Monday, March 31, 2014

Food Biz: Brooklyn's Innovation Tops Charts

Battersby, Carroll Gardens,
Brooklyn. Ranked #3 in USA in 2012.
How important are Brooklyn restaurants in the U.S. food economy? To hear some of my young friends talk, Brooklyn is where the action is, the most innovative chefs.

Some numbers support the idea that Brooklyn is rapidly becoming a much bigger presence in the cuisine scene. In 1992, the Zagat guide included only 22 restaurants in Brooklyn. Two decades later, the number has increased ten-fold to 217.

Manhattan remains nearly ten times bigger, with 1,745 restaurants, but its restaurants have a secure clientele with the business-lunch and business-dinner crowd, who may not be looking for much innovation. Manhattan accounts for seven-tenths of the New York City economy, so it naturally captures the lunch-time epicureans.

But Brooklyn has has far more residents - 2.6 million vs. 1.6 million in Manhattan. And Brooklyn has been growing faster. Since 2010, it grew by 3.5 percent vs. 2.5 percent in Manhattan.  Queens, by the way, is also bigger than Manhattan, with 2.3 million, and has been growing faster, 2.9 percent, but it is not to the same extent as Brooklyn a magnet for young urban professionals.

Brooklyn's restaurants are catching on to the fact that they have sophisticated diners living nearby and with a little effort they can grab some of the dinner crowd away from Manhattan by offering something new. Many leading new restaurants in Brooklyn are open only for dinner. One advertises its opening hour as 5:30 pm, seven days per week, with closing at 11 pm every day except Sunday, when it is 10 pm.

With this background, it may not be so surprising that in the last two years the only New York City restaurants among Bon Appetit's Top 10 Best New Restaurants in the USA have been in Brooklyn. In 2012, the Top 10 included two restaurants from Brooklyn - Blanca (#2) in Williamsburg and Battersby (#3) in Carroll Gardens - and none from the other four boroughs. In 2013, the Top 10 included Aska in Brooklyn and again none from the other four boroughs.

The six runner-up cities, with two restaurants in the combined 2012 and 2013 lists, were Atlanta (one in its satellite city Decatur), Houston, Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. The other five cities, represented by one restaurant each in the two years, are Austin, Chicago, Minneapolis, Nashville and Seattle.

Manhattan is represented on the list, which is prepared by Andrew Knowlton for August publication each year, with five restaurants over the two years among the top 50 Best New Restaurants - Atera, Carbone, Lafayette, NoMad and Pearl & Ash.