Whenever we have friends in town, the weekend usually starts with a hearty Greenpoint brunch to show off the neighborhood. And although there’s been endless new places opening up recently, when it comes to wowing visitors we often end up leaning on old classics for great food and reliable service
Brooklyn Label (180 Franklin St.) is one of these classics. It opened its doors to Greenpoint diners seven years ago, back when Franklin Street was just a dirt track and when the neighborhood still had almost entirely Polish eateries. It was the one of the first NYC cafes to start serving Stumptown Coffee and quickly became one of the forerunners of the Greenpoint brunching scene.
Last year José Luis Diaz from Andrew Carmellini’s Victory Grill was brought in as a consultant chef but his vision for Brooklyn Label was so strong that owners Lee and Lynde McCormick persuaded him to stay and take over the kitchen.
José is passionate about great food. He started cooking with his grandmother at the age of nine and after training at one of the top culinary schools in America he began working alongside big industry names and has never looked back. He tells us he that begins each morning with meditation to center his creative energy and help make him the best that he can be in the kitchen.
At Brooklyn Label the chef has given a Latin twist to well-loved American dishes, bringing flavors from Cuba, Columbia, Argentina and his native Puerto Rico. To showcase his new menu he invited us along for brunch and dazzled us with his overflowing culinary knowledge and infectious enthusiasm for perfection.
His first priority, he tells us, is beautiful dishes. His grandma taught him that ‘a meal has to entice you to eat it’, and whilst each plate is gorgeously presented and bursting with color, the great aesthetic is just the beginning: everything tastes divine.
First we sample the special of challah bread pudding with gruyere cheese, two fried eggs, Argentinian chorizo and chimichurri sauce. The neat square slab of bread pudding is velvety and luscious, the chorizo salty and delicious, and atop the egg sits a little nest of house-pickled red onion, with its sweet vinegary acidity giving a lovely balance to the creamy flavors below and making this dish a prime candidate for one of the best hangover-cures around.
Next comes a Cuban Tamale topped with melt-in-the-mouth pulled pork, a perfectly poached egg and a guajillo chili sauce. The soft cake of corn tamale is really lovely and serves as a great reminder that a comforting brunch doesn’t always have to be based around bread products .
A yummy vegan option is a plate of marinated tofu scramble with lemon-broccoli, Brussels sprouts and garlic-roasted tomatoes. And for fish-lovers the smoked salmon arepa is fabulous. The salmon comes from local smokehouse ACME (open to the public on Fridays) and is teamed with poached eggs, a corn arepa, poblano sauce and perfect homemade hash browns.
Brunching in the corner seat at Brooklyn Label is heavenly. The sun is streaming through the window and, in between dishes, we are being plied with exotic cocktails: A BKL Bloody Mary, a really fine ‘Papo’ margarita (Mezcal, yuzu, agave, lime) and a sublime pink concoction of prickly pear juice, rye whiskey, jalapeño and mint.
Just when we think things can’t get any more decadent, we are lavished with one final treat: waffle french toast with cardamom crème, banana rum sauce and candied nuts. This is a full-on indulgence but a wonderful one (and later fuels a four-hour walk and the realization that we won’t need to eat again until the following day).
As well as providing a bright, bustling daytime spot, by the time evening rolls around Brooklyn Label grows cozy and candle-lit with a fantastic dinner menu and a lovely relaxed atmosphere.
The focus that José draws from his daily meditation clearly pays off and his undeniable dedication is evident in every strand of Brooklyn Label. Under this brilliant new chef the restaurant is steadily building on its reputation as one of the tastiest brunch spots around.