Remember "très Brooklyn"? It was the expression brought to the public consciousness by the New York Times' Julia Moskin, who heard the phrase used by some Parisians in the food-know to indicate the Who's Who of Young France finally accepting Brooklyn—little old Brooklyn—as a signifier of the cuisine du jour. By Brooklyn and cuisine, that is to say, food trucks (and, it would follow, bricks and mortar places too) selling artisanal-type things, you know, hipster fare. You know, the usual, what you eat on an average day in a room with subway tiles lit by lights with Edison bulbs, or out on the street, handed down to you from your favorite purveyor on wheels. Locally hewn, organic, free-range, handcrafted foods. From Moskin, back then, the words reflected "a recent American culinary invasion that includes chefs at top restaurants; trendy menu items like cheesecake, bagels and bloody Marys; and notions like chalking the names of farmers on the walls of restaurants." Cute, yes, possibly even twee, but this is the way in which a lot of us eat—and also makes for the livelihoods of a lot of people in the restaurant business.
All that and those who dine upon it, it seems, may have been left in a lurch—like the rest of us—by Sandy, who really had no respect at all for good ingredients. Earlier this week the Red Hook Lobster Pound was tweeting in search of a freezer to store $50,000 worth of lobster meat. "I've lost my whole business," owner Susan Povich told the Times. And much if not all of Red Hook, considered by many "the artisanal foodie capital of Brooklyn," but terribly vulnerable on the water's edge, was left powerless and deluged by Sandy. Another great spot there, Fort Defiance, sustained damage, as did others (Eater is keeping a list). Beyond restaurants themselves closing for a time, what does Sandy mean for the back-end operations of many of our favorite food establishments, unable to source their bread from Gowanus or locate their Red Hook lobsters for our dinners? Transport is a problem even if the products themselves haven't been ruined. And along with the food, there are the restaurants too: In Dumbo, as Alexander Hancock writes at Eater, "floodwaters inundated restaurants like Bubby's and Governor, causing thousands of dollars' worth of damage, if not more." The hardest-hit restaurant in the city might be Dumbo's The River Cafe, for all of its Michelin stars, he explains.
A piece by Steve Cuozzo in the New York Post on Thursday focuses on the blacked-out restaurants in downtown Manhattan (below 34th Street) that are suffering, too. With no power and with transportation still tangled, "the threat is greatest to zillions of small spots that are the backbone of the eating and boozing scene — like Mexican ones on Rivington Street and bistros of every ethnicity in the West Village," he writes, quoting Eater.com founder Lockhart Steele as saying there's a "feeling of fear from restaurant people that hasn’t dawned on the media yet.” This is their bread and butter, not only ours, and along with loss of revenue there's loss of inventory, and, quite likely, damages to pay to repair. Some downtown spots have been serving food by candlelight; in Red Hook there was a communal cookout hosted by the Fort Defiance folks on Wednesday. But the food trucks. Where are the food trucks, now?
The foodie cred of Brooklyn (and Manhattan) is not the first of our worries when we try to get back to some semblance of normalcy. But rest assured that as big things (transport, power) slowly but, hopefully, surely begin to return to the state we knew, we will move to worrying about the other, slightly less "necessary" things, too. (These are, to many, necessary things: Small businesses, bigger businesses, the restaurant economy, the employees who work within it, and our taste buds.) Call it Maslow's Hierarchy of Wants. If there is no "artisanal goodness" available in Brooklyn—if we can't get the free-range chicken, the hand-braised pork belly, the fresh-baked bread, the mayo made from the tears of nuns, the urban fruits and vegetables grown in Gowanus backyards to make persillades and decadent pies and good stuff to put in tacos, will "très Brooklyn" cease to exist?
If Sandy could somehow do away with excessive use of the word artisanal, we wouldn't complain. But we must admit, in the wake of all this Sandy business, we've become rather fond of "très Brooklyn" (in spirit if not in the letter). Still, New Yorkers are tough: Red Hook Lobster Pound, for instance, promises they'll be back, and with a party. Where there's a want, there must be a way.