Archive for August, 2009

Beyond Ikea: A day in Red Hook, Brooklyn

Red Hook, Brooklyn is an isolated little area below Carroll Gardens. Its main claim to fame is that it is home to NYC’s IKEA. Having lived in Sweden for a year, I had no need to go to IKEA, but I did want to explore this oft overlooked neighborhood.

Red Hook is home to some of the biggest public housing projects in the US. Nearby are ballfields where children play soccer and baseball and where many people from all over New York come to enjoy excellent cheap Latin American Street Food. I had a delicious pupusa, a thick Salvadorean tortilla stuffed with delicious fillings such as gooey cheese and tender pork. I also had tamales stuffed with delicious spicy chickpeas and potatoes. I washed it down with sweet red hibiscus tea (aqua de Jamaica).
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As I walked down the street, I came across the giant glaring blue box that is IKEA, as well as a farm…yes, a small farm run by an organization called Added Value. Local children work at the farm to learn about healthy food and how to grow it for the community.

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Red Hook is a very industrial area, but being a place of contradictions, it also has many beautiful garden centers. This garden center truck planted with beautiful tropical plants had a water fountain.

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By another garden center water fountain, I found Steve’s Key Lime pie, which was a delicious creamy respite from the heat of the day.

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Historical industrial buildings dot the coastline, the ones from the Civil War era standing out with their black shutters and stars. This one has been turned into a giant gourmet supermarket. The more modern industrial buildings are just grim boxes, I wonder why back then they made even shipping warehouses beautiful?

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There are some beautiful parks by the coast with views of the Statue of Liberty. I sat in one to eat my pie while watching men fish from the pier. The sign warned pregnant women and children to avoid eating the fish (and eels!).

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The area is home to many artists, antique stores, gourmet restaurants, strange dive bars, and a lobster pound.

Unfortunately, it is also fairly isolated from the rest of New York. There is no subway stop, just an erratic bus. Many suburbanites come to shop at the Fairway or Ikea and miss Red Hook’s other charms. I suggest skipping out on the mediocre Swedish meatballs when visiting IKEA and instead eating some pupusas and key lime pie.