An Italian-American stronghold for more than a century, Carroll Gardens has a wealth of Italian restaurants to choose from—so many that they have spilled out into neighboring Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill as well. This guide does not include the numerous pizzerias dotting the neighborhood; instead the focus is on sit-down restaurants where you can linger over an espresso and reminisce about family Sunday dinners—or plan your next vacation to Rome.
552 Court Street (between West Ninth Street and Hamilton Avenue)
Sundays spent at his Italian-American grandparents’ home feasting on pasta, meatballs, sausages, peppers, and the like inspired Alfred Varricchio to open this traditional Carroll Gardens eatery. The menu features all the classics, from fried calamari to minestrone, spaghetti marinara to veal parmigiana, meatball subs to spinach calzones. Aperture serves pizzas too, with a selection of optional toppings that run the gamut from pepperoni and eggplant to grilled chicken and sweet soppressata. This being Brooklyn, there’s a weekend brunch menu too; the prosciutto frittata has quite the fan following, and those with a sweet tooth will love the ricotta and Nutella calzone.
394 Court Street (between Carroll Street and First Place)
The bar at Fragole. Image: Maggie Hoffman/Flickr
Just a few blocks from Aperture, Fragole has a similar mission: to serve the sort of food that Nonna did. Nonna would no doubt approve of the homemade pappardelle with a ragù made with honey-braised short ribs, the grilled polenta with wild mushrooms and fontina cheese, the chicken Milanese, and the tiramisu or panna cotta for dessert. Fragole also serves weekend brunch, with options both savory (an omelette with spinach, cherry tomatoes, roasted peppers, basil, and your choice of mozzarella or goat cheese) and sweet (a homemade chocolate waffle topped with mascarpone cream and strawberry sauce.)
457 Court Street (between Fourth Place and Luquer Street)
Yet another Court Street restaurant, Frankies 457 Spuntino is housed in a former stable with a courtyard for alfresco dining. The Franks who opened the eatery in 2004—childhood friends and chefs Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli—have since opened a second restaurant in Manhattan and launched a line of pantry items, all of which pay tribute to their Italian-American upbringing while boasting 21st-century touches. House-made pastas include a sweet potato and sage ravioli in Parmesan broth and linguine with blue crab, tomato, chili, and basil. You may be tempted to fill up on the cured-meat tasting and the crostini topped with cremini mushrooms and truffle oil, but be sure to save room for the cheese course, with selections from both Italy and the States, a chocolate tart, and one of the myriad dessert wines and liqueurs.
345 Court Street (at Union Street)
Marco Polo. Image: Krista/Flickr
Serving Italian-American classics since 1983, Marco Polo has become a Carroll Gardens institution. Seafood gets its due here: The raw bar’s offerings include Little Neck clams and Blue Point oysters; the Seafood Tower for Two is a cornucopia of lobster, oysters, clams, and shrimp; and oysters Rockefeller with spinach cream and Italian liqueur is among the restaurant’s most popular antipasti. Many of the pastas, including the lobster ravioli, are homemade, with organic eggs no less. In addition to several seafood options (such as seared sea scallops over black risotto with garlic chips), entrees include chicken, veal, and steak dishes, plus a traditional rack of lamb. The house-made desserts, which include an espresso panna cotta and a cannoli gelato, may tempt you to start with the final course.
190 Dean Street (at Bond Street)
The “slow food” movement of Piedmont, in northern Italy, inspired this Boerum Hill restaurant. Its farm-to-table philosophy means that the menu changes with the seasons and the available ingredients. A glance at a menu shows how Rucola differs from the area’s traditional Italian-American eateries. Recent appetizers included fried quail with pickled ramps and chili oil; salads included one starring stracciatella cheese, crispy sunchokes, and persimmon-apricot jam. A house-made rigatoni might be served with a pork Bolognese sauce and Grana Padano, scallops might be accompanied by a cauliflower purée, chanterelles, Romanesco broccoli, and pomegranates. Cocktails are equally inventive; the New Rider, for instance, teams rye with maraschino, ginger, sage, and lemon.
216 Smith Street (between Baltic and Butler Streets)
Complementing Verde’s brick-walled, wood-floored dining space is its patio, with a brick floor and wood-planked walls. The Tuscan-inspired setting sets the stage for a menu that the restaurant describes as “Northern Italian with a Southern twist.” Start with beets and leeks accompanied by creamy robiolina cheese or a strawberry, basil, and arugula salad topped with ricotta and a balsamic vinaigrette. Pastas include comfort-food favorites (penne alla vodka, spaghetti with white clam sauce) and the somewhat unexpected (crispy gnocchi with sausage and broccoli rabe). Likewise, while the Lobster Feast seems more New England than old country, other entrees such as chicken marsala and veal piccata are in keeping with the Italian-American tradition.
295 Smith Street (between Sackett and Union Streets)
Though Vinny’s opened in 1997, you would be forgiven for thinking this storefront restaurant has been around for longer than that: With its steam table visible from the compact dining area’s booths and tables, it looks like the sort of restaurant that the Carroll Gardens residents of decades earlier would have regularly frequented. The menu reinforces that impression, with starters such as zuppa di mussels and garlic bread and pastas including fettuccine alfredo, spaghetti Bolognese, and baked ziti. You can satisfy your craving for a meatball sub, veal marsala, or shrimp fra diavolo here as well. Whatever you do, be sure to end your meal with a homemade cannoli or a slice of homemade cheesecake.