Here & Now:
Dispatches from Fifth & Wythe
Right around the corner from Fifth & Wythe is an essential eatery for any Williamsburg foodie. Founded in 1983 in the East Village, Café Mogador expanded across the river several years ago to Williamsburg where they serve up Moroccan-inspired dishes to locals and visitors alike. We got to speak with Mogador's Meredith Lydon about the past and present of this New York favorite.
Café Mogador is a family business that started in 1983. Where does the name come from? Mogador is the former name of a city, Essaouira, a port city on Morocco's Atlantic coast and the birthplace of the founder of the restaurant, Rivka Orlin.
You opened your Wythe Avenue location about 5 years ago. Why Brooklyn? Why not? Brooklyn offers a nouveau East Village of sorts with a bustling and artistic crowd - the type of guests that still crowd St. Mark's. It has been so interesting to see both neighborhoods grow up, so to speak, and to meet the new generation of 'Mogadorians' as they are wheeled in in their strollers for hummus.
What is your favorite part of having a location in Williamsburg? We like feeling just tucked away - the feeling of letting our guests discover us on Wythe Avenue.
How would you describe Café Mogador’s Williamsburg menu and decor? Is there anything on the menu or in the restaurant that’s not in the East Village? The loveliness of having a second location is that you can set each other off. The East Village is so cozy that you feel like you've walked into a favorite aunt's den, Williamsburg is all about the light! We have such a bright and glowing interior it almost feels tropical. The menus are nearly identical but with a few differences. One of the things we pride ourselves on is the consistency of our food. Though it's not to say that each location's chef doesn't have their distinctive flavors.
Does anyone in your family live in Brooklyn? Where? For how long? How do you prefer to commute to work? I live in Crown Heights for four years after bouncing around Brooklyn for awhile now and my brother has been in Bed-Stuy for ten years. Our family is "from" Brooklyn, with one set of grandparents meeting at a dance at St. Cecelia's in Greenpoint and Pop-Pop growing up in Flatbush. (Nana was raised in Astoria; gotta rep Queens, too). While I admire those who bike in all weather, I keep my outdoor commutes to the warmer months and stick with the B48 and the good ol' G.
How do you go about finding your menu inspirations and the components that go into them? The recipes are Rivka's from day one. David Johnson has put his stamp on our specials menu and runs an efficient and reliable kitchen. The number one component of anything we serve is freshness. We source from a number of different vendors and will only accept the highest quality products. Rivka will also go to markets out East and bring back corn, tomatoes and squash as the seasons allow.
What is your favorite dish served at Café Mogador? Is there a story behind its creation? Tough question! Breakfast- Moroccan eggs, traditional menu- lamb tagine with charmoulla sauce or bastilla, specials- the sardines or zahtaar chicken, dessert- our signature chocolate cake, of course (unless the strawberry rhubarb crumble...)! Next question, I'm hungry.
Do you have a favorite table/place to sit at the Williamsburg restaurant? Table ten: I get to offer salutations to guests as they're coming and going as well as be in the thick of the action. The built in bench and the long wood table are cozy.
What are the elements you feel make Café Mogador different from other restaurants in the neighborhood? We are family here and you are, too. We are so happy to have guests come in and to feed them! What better job to have than to make people feel better with food and love? Nothing comes to mind. We get to make people feel good. Love it.
Do you plan to open other locations in Brooklyn someday? Never say never.
Upscale dining is in abundance in the blocks surrounding Fifth & Wythe. If you're in the mood for authentic Roman Italian, though, the place to go is Antica Pesa. The upscale eatery joined the neighborhood in 2012, and is run by the Panella's, the same family that opened the original Antica Pesa in 1922 in Italy. We had the pleasure of connecting with the Panella sons about food, family and Williamsburg.
