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Micro-hood! Greenwood Heights is a family Billyburg

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It’s a question that many Brooklynites face every night.

Where do you hang out if you’re too cool for the Brownstone belt — but not cool enough for Williamsburg?

Tucked between overpriced Park Slope and undervisited Sunset Park, the micro-neighborhood of Greenwood Heights might be the answer.

This low-key family area nestled below Green-Wood Cemetery is rapidly becoming a hangout for creatives, freelancers and hipsters who have had it with the North Brooklyn scene.

Quiet stretches of Fifth and Sixth avenues that once housed only mom-and-pop businesses now host a handful of high-end bars and restaurants, plus the original mainstays like a Jirasol Bakery, Eagle Provisions and El Continental restaurant that gave the neighborhood its street cred in the first place.

That combination of new arrivals and old neighbors is the best part of the community, according to neighborhood activist Aaron Brashear — who is aptly known as the Mayor of Greenwood Heights.

“There’s a very good mix of people here, but it still has a neighborhood-y, working class feel to it,” Brashear said.

So if you hope off the R train at Prospect Avenue, where should you go? Follow this handy crawl:

1) Eagle Provisions

Before immigrants from Mexico (and more recently Park Slope) reshaped Greenwood Heights, the neighborhood near the cemetery was Polish. One of the few Eastern European businesses that continues to thrive is Eagle Provisions, a full service grocery store best known for beer and smoked meats. The deli is bursting with wursts — and none is more popular than the kielbasa ($3.49 per pound). Eagle now boasts 1,500 varieties of beer — the largest selection in the city according to co-owner John Zawisny — including domestic standards as well as bizarre foreign ales like DeuS, a Belgian beer brewed like traditional French champagne ($25 per liter).

Eagle Provisions (628 Fifth Avenue between 17th and 18th streets) is open Monday–Saturday, 6 am–7 pm; Sunday, 6 am–5 pm. For information, call (718) 499-0026.

2) El Continental

Not only is this reasonably priced Salvadoran restaurant a popular spot for cheap lunches, it also grills the best steak in Greenwood Heights. The friendly staff serves thick beef stews ($8), gourmet platters of red snapper ($15) and T-bone steaks ($15) that all go down well with a refreshing horchata ($2) — a popular Central American drink made from rice. The not-so-hungry can snack for cheap on sweet plantains ($2.50) and complimentary tortilla chips with bean dip. El Continental regulars recommend boning up on your Spanish visiting the casual eatery — though the menu is in English, ordering in Castellano will make sure the staff knows what you want.

El Continental (672 Fifth Avenue at 20th Street) is open daily, 11 am–2 pm; and weekends, 3 pm–10 pm. For information, call (718) 832-1327.

3) Quarter

This dimly lit bar is the standard by which watering holes should be judged. Chat with friends in the cozy backyard (open until 11 pm), get to know your date at a tiny candle-lit table, or tell the friendly bartenders about your relationship woes while the jukebox plays your favorite Spoon song. Drinks start cheap with Miller High Life ($3) and draft beers including O’hara’s Stout and Blue Point ($5), but you can also find a decent selection of wines ($7) as well as some of the borough’s best cocktails, like the famed Rita Lee — a plum Margarita on the rocks ($9).

Quarter Bar (676 Fifth Avenue between 20th and 21st streets) is open Sunday–Tuesday, 6 pm–2 am; Wednesday–Thursday, 6 pm–3 pm; and Friday–Saturday, 6 pm–4 am. For information, call (718) 788-0989.

4) Jirasol Bakery

The trays of authentic Mexican sweets at Jirasol Bakery are great, but the real attraction of this Fifth Avenue panaderia is the grill — which stays hot 24 hours a day. While most kitchens in the neighborhood close around 9 pm, you can order authentic tacos stuffed with onions and beef or pork ($2.50) at any time of night. If you’re craving something a little lighter, try any of the traditional Mexican sweet breads ($1–$2), which are perfect for dunking in a cup of coffee.

Jirasol Bakery (690 Fifth Avenue at 21st Street) is open all day, every day. For information, call (718) 369-0251.

5) Toby’s Public House

Toby’s Public House somehow manages to simultaneously be a full-fledged sports bar and an epicurean eatery.

Diners grub on 12-inch gourmet pizzas topped with ricotta, ham and black truffle sauce ($18), while the sports fans throw back cold pints of homemade beer ($3). And while the chefs cook tasty prosciutto, mozzarella and arugula pies ($15) in the brick oven, diners watch the evening’s games on Toby’s three flat-screen TVs. A happy hour from 10 pm reduces the price of pitchers by $2 and bottles by $1 off bottles — quickly can quickly turn a night in front of the television into midnight madness.

If the dining room gets stuffy, grab a sidewalk seat and meet the locals. The Brooklyn Paper recommends asking the barkeep — Bam — to sample some of his homemade beef jerky (seriously).

Toby’s Public House (686 Sixth Avenue at 21st Street) is open Monday–Friday, 4 pm–4 am; Saturday–Sunday, from noon–4 am. For information, call (718) 788-1186.

6) Southside Coffee

If it weren’t for the Con Edison plant at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street, it would be safe to say that all of Greenwood Heights is powered by Southside Coffee. This newly opened café brews strong espressos ($2.25), creamy cappuccinos ($3.50) and rich lattes ($3.50) that bring in a steady stream of longtime residents, Mac-toting 20-somethings, and young families. If the delicious Fair Trade coffee isn’t enough of a draw, you can expect friendly service, free WiFi, and a classic indie-rock soundtrack (who knew that anyone still listened to Liz Phair?). Show up early on Saturday and Sunday mornings for a coveted couch seat.

Southside Coffee (652 Sixth Avenue at 19th Street in Greenwood Heights) is open Monday–Friday, 7 am–9 pm; Saturday–Sunday, 8 am to 8 pm. No phone.

Updated 12:38 pm, October 6, 2008
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Reasonable discourse

The Mayor from Greenwood Hts. says:
To add to Ben's great article:

Taqueria DF on 22nd St/5th Ave--Best Cal/Mex this side of SF

Kitchen Bar on 6th Ave/20th St--mixed dishes from Italian to continental (same owners as Toby's)

Safe Haven on 6th Ave/20th St. (formerly BBQ)--has had good reviews on brooklynian.com, full bar with food soon. Odd exterior...

And any of the multitude of TexMex places on 5th Ave between 23rd St and Prospect Expressway. El Ricon seems to be a 'nabe fav.

Also new to the area on 5th Ave, EuroTrip--mix of central European cuisine.

--Aaron Brashear, The Mayor
Oct. 6, 2008, 12:51 pm
ebanks from greenwood says:
ben! you know very well that liz phair is a respected artist in certain circles...

best hood in the borough!
Oct. 7, 2008, 10:48 am
Canfinallyexhale from Greenwood Heights says:
How could you? I moved here six months ago after 25 years in Park Slope, land of the prepsters, and now scenesters. It is quiet here (no fire trucks, ambulances, bar crawlees, clattering shopping carts, drunk stoop sitees) and I WANT IT KEPT THAT WAY. DO NOT MENTION THIS NEIGHBORHOOD AGAIN. Thank you.
Oct. 7, 2008, 4:52 pm

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