In the late 1990s, Sex and the City’s Samantha wouldn’t have been caught dead in Brooklyn.
How times have changed…
My latest story for CNBC was inspired by the recent summer day when I left the Lower East Side apartment where I was staying, walked down the street to the Essex Market, and ate a Guaco Taco from Brooklyn Taco for breakfast.
I hesitated before ordering. “Is it hot?” I asked hopefully. “I mean, spicy hot?”
The tall guy behind the counter nodded rather noncommittally, and I figured that I would be satisfied, yet underwhelmed by the taco. After all, I associated good bagels and ironically-named, overpriced craft cocktails with Brooklyn. I associated amazing pizza (Grimaldi’s on Fulton Street, the only place I’m willing to wait in line for an hour for pizza) and pizza that tastes amazing when it’s midnight and you’re starving, plus the guys at the counter remember your order and laugh at your jokes (Smiling Pizza on 9th St and 7th Avenue) with Brooklyn.
Yet I never associated tacos with Brooklyn. More importantly, I was confused why Brooklyn Taco was on the Lower East Side. And not in Brooklyn.
I sat there pondering this while the taco drew tears and practically burned my face off. Passers-by probably assumed I was crying over a breakup or The New York Times front page stories, which were sob-worthy the entire month of July. I was only crying over the taco, which is no small feat: I am a bona fide taco snob after 7 glorious taco-filled years in Austin, Texas. It’s not easy to bring me to tears.
My mouth burned all the way through my neighborhood stroll. To counter the jalapeno burn with something more mild, I considered popping in for a plain cheese slice at a pizza place that looked promising.
It was called–surprise!–Williamsburg Pizza.
Williamsburg, as you may know, would probably win the vote if you surveyed 100 New Yorkers on what is the trendiest, hippest neigborhood in Brooklyn. Of course, it’s practically a hipster dinosaur now, but it has staying power, like Madonna.
Back in the 1980s, Williamsburg was full of punk rock musicians and performance artists, in addition to the Hasidic families who had long been settled there. In the 2000s, Williamsburg traded up for trust fund kids and tech nerds with stock options.
In the 1980s, Madonna was a dancer and punk singer who dated Jellybean Benitez. In the 2000s, she traded up for Guy Ritchie and acquired a posh British accent. (Well, to be fair, Sean Penn and that backup dancer and a few others were in between.)
Whether Madonna is the Williamsburg of pop stars, or Williamsburg is the Madonna of neighborhoods, I will leave you to judge.
In Williamsburg pizza, I ordered a Grandma Slice: square-cut, cheese on the bottom and sauce on the top. It was excellent, but I expected it to come with a piece of mildly disapproving advice and a $25 check.
I couldn’t resist continuing my “why are Brooklyn businesses taking over Manhattan” line of inquiry with the friendly counter guy.
“In the last two hours I’ve eaten a Brooklyn Taco and considered buying a t-shirt in Brooklyn Industries, and now I’m sitting here eating Williamsburg Pizza. Does that seem remotely suspicious to you?”
He shrugged and threw another pizza into the oven, and changed the subject: he was interested in telling me how he attracted women who used him. I wondered if Jellybean Benitez had ever felt the same way.
“For free pizza?” I asked. The Grandma slice was good, and I imagined round-the-clock access to unlimited Grandma slices might be, for some, as heady a proposition as other aspects of romance.
“Nope,” he said. “The last girl I dated didn’t even like pizza.”
“That’s a really bad sign,” I sighed, and he agreed.