Tell us about your family and the journey to Williamsburg? We are three brothers whose family had started Antica Pesa in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome in 1922. We are proud and honored to maintain the passion of our great grandparents, to be the current owners of this family business and to share our culture, history and cuisine around the world. We decided to open in New York because “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere!” It was always a dream of ours to make our name in the greatest city in the world.
Why did you call the restaurant Antica Pesa? Since the 17th century, villagers in Vatican City used scales to portion food brought in from local farmers to give to the less fortunate. In 1922, the Panella family opened a restaurant in the nearby Roman neighborhood, Trastevere, and named it Antica Pesa (“The Old Scales”) in support of the generosity of their fellow countrymen.
You are coming into your 5th year here, what inspired you to open here? Williamsburg, like Trastevere in Rome, has not only grown from the grim times that have helped forge its character but it is also located on the other side of a river, with the heart of the city facing it. It was important to us to have our Williamsburg location mirror the feel and experience of our Roman location.
Do you live in Williamsburg? Lorenzo Panella lives in Williamsburg full-time; Francesco Panella lives between Williamsburg, Rome and Qatar (where we have a third Antica Pesa location); and Simone Panella, our executive chef for all locations, lives in Rome full-time but travels to Williamsburg and Qatar frequently to work in tandem with our Italian chefs.
What is your favorite part of working in Williamsburg? We love the neighborhood feel that Williamsburg has and how even though it’s part of one of the biggest city in the world, it still feels like home.
How would you describe the cuisine at your Williamsburg location? We rework traditional recipes from Roman cuisine and utilize local, seasonal and mostly organic products, but also appreciate modern trends.
How do you go about finding your menu inspirations and the components that go into them? We strive to keep our menu as authentic as possible to dishes one would find at Antica Pesa in Rome and in traditional Roman cuisine while also updating many of our dishes seasonally to allow our Italian chefs to play with new ingredients and showcase their talents.
What is your favorite item on the menu? Since all three of us grew up in Rome, delicious pasta has and will always be a big part of our lives! Simone favors the Mezze Maniche alla Carbonara which has Parmigiano Reggiano DOP and Pecorino Romano Fulvi cheeses, egg yorks, guanciale la Quercia and black pepper; Francesco loves the Cacio e Pepe which is spaghetti with Parmigiano Reggiano DOP and Pecorino Romano Fulvi cheeses with black pepper; and Lorenzo‘s favorite is the Schiaffoni all’Amatriciana which is made with a sauce of San Marzano tomatoes, Pecorino Romano Fulvi cheese and guanciale la Quercia.
What are the elements you feel make Antica Pesa different from other restaurants in the neighborhood? I think because Antica Pesa has been in business for almost 100 years, it brings authenticity and also invites our customers to step into our “home” when they dine with us as we love to share our stories, history and culture with them. We are always on the floor introducing ourselves and meeting our customers – it’s not just about food for us. It’s about so much more.
Are you planning anything special for your 5th anniversary? Every day is special for us! We are honored to be here and to share our food with our friends in Williamsburg – that’s all that matters to us!
As you explore your new Fifth & Wythe neighborhood, you'll pick up the scent of amazing coffee roasting and brewing in your local small batch roaster - Toby's Estate on N6th & Berry. This unique establishment does more than just prepare delicious coffee, though, they also offer a selection of public and private classes at their Brew School where you can learn how the elements to brewing your favorite coffee yourself. We got to speak with one of the Brew School Educators, Allie Caran, about everything that makes a good local coffee experience.
What inspired Toby’s Estate to open in Williamsburg? We decided to open a roastery in New York because, at the time, we felt that specialty coffee was underserved in New York. As we opened our doors in January 2012, the streets were empty but the neighborhood was beginning to rebuild itself into the incredibly busy neighborhood it has now become.
Tell us about the Brew School- What’s its mission as accompaniment to the roasting and coffee retail? Brew School is a series of one-on-one coffee classes. Students can learn how to cup coffee, manually brew, craft espresso and pour latte art. We really want to make coffee accessible for all types of coffee enthusiasts.
