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My dad’s take on the new Brooklyn

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My father thinks Smith Street is for “wimps.” He doesn’t blame the chi-chi boutiques, the space-shuttle-shaped designer suitcase shop or the tiny eateries that specialize in main dishes the size of a newborn’s pinkie.

That would be too easy for my dad, a Long-Island-raised businessman who intimidates the other businessmen on his Maryland cul-de-sac with his unyielding refusal to adhere to a regular lawn-mowing schedule or remove the black cowboy hat that always — always — covers his balding pate.

Instead, my dad found evidence for Smith Street’s declining tough-guy-ness at the least-likely place: the pizza parlor.

Last week, he went into Caruso Pizzeria at Bergen Street and ordered up a lemon ice. He came out disappointed.

“The wimps don’t have ices,” he said.

My father has spent very little time in Brooklyn since 1952, when his parents traded a walk-up in Brownsville for a ranch in Valley Stream. This was his first visit back to Smith Street, now, of course, a hip restaurant row. In search of “real Brooklyn,” it was Caruso’s that had lured him in, beckoning with a dusty window advertisement for Gino’s Italian Ice.

A false advertisement, he learned. Apparently, the six-ounce cups of dyed-and-corn-sweetened frozen water sell only in the summer.

We tried a few other places.

“We have ices in the winter, but we don’t have ices in the winter,” said Jerry Giardini, the owner of Giardini Pizzeria at First Place. (Not for nothing, but I felt like I needed Martin Scorsese to translate that for me.)

Giardini was the literal and metaphorical end of the road for us, and the ices. My dad decided to settle with what was plentiful in winter on Smith Street: Fizzy Lizzy’s organic no-added-sugar lemon soda.

But the news that Gino’s ice is harder to find than a glass bottle of organic soda hit my father hard, a strike against old, and closely held, misconceptions about the borough of “Goodfellas.”

No longer could he close his eyes to the $8 ginger martinis at the Brooklyn Social Club and pretend that Lucchese capos did business there. Not only did the pizzerias not serve Italian ices, but the smoked gouda at the new Chop Chop grocery-boutique comes from Holland.

He had come to visit his daughter in hardscrabble South Brooklyn only to find that the place didn’t exist anymore. Brooklyn had gone soft as a suede couch in a corporate suite.

But then we passed a Laundromat with a hand-lettered sign that stopped my dad cold: “Please do not use the dryers if you did not wash your laundry here.”

Now that pleased my dad. “At least someone around here is still tough,” he said.

Then he smiled, and reminded me to double-lock my doors.

The Kitchen Sink

The DiMattina Field baseball diamond, on Hicks Street next to the BQE, is getting new spotlights to compete with the glare of passing traffic, said Little League sugar daddy, and neighborhood Councilman Bill DeBlasio, who helped pay for the $200,000 lights. What about the bocce courts, Bill? …

Who doesn’t love Red Hook nowadays? Even Brooklyn Academy of Music director Karen Brooks Hopkins — who recently won a big honor from France — takes her staff to 360, the fancy French boite on Van Brunt Street. …

Were kids cuter in the 1990s? Such a question may occur to you while viewing “Spontaneous Combustion,” an awesome collection of film shorts directed by, and starring, a classroom of 9-year olds. This most adorable artifact of late-1990s Brownstone Brooklyn is now showing at the Micro Museum on Smith Street. Catch it before it returns to the vault. …

A few months ago, we noticed an old synagogue on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill that was being converted into a wine bar. We stopped by, but the owner brushed us off. Anyhoo, Caio Dunson now says he’ll open in April. L’chaim! …

File this under W for “What a Surprise”: Rep. Jerry Nadler (D–Red Hook) opposes the Bush escalation in Iraq. We got his press release a few hours after the president announced his so-called troop “surge.” “What a deaf president we have,” Nadler said on the floor of the House.

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