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Brooklyn Brackets: Vote For Your Favorite Neighborhood Institution

By DNAinfo Staff | March 2, 2015 7:32am 

 DNAinfo New York is celebrating March with our own version of the madness — showdowns of some of the best spots in our borough. First category up to the plate: Neighborhood institutions, or spots that helped shape the places they do business in.
Brooklyn Brackets: Showdown of Best Neighborhood Institutions
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BROOKLYN — It's time for a Brooklyn bracket showdown.

DNAinfo New York is pitting some of the borough's bests — from burgers to artisanal fare — against each other in our own version of March Madness.

Each day this week, we'll introduce a new Sweet 16 match-up for you to vote on, based on selections from the Brooklyn neighborhoods we cover.

Next week, the contestants will be whittled down to eight, then four the following week, and so on, leading to a winner in each category at the end of the month.

FIRST UP: NEIGHBORHOOD INSTITUTIONS

Brooklyn Brackets Round 1

GO TO THE POLL

It may seem like a longtime Brooklyn business closes every week due to high rent, but many spots have endured. These are the businesses that helped form the neighborhoods they're in — and the ones locals would miss the most if they shuttered.

One contender, Downtown Brooklyn's Junior's, even rejected a $45 million offer from developers to buy its building.

"This is more than a restaurant," owner Alan Rosen told DNAinfo at the time. "It's our roots, tradition and heritage, and it is just not sellable."

Others — like Peter Pan Donut and Pastry Shop in Greenpoint — have continued to flourish even with the changing foodie landscape. The shop churns out classic flavors like the white-cream-filled powdered doughnut that Tina Fey said she would like to do dirty things to.

And they cost only $1.10.

Vote for your choice of best in Brooklyn and check back next Monday to vote for the Elite Eight.

THE CONTENDERS

JUNIOR'S — Downtown Brooklyn, 386 Flatbush Ave. Junior's has been a fixture since 1950 and is known for its famous cheesecake and cozy diner-like setting that draws locals and tourists alike.

GRIMALDI'S PIZZA — DUMBO, 1 Front St. A line consistently winds down Old Fulton Street outside of Grimaldi's Pizzeria where people come from all over the world to taste the famous brick-oven pies. Voted Zagat's Best Pizza year after year, the more than 20-year-old DUMBO venue offers simple pizzas made with fresh dough and San Marzano tomatoes.

TURKEY'S NEST — Williamsburg, 94 Bedford Ave. Summers wouldn't be the same without the giant foam cups of absinthe margaritas from this 35-year-old dive bar. Despite a sign on the door banning drinks from leaving the premises, patrons are known to sneak beverages out and enjoy them in nearby McCarren Park. It's also one of the lucky local spots that won't fall victim to rising rents. Bar owner Steve Ehrseman owns the building.

PETER PAN DONUT AND PASTRY SHOP — Greenpoint, 727 Manhattan Ave. Long before the cronut debuted, Peter Pan was churning out doughnuts in Greenpoint. The shop has been on Manhattan Avenue since the 1950s, with current owners the Siafakas taking over in 1993.

TOM'S RESTAURANT — Prospect Heights, 782 Washington Ave. Flavored butters, raspberry lime rickies and killer pancakes keep loyal fans of Tom’s Restaurant coming back for brunch at the neighborhood staple, run by the Vlahavas family since 1936. Its history is written in the newspaper clippings, celebrity headshots and assorted tchotchkes that line the walls where owner Gus Vlahavas greeted customers until his death last fall. His mother Stella still works the register and lives upstairs.

LORIMER MARKET — Williamsburg, 620 Lorimer St. Walk into this Italian deli, and you'll be greeted enthusiastically by owner Jerry Virtuoso. The famous meatballs are based on one of his mother's recipes and the Filomena sandwich is named after her. The deli moved across the street from its original location in 2005 and the market was just a butcher shop when Virtuoso's father owned it. But with Virtuoso's energy and his food's classic combos, Lorimer Market manages to feel familiar anyway.

PARK SLOPE FOOD CO-OP — Park Slope, 782 Union St. This members-only grocery store has been operating for 42 years now, and it's become a globally known symbol of Park Slope — there are plans in the works to create a similar cooperative in Paris, France. The privilege of buying the co-op's discounted organic produce is available only to its members, who are required to work a few hours every month. The co-op's membership meetings and occasional controversies are fodder for breathless live tweeters and bloggers.