How long have you been an Educator? I have been an Educator at Toby’s Estate for 4 years.
What’s critical for a good brew? First and foremost, high quality coffee is essential for brewing. High quality, freshly roasted coffee will make a tremendous difference in the quality of your home brew. Freshness allows flavor and aroma to shine through at its fullest potential. Typically we recommend that coffee should be consumed 2-3 weeks after the roast date.
What is your favorite item on the menu? Right now, my favorite item is our seasonally released Winter Blend coffee. It’s only around for a few months but can be brewed as either espresso or filter. It’s sweet with notes of mulled wine, baked berries and stone fruit.
What’s the best introductory brew to order? I always suggest to ask a Barista for a good single-origin pour over option. They work with this coffee daily and are usually the best at navigating the right choice for your personal preference. If you're feeling like an espresso based beverage, a cortado is a nice way to go. It’s an effortless balance of both espresso and textured milk that will allow you to still enjoy the flavor of the shot.
What are the elements that you feel make Toby’s Estate and the Brew School different from the other local coffee shops and roasting plants in the area?The layout of the Williamsburg cafe is uniquely different from most cafes in the area. The space is open and allows guests to engage with it however they feel most comfortable. Whether it's sharing a cup of coffee, chatting with our Roasting team or delving into a coffee class, there is literally something for everyone to enjoy.
Tell us what you love about working in Williamsburg! There is a creative energy that pulses through Williamsburg! It’s amazing to work in an area that embraces newness. Great food, drink, music and art make this neighborhood an exciting area to work and live in.
Fabiane’s Cafe & Pastry Shop
Heading East from Fifth & Wythe towards the L train will take you directly into Fabiane's Café & Pastry Shop, a neighborhood institution since 2001. Originally from Rio de Janiero in Brazil, Fabiane has been a New Yorker for decades. Before opening her namesake pastry shop, she trained as a classical French culinary and pastry chef under the likes of Patrisca Yeo and Jaques Torres and at culinary institutions like LeCirque in midtown Manhattan. We got to chat with her about her love of baking delicious food and WIlliamsburg neighborhood.
Congratulations on 15 years! What has changed at Fabiane’s since you first opened? Thank you. We've gone thru 3 or 4 renovations since we opened, and of course, we've reacted to the changes in the neighborhood and the new demographics.
What prompted you to open in Williamsburg? At the time I was living in Greenpoint and was approached by two friends who had an idea of opening a special type of bakery. We put our heads and talents together and our love of Williamsburg and here we are!
How has Williamsburg evolved since you opened in 2001?Well, in those days, Williamsburg had just started to come out of its "Wild West Phase" the neighborhood was starting to form a positive personality, there were many new businesses and there was a great deal of excitement for the future and the possibilities. We went through many struggles to get a foot hold after the events of September 11th impacted the entire New York community, and have our small successes as a local business - not a corporate chain. Now it's very different indeed.
Do you live in Williamsburg? Yes, I live in Williamsburg on Kent Ave, I have lived there since 2005 but I moved from Manhattan to Greenpoint in 1997. Normally I walk to work.
What is your favorite part of working in Williamsburg?Because it's close to my home, normally I walk to work.
What is your favorite pastry to bake and to eat? I'd say our menu is healthy, international, fun and innovative, but my favorite creation is the Pear Tart! It reminds everyday of the wonderful French chef's with whom I apprenticed 7 days a week, at Le Cirque!
What do Williamsburg locals like to order in the morning?First place goes to the baked eggs and gluten free toast, but a close second is the gluten-free lemon cake and our own very special hot chocolate!
Where do you like to go in Williamsburg when you’re not at the café? I love to go to 108!
Do you create special items to celebrate your shop's anniversaries? This year I created a secret Brazilian dish, next anniversary, probably something French!
