crispy, gooey cheese quesadilla, with smoky chipotle dipping sauce ($8.75).
Fatty ‘Cue: Zak Pelaccio, who runs a very good restaurant of the same name in Manhattan’s West Village, largely fails with his Barclay’s effort. Brisket and pork sandwiches are nearly indistinguishable due to thin layers of over-sauced meats and thick slabs of dry bread. The four-cheese mac ($6.25), a product of Levy Restaurants, is cooked way past the point of al dente, with a flavor as monochromatic as a high school cafeteria version.
Cafe Habana: The Cuban ($12.50) is everything this sandwich should be, a leftover mash of pulled pork, gooey Swiss cheese, ham and pickles. Corn-on-the-cob, coated in cheese and chili, sells out fast, because it’s also excellent.
Fresco by Scotto: Yankee Stadium sells Parm’s epic meatball sandwiches. Barlcays Center gives us chicken meatball sliders ($9.75) by Fresco. The Scotto balls are merely decent. The sauce has just enough acid and the patty is fluffy enough to let you know it’s not a burger.
A side of zucchini chips serves as an efficient delivery mechanism for gorgonzola cream sauce.
The Butcher Shop: Michael DeAngelis is responsible for the fine meat in this sausage and pepper sandwich ($11.75); the pinwheel shape of the meat keeps things manageable when eating with one hand. Don’t look for the sweet fennel flavor as at a good restaurant, but expect a hearty, nourishing dish. The appropriate pairing is Buffalo tater tots, an excellent vegetarian response to the namesake chicken dish ($6).
L&B Spumoni Gardens: I have to wonder what the owners of this storied pizzeria in Gravesend would say if they saw their pies shriveling away under a heat lamp, as they do at Barclays. This travesty costs $6.
Buffalo Boss: Jay-Z’s cousin is bankrolling this Brooklyn- based chain, which touts hormone-free, organic wings.
Problem is, the stadium shack only sells boneless breast meat doused in hot sauce. The whole point of a Buffalo wing is to use vinegar and spice to balance out the richness of fatty chicken skin and the meat underneath. Buffalo Boss uses no dark meat, no discernible skin, and no wing. Result? No good.
Brooklyn Bangers: The cheddar brat lacks clean yet cheesy flavors that makes Andrew Carmellini’s sausages a hit at Madison Square Garden. And the “brisket banger” tastes like any other kielbasa on a bun. We should expect more from a Michelin-starred chef.
Clinton Hill Grill: This luxury suite concession took about 10 minutes to make my cheeseburger ($9.75), which was carbonized well past the point of well done and which mimicked the texture of gravel. The rich don’t always have it better.
Barclays Center is at 620 Atlantic Avenue. Information: +1- 212-359-6387; http://www.barclayscenter.com/.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Katya Kazakina and Lili Rosboch on art.
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