SAVING BEST FOR LAST in Red Hook • Brooklyn

offManhattan travelRed Hook's freshest cup of coffee at Hope & Anchor“IF IT WEREN’T FOR THE LAST MINUTE, nothing would ever get done” so the saying goes. We suspect whoever coined the phrase did it in December. After all, between entertaining out-of-towners and amassing a collection of white elephant rejects, the end-of-year is probably the last place you’d look for an eleventh-hour escape. But Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood provides exactly that – a few hours of relief from the crush of holiday crowds, making it a favorite quick getaway for local artisan crafts, affordable eats, and a head-on view of the Statue of Liberty just twenty minutes from Manhattan.

Along Van Brunt Street, Red Hook’s main thoroughfare, fig-and-nutmeg chocolate cupcakes from Baked fuel excursions down cobblestone roads while boutiques, like antique dealer Erie Basin, are plentiful with gifts your giftee won’t already have. On weekends, transportation to the historic area is free thanks to IKEA water taxis, which ferry across New York Harbor between Wall Street and Red Hook.

Pumpkin whoopie pie from BAKEDFirst things first – break in the day with pastries from Baked, a bakeshop-café brightened by orange furnishings and a woodsy aesthetic that would make any hip lumberjack feel at home.

Metal & Thread entranceThe Baked story began with two colleagues who left advertising jobs to pursue the perfect cake in 2005. Soon after, the pair’s painstakingly-created desserts captured national attention when Martha and Oprah took notice. Nowadays, neighbors wander in before noon for muffins and savory “hot pockets” (veggie version also available), while the rest swing by with laptops through the day to make the most of brownies and free wi-fi. When it comes to Baked cakes, we are hopelessly devoted to the Red Hook Red Hot cupcake, a red velvet treat made with Valrhona cocoa topped with cinnamon buttercream. We’d also recommend the signature Sweet & Salty, which combines decadent dark chocolate cake with caramel chocolate ganache. It’s not an award winner for nothing.

Walk off your sugar high and drop by Erie Basin for 19th century jewelry and antique home furnishings. We promise an object d’art from here will leave even the most discerning receiver impressed by your shopping savvy, but it’ll cost a pretty penny.

A few doors down, longtime collaborators Denise Carbonell and Derek Dominy sell their sturdy, but whimsical, wares at Metal and Thread. Working with local artisans, the shopkeepers encourage the use of salvaged materials to illustrate the relationship between invention and recycling for environmentally sound art. Denise’s quilts, for example, combine strips of second-hand fabric to form vivid one-of-a-kindMuffaletta from Hope & Anchor tapestries. And Derek, a skilled blacksmith, reuses metal, which result in the likes of iron shelving with, not only handmade appeal, but a past life too.

Grab lunch down the road at Fort Defiance, which attracts bookish locals from eight in the morning until midnight (2 a.m. on weekends). The daily-changing menu boasts New American dishes with a penchant for French, Italian, even Asian cuisines. (We’re especially keen on the return of a certain Vietnamese bánh mì.) On our last visit, we ordered the muffaletta, the celebrated Sicilian sandwich from New Orleans (pictured left), which sated our craving for cured meats and cheeses dressed in olive salad. The olive spread soaked through the focaccia-like bread, intensifying the flavor of oil and sausage with each bite. While we hear this particular muffaletta leads Louisianans down memory lane, we bet it induces food coma as well.

Revitalize the troops for the rest of the afternoon with a cup of Counter Culture Coffee prepared in Fort Defiance’s custom-made brew rail. Amiable baristas measure out whole beans and freshly ground them for each cup so this dose of caffeine is as fresh as it gets. It’s a time-consuming method, sure, but the attention paid to each cup is worth the wait. Besides, the pouring procession (pictured top left) is fun to see.

Cup in hand, stroll to Valentino Park and Pier to see the remnants of Red Hook’s once active shipping industry. Today the site is a small industrial park where families toss footballs, fly kites, and do handstands on green patches of grass in more clement weather. Even on brisk days the Steve's Key Lime Piepier attracts visitors with its head-on view of the Statue of Liberty and quiet vantage point on picturesque New York Harbor.

As you retrace your steps to Van Brunt Street, take a detour and follow the signs to Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie where kitschy seaside knick-knacks inadequately convey the gravity of New York City’s ultimate key lime pie. Don’t let the luau décor fool you – these are serious pies made from limes the size of golf balls. Get the single-serve tart or go chocolate-dipped with the “Swingle”. It’s fine to share, but you probably won’t want to.

With bellies satisfied, meander through the Liberty Sunset Garden Center where exotic plants, like 20-foot Yucca trees, elephant ears, water lilies, and a collection of exotic cacti mingle with shrubs and trees. We’re quite positive we saw a (very green) pineapple in its early stages last time.

As we ambled back to IKEA to catch a Manhattan-bound ferry, we discovered Saipua, a florist and soap shop, tucked in what appeared to be the front half of a large garage (we later learned their workshop is located out back). The storefront – pictured below – is easy to miss given its position off the main strip, but for those who find them, Saipua captivates passersby with its small, elegant setup. It’s like a stage for pretty things, complete with fragrant bouquets, drawn curtains, and a friendly dog named Nea. Sometimes, you can’t help but save the best for last. Share These Red Hook Tips!

Saipua (147 Van Dyke Street)

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December 29, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , . Brooklyn, cupcakes, offManhattan, Red Hook.

3 Comments

  1. Sarah replied:

    You have such a knack for photography, Amy. Each of these is striking and memorable. Saipua looks lovely!

  2. Keavy replied:

    Agreed! Your photography is beautiful!

  3. orna replied:

    YES ! Actually I didnt even realise these were your photos, I though they were professional press ad. Really, very good.

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