Leave Fifth & Wythe and wander a few blocks north up Wythe Avenue and you'll reach one of Williamsburg's hottest nightlife destinations-Brooklyn Bowl. Featuring an awesome bowling experience (leather sofas, anyone?), food that spans upscale snacks to hearty gourmet entrees, a full bar, and nightly live music, Brooklyn Bowl is an easy evening out for Fifth & Wythe residents. We got to connect with Charley Ryan, co-founder of Brooklyn Bowl, bowling enthusiast, and music talent scout to talk about what brings people back night after night.
When did you open Brooklyn Bowl? My partner, Peter Shapiro, and I found the Wythe Avenue at N. 11th Street location in September 2006, signed our lease in June 2007 and opened for business in July 2009.
Brooklyn Bowl is modern and retro simultaneously, with much more than bowling – how did you come up with the concept and the name? It was our first Brooklyn Bowl, but not our first rodeo. In fact, the idea for our place came to us when we took employees of Wetlands Preserve, a music/social justice/eco venue in TriBeCa out for a party at a bowling alley. Everyone had a great time despite deplorable food, sound, service and a lack of cleanliness. The bowling was the thing that made it fun. We knew we'd have something special if we lifted those other elements and fused the music and bowling experience.
How would you describe Brooklyn Bowl? As soon as we starting thinking about it, we realized that bowling is just plain fun and that our whole idea could escape the confines of being considered trendy or untrendy. We wanted to create an institution, a place people could come back to year after year, like revisiting an old friend.
We wanted our project to be green, but "green" has no real meaning so we decided to seek LEED certification as a truly green project. Our motivation was to build something we'd both be proud of, and to quietly inspire others. When we achieved LEED, someone else--not us, not our public relations firm--discovered that we were the first truly green bowling alley ever in the world, and we benefited tremendously from amazing worldwide press.
What is your favorite part of working in Williamsburg?Williamsburg is a wondrous place. Ten years ago it was bubbling under with energy. No one knew what would follow! But there's a core of longtime residents and businesses that are crucial to the magic of the neighborhood. They need to be heard and supported.
What is your favorite event or activity at Brooklyn Bowl? My favorite moments at Brooklyn Bowl happen when a special band is playing, you can feel the lift off in the room, and you know there's no place you'd rather be.
How do you go about selecting the acts, menu and activities you offer? We book our acts the way sports teams approach the draft: we're always looking for the best talent, regardless of genre. Over time it balances out.
What are the elements you feel make Brooklyn Bowl different from other activity and music venues?Our theme, which hopefully is subtle, harnesses the history, the colors and the graphic sensibility of Coney Island. With apologies to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Brooklyn Bowl is a carnival of the soul and a Coney Island of the mind. Our combination of sightlines, sounds, entertainment screens, bowling and great food and drink is irresistible.
If we have a secret, it's that we always try to be better than we were. We know our customers are more important than our bottom line, and the quality of our staff means everything. Also, our menu and food are by Blue Ribbon. That's as good as it gets!
Do you plan to open other Brooklyn or NYC locations someday? Would you still call them Brooklyn Bowl? We've opened in Las Vegas, on the LINQ across the Strip from Caesars, and London, at the O2--yes, always as "Brooklyn Bowl."
Where do you live? I used to live on Metropolitan Avenue here, and on Horatio Street in the West Village, but when I'm not on the road my home now is in Leonia, New Jersey. My goal is to spend more time with animals.
Amarcord Vintage Fashion
One of New York’s premiere destinations for high-end vintage clothing since 2002, Amarcord's Bedford Avenue retail store has drawn vintage lovers, media and the fashion industry alike to the Brooklyn neighborhood near Fifth & Wythe. With selections that range in era from Victorian to the 1990s, the company is dedicated to bringing upscale European fashion and accessories to everyone. As the seasons change, so does their carefully merchandised collections, so we connected with co-founder Marco Liotta to discuss Amarcord's history and the fall-winter.
