The directions for the Brownstone Brooklyn tour said to meet at STINKY BROOKLYN, but there was no address, so I’m thinking, this has to be a mistake. What kind of place would give themselves such a self-deprecating name? But then I remembered the old Smucker’s jams and jellies commercial, “with a name like this, we have to be good.” I typed Stinky Brooklyn into my phone’s browser and tapped the top-listed link. A wine and cheese shop. Of course. What a great place for a foodie tour of Brooklyn to kick-off. I clicked on the map and sighed in relief. It was only a few blocks away.
My husband, son, and I arrived at our daughter’s home in Brooklyn, New York two nights earlier, where we planned to celebrate our adult children’s birthdays with dinners out and on Saturday, a New York City Urban Adventure – Brooklyn tour. On Friday, while our daughter worked, we rural-three spent most of the day navigating the city’s public transportation. We boarded express trains instead of local, waited for trains that weren’t running, and watched others race by our stop in order to catch up on their schedule. When we finally arrived at the American Museum of Natural History, we were hungry and foot-weary. We ate in the cafeteria and once fortified, my husband and I followed our just-turned-thirty, scientist son, letting him explain the exhibits. In the end, despite having such a great tour guide, it was an “eh” day.
Because of our Friday misadventures, I felt pressure to get us to our Saturday event without a hitch. I also prayed that my family, all with vastly different ideas of what constituted fun, would all enjoy the tour. My husband enjoys hearty meals. My daughter is a pescatarian, with little interest in cooking. My son is an aspiring chef, and I’m more than happy to turn over my spatula to him whenever possible. My husband doesn’t like long walks or hikes. My kids are cross-country runners. Architect, wood-worker, writer, scientist. One extrovert; three introverts—two whom despise crowds. I crossed my fingers and hoped we’d find common ground on this tour.
It turns out I needn’t have worried. This tour had something to make each of us happy. Let’s start with the meeting place. The large front windows at the narrow Stinky Brooklyn wine and cheese shop, coaxed my family out of the cold and into the store where our tour group gathered. Brian Hoffman, our excellent tour guide, tried to corral our family, but we were enchanted by the sights and smells and scattered through the shop looking at the merchandise. Rather than wait for us to join the group, Brian brought the other four members of our tour group to where we stood and introduced himself. After checking for dietary restrictions, he led us to the deli counter, where an employee had set up a cheese tasting for us. My favorite was the Roomanon Pradera Gouda from Holland, a hard cheese, with a crunchy sweetness that reminded me of my mother’s home-made toffee.
I left Stinky Brooklyn, with my first purchase of the day: Roomanon Pradera for me and two kinds of cheese for my son. Our next stop on the tour was BIEN CUIT on Smith Street, where I held the door open for baker Zachary Golper, who has received multiple James Beard nominations. We visited the back room’s ovens and learned how the combination of small-batch mixing and slow fermentation maximizes taste and texture. We were treated to their traditional sour dough with several flavorful spreads.
Perhaps my favorite stop was ONE GIRL COOKIES on Dean Street. The geometric pattern of the brick building and the crisp white letters on the federal-blue sign were eye-catching. Inside, the perfect cookies were as my grandmother would have made them: miniature delicacies packed with sweetness. We sampled two kinds, and I purchased eight cookies-one of each flavor: chocolate chip, apricot almond, chocolate cinnamon hazelnut, chocolate mint, gluten-free chocolate pistachio, chocolate mocha, earl grey shortbread, and a chocolate caramel layer bar.
Other stops included 61 LOCAL, where we quenched our thirst on complementary ginger ale and enjoyed spiced peanuts. Then onwards to SHELSKY’S OF BROOKLYN for salmon on a bagel, and DAMASCUS BAKERY, where the third generation of owners treated us to feta-stuffed paninis. Our next visit was COURT PASTRY, where Brian purchased each of us a biscotti to go with our coffee or tea at D’AMICO COFFEE. I chose the almond biscotti. A quick dip in the coffee and it melted in my mouth. While we enjoyed our beverages, we discovered that two of the women on our tour were originally from Staten Island, and that they were friends with our neighbors in our small New Hampshire town.
Brian had two more surprises for us. At the coffee shop, he brought out two eclairs with candles in them: one each for my son and daughter. Then, as he led us to the BROOKLYN FARMACY, he told us the story of the soda fountain’s revitalization, a heart-warming tale of the right person appearing at the perfect time to help fulfill the owner’s vision. There we enjoyed a New York classic—chocolate and vanilla Egg Cream drinks, which are a concoction of seltzer, milk, and syrup.
Four full-bellies later we said good-bye to our new-found friends and sauntered out to catch our ride back to my daughter’s apartment. We had no idea where we were and decided none of us cared. This tour had been a perfect event for our family, engaging us all, despite our varied interests and athleticism (or lack thereof). Friendship, socialization, good food, interesting venues, and walking along the historic streets of Brooklyn proved to be fun for all of us. Bottom line, the New York City Urban Adventure – Brooklyn walking tour, with Brian Hoffman, turned out to be the highlight of our trip to New York City.