CHEF CONCIERGE • March 2020
Chef, coffee obsessive, family man: John Seymour is a lot of things, but above all, he’s a New Yorker. We asked the pioneer behind Brooklyn’s chicken and waffle craze – at his restaurant Sweet Chick – to tell us where’s cool
Brunch worth waking up early for
I’m biased, but Sweet Chick has become a brunch institution here in Williamsburg. Our ricotta pancakes and Eggs Benny are super popular choices. Besides this, not a lot of people know that our signature dish, chicken and waffles, is actually a New York classic – when I found out the dish originated in the jazz clubs of Harlem in the 1920s, that’s when Sweet Chick was born.
Where to impress someone on a date
An old mechanic shop-turned modern Italian restaurant, I’d say Lilia for a date. The vibe is refined and the menu is well executed. There’s this mafaldini and pink peppercorn dish (pictured below) with Parmigiano-Reggiano that they do – I haven’t been to Italy, but so far it’s my favourite pasta in the whole world.
Best slice in Brooklyn
You’ll find the best pizza in the world in Brooklyn. I think it’s at Lucali’s – a busy, sit-down pizzeria that takes you back in time to 1920’s New York. Bring your own wine and get ready to have the best pepperoni of your life. The owner, Mark, is always there, and you’re likely to see a celebrity or two knocking around. For pizza by the slice, you’ll want Di Fara Pizza on Avenue J. The owner, Dominic Di Fara, is the pizza guy. His place serves up the textbook definition of an amazing New York slice.
An innovative chef
I’ve long admired Erik Ramirez, the chef behind Llama, and I’ve been going there a lot recently. It’s Peruvian inspired, so we’re talking ceviche, whole fish, skewers, and of course, plenty of pisco on the cocktail menu (pictured below). It’s elevated Peruvian and, to me, incredibly inspiring. Definitely a place to book in advance.
Where to experience a New York classic
There’s a spot you have to try in Red Hook called Defonte’s Sandwich Shop, which is the place to get a chicken parmigiana. It’s been there forever. In Manhattan, a lot of the ‘classic New York’ places like Katz’s Delicatessen and Russ & Daughters, are Jewish, but here in Brooklyn it’s more about the Italian heritage. All the guys working at Defonte’s grew up in the shop and their kids will do the same. They’re the type of guys who, if they don’t like the way you order your sandwich, might kick you out.
Great place for a post-dinner drinks
There are a few places around here that have a great party vibe. A little spot that’s good for a drink is Gran Torino (pictured below) on Berry Street. They’re known for their Swiss fondue, but the big draw is their all-night happy hour (5pm to closing time). There are tropical choices on the cocktail menu, but you can get mulled wine and hot cider there in the winter, too. In the summer, head to Pearl’s – my wife’s Caribbean restaurant with a big back yard that always turns into a party when the sun’s out.
For cocktails with a view
The Hoxton Williamsburg has a terrific view from its rooftop cocktail lounge, but there’s another great hotel just across the street, Wythe Hotel, which has one that’s just as good. Wythe’s has one of those classic Brooklyn water tanks on the roof, which they’ve converted into a bar. They have exclusive events from time to time, but other than that it should be a walk-in situation. Order any drink – they’re all great, and really, it’s the Manhattan views you’re paying for.
Favourite place for coffee
I run on coffee – I drink 10 cups a day and own a coffee shop downtown, Ludlow Coffee Supply. I drink my own coffee at home, but in the neighbourhood, I’ll get a cup from Cotter Barber, which is my local barbershop. They have a coffee counter (you can order from here even if you’re not getting your hair cut) that serves single origins, blends and a nitro coffee on tap, so that’s what I drink. Nitro is what gives Guinness its creamy texture, and it creates the same smoothness in coffee.
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