Foodies flocking to Cortelyou Road, Brooklyn’s new culinary melting pot

Flatbush residents appear to have a major appetite for good food these days.

Indeed, Cortelyou Road has become something of a culinary Mecca, as storefronts along the strip blossom into eateries and watering holes, whetting the appetite of local residents and chowhounds from farther afield, as well.

Most recently, Purple Yam, a Filipino fusion restaurant, opened on the thoroughfare in November, a transplant of sorts from Soho, where its owners (then operating Cendrillon) were priced out of their lease.

In a move that was part local pride, part Kismet, the duo – Ditmas Park residents Romy Dorotan and Amy Besa – moved their business lock, stock and stockpot from Mercer Street to 1314 Cortelyou, and have operated to rave reviews ever since.

Nor is Purple Yam alone. Close behind is a new tapas and wine bar, Castillo Plan, which will open on February 12th at 1213 Cortelyou.

The old world style, marble and wood eatery is the brainchild of Ben Heemskerk a former waiter at The Farm on Adderley, across the street, and his partner, Avi Shuker, who is also a partner in the popular Mimi’s Hummus at 1209, that has been open just under a year, and who is currently putting the finishing touches on an upscale grocery, the Market, at 1211 Cortelyou, directly next door to Mimi’s.

“We live here too,” noted Heemskerk, who expressed pleasure in the fact that he is “able to contribute what I think is a nice space to my own community.

“What’s sort of nice,” he continued, “is that the real estate market itself gives young entrepreneurs like us the ability to create places that are expressions of ourselves and of what we believe the dining experience should be.

“I like the regulars,” Heemskerk went on. “I like knowing people’s names, knowing people’s palates, what people’s tastes are. You really get a one-on-one connection. If you moved Cortelyou Road to Manhattan, you’d have different customers every day.”

In what is turning out to be a mini restaurant boom for Cortelyou Road, also scheduled to open in February is Bagels by the Park, in the storefront vacated by Giant Bagels, between Marlborough and Rugby Roads.

This is not just an ordinary bagel shop. Rather, according to the Ditmas Park Blog, one of the partners in the enterprise is Jim Mamary, who was a pivotal figure in the revitalization of Smith Street and who is best known in Flatbush for having taken a bodega at the corner of Newkirk Avenue and Argyle Road and transformed it into a tony French restaurant, Pomme de Terre.

Also in the offing, according to the Ditmas Park Blog, is a Japanese restaurant. This, they report, is scheduled to come into the empty store adjacent to San Remo, one of the strip’s mainstays, a longtime pizzeria whose owner recently opened a sit-down Italian restaurant at the back.

The explosion of dining options on the strip is something that would have been unimaginable a decade ago, before the first culinary pioneer, Rug-B, opened in the location that would become the strip’s first successful upscale restaurant, Picket Fence.

Following Picket Fence, there was a slow build-up, as the Farm on Adderley, Solo, Vox Pop, Café Tibet, Sycamore, Connecticut Muffin and Mimi’s Hummus opened on the strip, which already had a cozy Mexican restaurant, Cinco de Mayo as well as John’s Bakery and the aforementioned San Remo.

Retail stores for the culinarily-inclined came along too. The Flatbush Food Co-op, a longtime Cortelyou Road destination, moved into larger premises, even as Natural Frontier and T.B. Ackerson Wine Merchants opened up a short distance away, and the Greenmarket settled down on Sundays between June and November outside P.S. 139.

“To me, what’s important is that you’ve got one independently owned creative place after another,”enthused Jan Rosenberg, the president of Friends of Cortelyou. “It’s just been fantastic. Even in this economy, you have people taking risks and opening fantastic places.

“It’s so gratifying and so much fun to live in a community with all these places to go,” she added. “What I love, personally, is that there are so many different places offering different kinds of food, and every place has its own aroma, its own feel.”

The changes on Cortelyou reflect, at least in part, the area’s changing demographics. Sitting on a bench outside Mimi’s Hummus, and speaking to this reporter over her cell phone, Rosenberg noted that, walking past her, were “A lot of people, a lot of young people, more professionals and artists. It’s the young people who usually have the disposable income to go to restaurants.”

The variety along the strip, Rosenberg added, reflects the diversity that Cortelyou boosters tried for years to foster. “We had enough nail salons and bodegas,” she remarked. “We didn’t know so many of the new places would be food-oriented, but we knew that food leads the way in many cases when a community takes off.”

The culinary explosion along Cortelyou, Rosenberg opined, foretells good days to come on the area’s other thoroughfares, such as Newkirk Avenue, Foster Avenue and the western end of Church Avenue, near Coney Island Avenue.

“It had to start in one place to catch on, but I hope it spreads in every direction,” she remarked.