GLORIA'S CARIBBEAN CUISINE — Crown Heights, 764 Nostrand Ave. If you have a hankering for roti, oxtail or callaloo, Gloria’s in Crown Heights is your best bet. The Caribbean favorite has been serving up classic island dishes at two locations on Nostrand Avenue for years, said manager BJ, grandson of Gloria herself, who opened the original restaurant at East New York and Schenectady avenues 41 years ago.

CAPUTO'S FINE FOODS — Carroll Gardens, 460 Court St. The Italian tradition of Carroll Gardens is alive and well at Caputo's Fine Foods, where shoppers can find fresh and dried pasta, rows of oils and sauces, cheese of all kinds, including homemade mozzarella and giant tubs of olives. The shop opened in 1973 on Court Street and is run by Frank Caputo who oversees the daily mozzarella preparation using a recipe he learned from his father, Giuseppe.

DAVID'S BRISKET HOUSE AND DELI — Bed-Stuy, 533 Nostrand Ave. Forget Katz’s Delicatessen, David’s is the real deal when it comes to sandwiches. Founded in the 1970s, the spot in the heart of Bed-Stuy serves up enormous stacks of pastrami, corned beef and roasted beef brisket. The Jewish deli was passed down to Muslim owners who continue serving overstuffed, mouthwatering $11 subs.

RASKIN'S FISH MARKET — Crown Heights, 320 Kingston Ave. This kosher fish market has been serving fresh seafood to customers since 1961 when its owner, Shlomo Raskin, first opened for business. Between ice beds full of fish and refrigerators stocked with prepared foods — including Raskin’s own brand of gefilte fish — customers line up to order, careful to avoid slipping on melting ice and fish slime. It’s part of the charm!

SUNNY'S BAR — Red Hook, 253 Conover St. Sunny's Bar has been a Red Hook fixture for decades. The dive bar is known for its bluegrass jam sessions, dimly lit interiors and the old jalopy that sits outside. Run by owner Sunny Balzano, the neighborhood felt the sting of losing Sunny's when the bar closed for nearly a year because of extreme damage from Hurricane Sandy. It reopened again in 2013 on Balzano's 78th birthday.

BROOKLYN MOON — Fort Greene, 745 Fulton St. Brooklyn Moon has come to symbolize Fort Greene's arts renaissance. Founded in 1995 as a poetry cafe for the neighborhood's budding artists, the venue regularly hosted locals like Erykah Badu, Chris Rock, Mos Def, Nelson George and Spike Lee. Owner Mike Thompson recently celebrated 20 years of open mic nights, Bajan food and late night conversations despite money troubles and rent hikes. “I went from there on guts and glory," he said.

FARRELL'S BAR — Windsor Terrace, 215 Prospect Park West. The neon Farrell's sign on the corner of Prospect Park West and 16th Street in Windsor Terrace has been a beacon for drinkers since 1933. The bar attracts a loyal clientele of firefighters and other city workers. There is no "cocktail program" or artisanal beer at Farrell's. Customers down their Budweiser in giant Styrofoam cups.

MONTE'S RESTAURANT — Gowanus, 451 Carroll St. Monte's, which has been around for more than 100 years, bills itself as the oldest Italian restaurant in Brooklyn. Known for its ricotta cheesecake, the restaurant delivers reliable classics such as veal saltimbocca and fried calamari, but as New York magazine put it, diners don't necessarily come for the cuisine, but for the "old Brooklyn panache."

SARAGHINA — Bed-Stuy, 435 Halsey St. Saraghina’s transports diners to a small Italian villa with its rustic, farmhouse décor and wood-fired pizzas. Keeping up with popular demand, owners expanded their empire with a bakery and bar and took over the corner on Halsey and Lewis. Whether you’re lounging with Italian-style tapas over cocktails in the restaurant’s backyard or craving some authentic, freshly made pastas and bread, the spot serves as a mini-getaway from the city's hustle and bustle. It also attracts neighborhood celebs like R&B group Les Nubians and singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright.

VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE NEIGHBORHOOD INSTITUTION

Voting for this round has closed. Check back March 9 for the results.

— Reporting by Serena Dai, Janet Upadhye, Camille Bautista, Nikhita Venugopal, Rachel Holliday Smith, Leslie Albrecht. Graphic by Nigel Chiwaya.