Where did Amarcord begin? Amarcord Vintage Fashion began in NYC in 2000, founded by owners Patti Bordoni & Marco Liotta. Their mission was to fuse their experience & interests by bringing the quality of both the famous & the unknown of European vintage fashion design into the US market.
How did you come up with the name Amarcord? Bordoni & Liotta hail from Rimini, the origin of Federico Fellini; the Oscar-Winning director of many films, including the out-of-this-world flick Amarcord. The term Amarcord is the vernacular for “I Remember” in Romagna, Italy. Since we sell vintage & items of the yesteryear, it seemed fitting to collide all of those worlds together.
How would you describe Amarcord’s style? Amarcord is a carefully curated boutique that follows the styles of today’s runways & trends, with a heavy focus on European design. We cater to the fashion-obsessed and the designers that influence them. We’re equal parts chic, stylish, edgy, classic, quirky & fun. We continuously try to stock the store with something for everybody, at every price point.
How do you go about selecting the vintage you sell? We thrive on hunting & finding the best vintage the world has to offer. As mentioned above, we look to the current trends & runways to inspire us. We look for quality, durability, and interesting design & details. Almost every piece in the store has a meaning, a place, or a nod to what is happening in the world of fashion, showing you that what is old can be new again… and the best part is that no one else will have it!
What inspired you to open in Williamsburg? When Amarcord came to Williamsburg, it was a very different place. It was a counter culture & melting pot for the beautiful & the unusual, all while being very vintage-oriented. It’s been a long journey, but we’ve enjoyed watching the neighborhood evolve into what it is today. While the look & scene changes, the style remains and continues to be a draw for all walks of life.
What is your favorite part of working in Williamsburg? It’s very cool to be a part of an ever-changing community. We are proud to still be standing as all of the big box stores arrive. We love that both the neighborhood and mix of people are constantly growing, giving us a chance to interact & introduce vintage to all different types of people. We’re very friendly and we welcome all of you to come by so that we can make the experience your own- unique & reflective of your personal style.
What is your favorite item now on sale at Amarcord? Anything & everything in our window display. We try to make them stand out, like art installations, if you will. They really seem to attract & draw a lot of people in, which is very exciting for us. Other than that, there are currently some pretty amazing coats & show-stopping pieces of jewelry.
What are the elements you feel make Amarcord different from other vintage shops? We present each season as a collection, with new pieces added almost daily. We color coordinate our merchandise, while making suggestive outfits along the way. Meaning, skirts or pants aren’t all lumped into one section. We feel it is a fresh & unique way to display the clothing, hopefully begging you to dive in & look through everything. We meticulously inspect & prepare all merchandise, so don’t expect to find an unknown stain when you get home in a different light. Since we follow the seasons, you cannot come into Amarcord in June & find a fur coat.
Do you plan to open other locations someday? As far as retail stores go, we are currently devoted & focused on our newly renovated Williamsburg boutique. We’ve had other locations in both the East Village & Soho, the latter which closed pretty recently. We do have another location that is by appointment only, our Archive, which services industry professionals such as Fashion & Costume Designers, Stylists, and more. We also showcase new collections semi-annually at various vintage shows throughout the country.
Where do you live? We have the pleasure of working AND living right here in Williamsburg!
Amarcord Vintage Fashion is located at 223 Bedford Ave. Brooklyn, NY 11211 and online at amarcordvintagefashion.com . Photo of the newly renovated store at.
Van Leeuwen Ice Cream
Directly across from Fifth & Wythe is destination ice cream artisan Van Leeuwen. Long known as the ice cream truck with a cult following, to have a shop across the way year-round for ice cream and seasonal treats is a selling point for many people living near the waterfront of Williamsburg. We connected with 2 of the 3 founders of Van Leeuwen, Ben & Laura to talk about the sweet things going on in Williamsburg.
When did you open your first Van Leeuwen brick and mortar store? Our first brick and mortar was in Greenpoint, Brooklyn in 2010.
