GOWANUS — With new restaurants popping up faster than new smells from its famed canal, Gowanus is on the verge of becoming a dining destination.
A half dozen eateries have opened in the rapidly changing neighborhood in the past year, and the arrival last month of Runner & Stone, a combination bakery and restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, prompted food blog Chow to declare that Gowanus has the makings of a "mini restaurant row."
The culinary explosion shows no signs of slowing down.
"These bars and bakeries and coffee shops and restaurants are going to be the new norm," said Paul Basile, president of Gowanus Alliance, a neighborhood improvement group. "We're loving the new vibe in the neighborhood."
Runner & Stone set up shop on Third Avenue and Carroll Street, across the street from two of the neighborhood's most buzzed-about restaurants: the clam shack Littleneck, and The Pines, which opened in August 2012 with former Roberta's chef Angelo Romano in the kitchen.
Just a few blocks away is Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue, which brought brisket, ribs, hot links and other smokey meats to Third Avenue and Eighth Street in November 2012. The Pines, Runner & Stone and Fletcher's all made Eater's most recent list of Brooklyn's 15 hottest restaurants.
"It's a really exciting neighborhood," said Fletcher's owner Bill Fletcher, who said Gowanus reminded him of the up-and-coming DUMBO of the late 1990s, where he ran an advertising agency while competing in barbecue contests on weekends.
When it was time to open his own restaurant, Fletcher was drawn to Gowanus' vibrant energy, and its relatively cheaper rents, he said. He would have paid double for his space if it was on nearby boutique and cafe-lined Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, he said.
And while Gowanus is still an industrial neighborhood with an isolated feel, Fletcher said he expects it to look more like Fifth Avenue within the next several years. He signed a 10-year lease with an option to renew for five years. "It might be a little bit slow now, but we’re looking at the long view," Fletcher said.
Also on the list of new eating and drinking businesses is Lavender Lake, a beer garden that opened in the summer of 2012 on Carroll Street at the edge of the canal. It runs a full-service kitchen that serves dinner fare like grilled pork loin, steak, and pan-seared snapper. Root Hill Burger, an "artisanal burger" restaurant with turkey, lamb, and salmon burgers, opened in the fall of 2012 on Fourth Avenue between President and Carroll streets.
Another barbecue joint, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, is expected to open on Union Street between Third and Fourth avenues this spring. And while they're not full-fledged restaurants, pickle purveyor Brooklyn Brine on President Street and Fourth Avenue, and Juice Haven on Third Avenue and Union Street have expanded Gowanus' once slim eating options in the past year.
"Third Avenue is the new frontier," Basile said. "It's the place to find a cheap storefront and ride the wave."
The Gowanus Alliance is embarking on a series of neighborhood improvement initiatives — such as adding trash cans and greenery to Third Avenue — to make the area more attractive to incoming businesses, Basile said. New restaurants, cafes, coffee shops and bakeries have brought new life to streets that once shut down when Gowanus' industrial businesses closed at 5 p.m., Basile said.
"Fifth Avenue [in Park Slope] was the same thing," Basile said. "There were a lot of empty storefronts, and when the bars and restaurants starting coming, it changed the whole dynamic. It brings a whole new traffic to the area, a traffic that we think will help bring Gowanus to its next phase of existence."