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Food fight! Epic battle pits classicists vs. newcomers

for The Brooklyn Paper
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What’s old is new again when it comes to Brooklyn’s dining scene.

Forget about foams, fusions, or fancy French techniques, there’s a new generation of foodies celebrating the borough’s culinary roots with an homage to old classics.

Not that they aren’t doing a little bit of tweaking.

When Brandon Gillis and Joshua Sharkey, owners of Bark Hot Dogs in Park Slope, decided to tackle one of Brooklyn’s most venerable food institutions, they wanted to make a statement doing it.

“We realized that no one was really doing quality fast food at the time,” said Gillis. “The only place to find sustainable, responsibly sourced fare was at three-star restaurants. We wanted to put the same thought and care into a product that was affordable to everyone, available to everyone, and loved by everyone.”

Places like Bark may be looking towards the future, but there are still plenty of Brooklyn restaurants unapologetically embracing the old school.

Colandrea New Corner, an Italian-American restaurant in Dyker Heights, is proudly stuck in time.

“We do things exactly the same way they did them when my grandfather started the business, over 75 years ago,” remarked owner Stephen Colandrea. “That’s what keeps our customers coming back. They expect to see the menu the same, the décor the same. They want the food to taste the same way now as it did back then.”

Whether you prefer to take your taste buds on a tour of old-world Brooklyn, or would rather indulge in a little haute cuisine, one thing’s for sure, the borough’s best bites have never been on better — or more diverse — display.

Hot dogs

Old School: Nathans

This old warhorse has been serving frankfurters the same way since 1916. The extra-long all-beef dogs snap nicely when you bite into them, have an appealing sweet and smoky flavor, and bear up perfectly to gobs of spicy, deli-style mustard, piles of saurkraut, or (gasp!) Heinz ketchup. Although many (many) franchises have followed, nothing beats a visit to the original location on Surf Avenue. Yes, the area has seen better days, and you might end up guarding your sand-kissed dog from one-eyed seagulls or roving drunks, but somehow, that only adds to the appeal.

Nathans Famous [1310 Surf Ave. at Stillwell Avenue in Coney Island, (718) 946-2202].

New School: Bark

Imagine actually knowing what’s in your hot dog! Bark performs this small miracle by disclosing a full list of its scrupulously sourced suppliers. Hartmann’s Old World Sausage makes the private-label dogs, Heritage Farms USA provides the Berkshire pork products, and kraut and condiments are made in-house. It also doesn’t hurt that the puppies are basted with homemade smoked lard butter. The humble wiener never had it so good.

Bark [474 Bergen St. between Fifth and Flatbush avenues in Park Slope, (718) 789-1939].

Pizza

Old school: L&B Spumoni Gardens

Generations of Brooklynites continue to flock to this family owned pizzeria in Gravesend for homemade spumoni, ices, and the infamous Sicilian-style pies. The dense and deeply browned crusts are topped with cheese and then sauce, with showers of freshly grated Romano and olive oil finishing the picture. There’s a full sit-down restaurant, take-out window and garden seating in addition to the pizza parlor, but prepare yourself for a serious wait.

L&B Spumoni Gardens [2725 86th St. between W. 10 and W. 11 streets in Gravesend, (718) 449-1230].

New school: Fornino

Super-chef Michael Ayoub explores “the art and science of pizza” in this award winning, ‘billyburg restaurant. The menu is split into three categories; Naples: The First Generation; Italy, The Second Generation; and Fornino: The Third Generation. Guess where you’ll find all the fancy-schmantzy pies? The Funghi Misti is made with mixed wild mushrooms, caciocavallo and mozzarella cheeses and white truffle oil — something you’d be hard pressed to find at any old slice shop.

Fornino [187 Bedford Ave. at N. Seventh street in Williamsburg, (718) 384-6004].

Cheesecake

Old school: Juniors

Only three individuals have overseen the production of Junior’s famous cheesecake in its 60-plus years of Brooklyn dessert dominance, with one “master baker” presiding over the entire process. No one can describe these cream cheesy wedges as light and fluffy, but that’s a good thing. Supremely dense, fantastically rich, and completely satisfying — Juniors cheesecakes are the real Brooklyn deal.

Junior’s [386 Flatbush Avenue Ext. at DeKalb Avenue in Downtown, (718) 852-5257].

New school: Robicelli’s

Cupcake impresarios, Matt and Allison Robicelli, have become known for miniaturizing just about anything — with delicious results. Chicken n’ waffles, Irish soda bread and the Bronx Zoo Egyptian Cobra are past cupcake inspirations, but the cheesecake-themed “Bea Arthur” cupcake, created to memorialize the “Golden Girls” star upon her passing, that is as legendary as its namesake. The cheesecake buttercream pays homage to the show itself, while the black coffee-infused chocolate cake represents the trailblazing actress. To us, it’s pure deliciousness.

Robicelli’s (For info on locations, visit robicellis.tumblr.com).

Red-sauce Italian

Old school: Colandrea New Corner

Patrons of this old-guard Italian joint know exactly how they like it — sauce: tomato; vegetables: fried; price point: low; portions: huge. And no counting calories here — the tortellini carbonara comes doused with pancetta, egg, meat, cream and cheese, just like back in the day.

Colandrea New Corner [7201 Eighth Ave. between 72nd and 73rd streets in Dyker Heights, (718) 833-0800].

New school: Frankie’s 457 Spuntino

Former food and nutrition consultants, Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli, focus on offering simple, local, seasonally inspired fare at this much-ballyhooed Italian eatery. House-made cavatelli is tossed with Faiccos hot sausage and browned sage butter, meatballs are studded with pine nuts and raisins, and the new school carbonara is done with guanciale and farm-fresh Lancaster egg.

Frankie’s 457 Spuntino [457 Court St. between Fourth Place and Luquer Street in Carroll Gardens, (718) 403-0033].

Posted 12:00 am, April 15, 2011
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