How would you describe Van Leeuwen's ice cream mission?We make the best possible ice cream from scratch using pure ingredients where delicious-ness is always the goal.
What inspired you to open in Williamsburg? We started Van Leeuwen in Greenpoint and still live and make all our ice cream right here. We've parked one of our trucks on nearby Bedford Avenue since the beginning and seen Williamsburg grow and change over the years. We couldn't think of a better location for our flagship store, and fell in love with this bright, corner store.
What is your favorite part of working in Williamsburg? We love the neighborhood, it's a good mix of local and visitors and always more laid back than Manhattan.
Where do you live? We [Ben and Laura] live in Greenpoint and Pete is now in LA running our stores and truck out there. He lives in Beachwood Canyon.
What is your favorite flavor (seasonal or standard) served at Van Leeuwen? Peanut Butter Marshmallow Crunch.YUM!
How do you go about inventing your flavors and toppings?There's no magic formula for dreaming up our flavors, they just come to us. We also listen to what the customers want and always try to pair unusual ingredients with something familiar.
What are the elements you feel make Van Leeuwen different than other ice cream artisans? We use only the best ingredients for all our ice creams across the board, if we use the best chocolate in one flavor, that's the only chocolate we use. We never compromise quality for cost.
What is the future of Van LeeuwenWe are opening our third store in L.A this month and just rolled out a bunch of new flavors to our retail line in brand new packaging.
photo credit Sidney Bensimon
Oslo Coffee Roasters
Oslo Coffee Roasters opened their first shop at 328 Bedford Avenue Brooklyn in September of 2003. Since then, the business has expanded from their original Williamsburg location to 133 Roebling, also in Brooklyn, 422 E 75th in Manhattan, and mail-order and wholesale of their small-batch coffee beans. The owners, JD and Kathy Merget, love being a part of the thriving Williamsburg community, and JD took a moment to chat about where they live, work, and play in the neighborhood:
How did you come up with the name Oslo? Our families' roots in Norway. We grew up with the love of strong coffee that is typical throughout Scandinavia.
What's unique about visiting Oslo Coffee? Oslo is a place to meet and talk with the people throughout the neighborhood. Oslo is a small artisanal coffee roaster. We are proudly local and take great care in serving great coffees to our community.
What is your favorite coffee drink? I am always excited to brew up our seasonal single origin coffee, especially when my staff and I have personally been to the farm.
How do you source your beans? We use several sources and methods to finding our beans. We meet with farmers in Central America and import their coffee directly. We also work with several green bean distributors. We always try to source socially and ecologically sustainable coffees from around the world.
What are the elements you feel make OSLO Coffee different than other coffee shops? We
are truly a locally owned and operated business. Our coffee is roasted in small batches daily so it is always fresh. Our staff is expertly trained to make you a delicious cup of coffee. We support other locally owned businesses by selling their goods as well as participating in and donating to community events. We proudly show the work of local artists.
What inspired you to open in Williamsburg? I loved the community of artists and creative minded people who lived and worked here.
What is your favorite part of working in Williamsburg? It is the people who make this neighborhood great. I like being able to live and work in the same community. I like seeing friends and neighbors as I walk between stores and run errands.
What are your favorite local restaurants? There are so many but I would say River Styx, Taco Chulo, Beco, Walter Foods, Egg, Greenpoint Fish, and Nha-Minh right now.
Where do you live now? How do you commute to your locations? We now live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Depending on the day, I use a bicycle or vespa, but I also walk and drive.
How do you see Oslo Coffee's business grow over the coming years?? I’d like to be continually learning and growing my business here in the neighborhood. I hope to still see the many friends I have made and look forward to meeting new people in the future.
How has the Williamsburg neighborhood changed since you first opened Oslo?The architecture has significantly changed. The businesses that once thrived in the warehouses have now mostly left as residential buildings have replaced the original structures that were here. Now it is more of a family-friendly neighborhood with many more stores, bars and restaurants that have opened to fulfill their needs.