“That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet” may hold true for Romeo and Juliet, but what about Franny, Miriam and Cheryl? Would Tom’s egg creams still maintain that perfect balance of syrup and fizz if the restaurant were Tim’s? Would Frankies’ pine nut and raisin-studded meatballs be as irresistible in, say, Freds? To find out just who the men and women behind the neon signs and sleek signage of some of Brooklyn’s best-loved restaurants, Edible Brooklyn got the scoop on the borough’s eponymous—well, maybe—eateries.
That a restaurant noted nationally for its food—a perfectly charred and briny clam pie, dense pastas with tomatoes and wood-fired sausage, salads perfectly dressed—has a funky name like Franny’s Pizza might seem silly at first, but only till you meet Franny herself: Francine Stephens, the restaurant’s co-owner and manager. Prior to opening the perennially packed Prospect Heights pizzeria in 2004, Franny worked for a number of eco-friendly organizations, a passion she’s applied at Franny’s (where they make their own biodiesel) and at the specialty shop Bklyn Larder she and her husband, chef and co-owner Andrew Feinberg, just opened down the block. (There, olive oil is sold in bulk and plates are compostable.) Francine no longer works at Franny’s every night—Larder gets the love these days—but has dinner there with her family several times a week.
On weekend mornings Miriam is so packed with Park Slope parents sipping “MiriKiris” and indulging in challah French toast, it should come as no surprise the restaurant is named after a parent, too. Owner and executive chef Rafael “Rafi” Hasid named his first restaurant after his 65-year-old mother, a woman of such tiny stature she sometimes has trouble hoisting herself onto the restaurant’s bar stools. Though she lives in Israel and speaks little English, Miriam visits as often as possible. She can often be found in the kitchen showing the entire kitchen staff the “right” way to make burekas.
Cheryl’s Global Soul
Cheryl’s may draw on ingredients from around the world—sake, jasmine rice, guava paste, nori—but the restaurant itself sure feels like home. (It does claim to be the “cozy café around the way.”) Chef and owner Cheryl Smith (who once starred on her own Food Network show called Melting Pot) considered calling her place Smith’s or Smitties, but decided those “sounded a bit much like an Irish pub.” She’s still at the restaurant every day, greeting customers, clearing tables and offering suggestions on what you should eat, like her favorite dish: the sake-glazed salmon.
Frankies 457 Court Street Spuntino
Wondering about the missing apostrophe in this restaurant’s name? Frankies is actually plural; both owners of this Carroll Gardens small-plate Italian staple are Franks, one named Falcinelli, the other Castronovo. They grew up together in Queens, and, after losing touch for 18 years, reunited in 2003 to open their restaurant in a space that formerly housed an Italian social club. Spuntino literally translates to an informal snack or small meal, but unless you have Herculean restraint against eating the famous meatballs, small plates is still code for sated and stuffed.
People go to Tom’s as much for the nostalgia as for the food, though the super-sweet cherry lime rickey is totally worth a trip. From the spinning counter stools and the clackity cash register to the nearly ridiculous quantity of chintzy decorations (plastic flowers in every color of the rainbow, Christmas lights in July), very little about this diner has changed since its 1936 opening. Even the ownership has only gone from father to son: Gus Vlahadhas overtook the Prospect Heights business for his father, Tom. He used to hand out free cookies and orange slices to customers, a tradition Gus still upholds, so be sure to leave room for the pumpkin walnut waffles.
The Jake Walk
Don’t expect to find Jake mixing drinks at this Cobble Hill watering hole. In the days of Prohibition, desperate drinkers turned to alternative sources, like a bootleg booze called Jamaican Ginger. Called “Jake” for short, it was a medical elixir made from a potent 70 to 80 percent ethanol. Some of the ingredients turned out to be poisonous, and many imbibers developed a stiff-legged amble referred to as “Jake Leg” or “Jake Walk.” Almost 80 years later, the menu at the namesake Brooklyn bar takes a positive stance: stating its devotion to “celebrating our good fortune to live in an age where we need never resort to drinking patent medicines to give us a little lift after a hard day’s work.” Cheers to that.
Brace yourself: According to employee Paul Hamill, “Bonnie is a man.” That’s right; any notions you had about a blonde, burger-loving babe (a beefy Faye Dunaway, perhaps?) are wrong. In 2000, co-owners Mike Naber and Anthony Bonfilio opened Bonnie’s, after the nickname of Anthony Bonfilio’s father. Although Bonnie’s is an über-American grill, not a trattoria, it still seemed fitting to name the restaurant in his honor. Though Bonfilio has since left Bonnie’s for other projects, the name—long associated with one of Brooklyn’s most beloved burgers—isn’t going anywhere.
Lucali sounds Italian enough, so it stands to reason that this brick-oven BYOB pizzeria is named after the owner. But it’s not. Mike Iacono grew up a frequent customer of Louie’s Candy Shop, which once occupied the Carroll Gardens space on Henry Street where Lucali now stands. When he acquired the long-empty storefront a few years back, he knew nothing about pizza, but was passionate about preserving Brooklyn traditions: When selecting a name for the establishment, he decided to pay homage to the sweet memories of his youth and the youth of the future. So the first syllable is Lu, from Louie, while cali comes from his young daughter, Kalista. That makes this moniker—much like Iacono’s pizzas—a perfect balance between old and new.
Marlow & Sons . . . & Daughters
There’s no real Marlow, no matter how many children he’s now fathered. Instead the name is a mix of the owners’ names—Andrew Tarlow and Mark Firth, both of whom had young sons when the original Marlow & Sons opened in 2006. Sort of a spin-off of Diner, the restaurant the pair owned next door, it started out as a hybrid, too, of a quirky local/seasonal restaurant and oyster bar and a specialty foods shop with delicious odds and ends (orange bitters, cultured butter) and, eventually, cuts of meat prepared by in-house butcher Tom Mylan (sourced mainly from Fleisher’s Grass-fed and Organic Meats in Kingston, New York). Now with the opening of Marlow & Daughters up the street, the butcher and specialty food shop has its own digs.
Lucy Baker will eat almost anything, with the exception of wasabi peas. She lives in Brooklyn and is currently working on her first cookbook, The Boozy Baker: 75 Intoxicating Recipes for Spirited Sweets, to be published by Running Press.
Beefy Tees: Even with the doors open, you’ll still smell like a burger—that’s a positive—when you leave this patty joint.
No Apostrophe: Yes, here there are indeed two Franks in the kitchen.