If you’re not already familiar, you might think of Red Hook as the place you once went to buy Skogsta floating shelves. And, if you are familiar, you might already know that Ikea is just about the least exciting part of the neighborhood (which was filled with shipping and port workers in the 1850s, American Revolution cannons in 1776, and Lenape communities who called the area “Merechkatvikingh” for many years before that).
Like a young thespian at performing arts camp, Red Hook becomes the best version of itself between June and September. It has incredible views of the water, bike paths galore, and more summertime food (jerk chicken, seafood, BBQ, and frozen dessert) per capita than most neighborhoods. But we like coming here any time of the year - even just for a live show at Sunny’s or an impossibly light Italian combo at Defonte’s that remains one of the best sandwiches we’ve ever eaten.
Whether you live in the South Brooklyn area or you take the Red Hook/Atlantic Basin ferry line, spending an afternoon eating frozen key lime pie at Steve’s will likely make you realize that you don’t need to spend a boatload of money to feel like you’re on vacation. While in Red Hook, you are legally obligated to eat a frozen, chocolate-covered key lime pie on a stick from Steve’s. (These coveted items are called Swingles, by the way, and they’re made using fresh lime juice) Steve’s Key Lime Pie was, shockingly, started by an ex-South Floridian named Steve - and he and his family have been operating the store for over 20 years. There are a bunch of picnic tables next to Steve’s industrial-looking storefront, but we like to take our pie-sicles over to Louis Valentino Jr. Park about 50feet away. It has a glorious view of the water and the Statue Of Liberty.
Think of your favorite Italian deli, whether it be Faicco’s in Greenwich Village, Calabria Pork Store on Arthur Avenue, or Caputo’s Fine Foods in Carroll Gardens. Okay now imagine that place makes even more delicious sandwiches by draping lightly fried eggplant or drizzling hot gravy onto their sandwiches - all on a near-empty industrial street in Red Hook. That’s Defonte’s. You’ll know this cash-only, 1920s sandwich institution means business based on the line of off-duty firefighters waiting for lunch. Follow the firefighter’s lead and get the hot roast pork sandwich with juicy, rich gravy and fried eggplant, or the Italian combo that includes pepperoni and somehow tastes light and balanced. Ignore the basic menu signage, and follow the neon signs with the fun names for all the best sandwiches instead.
This woman-owned Caribbean spot serves piping hot beef patties with flaky crust and a spicy-savory filling, along with curry goat roti and platters of Jamaican staples. They also sell a bunch of fresh juices (like sorrel and pineapple-ginger) if you’re looking for something refreshing on a hot day. Stop by for an in-person meal or call 939-398-0074 to place your pick-up order ahead of time.
You can’t talk about Red Hook restaurants without at least mentioning Hometown BBQ - but don’t scroll past just because you already know about it. In order to eat here right now, you have to place your order online ahead of time. If you just want to walk by and pick up a beer or a cocktail, they have a cash-only takeout window. But for food, you have to plan ahead. It’s possible the wait time may be 150 minutes (you can check at the top of the page [here]). Once you get your ribs, brisket, and mac and cheese, they have a bunch of nice picnic tables for you to feast on.
Brooklyn Crab is located right next to Hometown BBQ. So, on the weekends, this strip feels like a summer block party with a meat party on one side and a seafood party on the other. Bring a group during the day and order crab, specifically in the form of crab rolls and steampots. They often have outdoor games set up, and more fisherman-themed decor than an actual boat.
Red Hook has several breweries, a winery, and even its own distillery - but if you’re picking one place to drink in the neighborhood, it should be Sunny’s. This tchotchke-filled bar opened as a saloon for Longshoremen to drink and hang out after working on the shipping docks, and it still feels like a relic you’d find in a time capsule. Sunny’s is run by two brothers who were born in the very same building (their family opened the bar in 1890), and they host live music nearly every day of the week from 8-10pm.
After transitioning to a general store model during 2020, this long-standing neighborhood restaurant and cocktail bar moved into a different Van Brunt Street space about a block from the old location. They finished renovations for the new restaurant in early September 2021, and the new spot will operate as both a general store and an all-day restaurant.
Looking for coffee and a snack (and potentially some air conditioning)? This bakery on Van Brunt is one of our favorite places for a break from record store shopping and sniffing our own sunscreen-scented sweat. Baked opened in 2005 and still makes incredible pastries and cakes, like a crumbly blueberry tart that tastes like a pie wrote you a personalized love letter. If you’re in need of a cake for a birthday or a big party, they also have customizable options that always look beautiful.
For years The Good Fork was one of our favorite restaurants in the area for a nice dinner out. Then, after closing during 2020, the team transitioned to hosting pop-up residencies (like a Chinese-American project from one of the restaurant’s former chefs). They’re currently operating as a bakery and daytime coffee shop run by Somewhere Red Hook, so you can stop by for something to drink on your way to the water. Keep updated with The Good Fork’s plans on Instagram here.
The people who run Hometown BBQ opened this old-school feeling American spot on Van Brunt Street in 2019. The important thing to order here is the burger, which you can think of as a distant cousin of the one at Peter Luger. It’s a minimalist sandwich with one thick patty, some salty melted cheese, and a bunch of semi-sweet onions resting on top like they’ve had a long day. Red Hook Tavern also offers a ton of great wine, so bring a date or someone who prides themselves on eating the city’s finest burgers for a night that feels somewhat like a special occasion.
You’re by the water, you’re very sweaty, and you may or may not have just mounted a Citi Bike. It’s time for lobster. Red Hook Lobster Pound is the best option around, and they have a bunch of sidewalk tables available on a first-come, first-served basis. You can also stop by and get something to go, in case you’d rather eat on a bench on the waterfront.
It’s possible you’ll want mint stracciatella gelato in the shade at least twice this summer. If you’re in Red Hook when this feeling hits, know that Dolce Brooklyn has a few tables set up on their sidewalk. This is also a good spot to order some iced coffee and take a break from the sun so you don’t say something you don’t mean to the person you’re with.
Both the patio and the sidewalk area at this classic neighborhood spot are open for outdoor dining. Brooklyn Ice House serves a combination of bar food like onion rings and Frito pie, as well as BBQ specials like dry-rub spare ribs with mac and cheese. Their patio is pretty spacious, and it’s nice and hidden from any Citi Bikers parading down Van Brunt Street on a weekend afternoon.
If you’re in the mood for pizza under the stars, we want to pause and say, gee, that sounds really nice. Also, we’re here to tell you that you can stop by Hoek for some Roman-style, wood-fired pizza at one of their patio tables. Hoek offers sub-$20 pies topped with things like zucchini and high-quality cow’s milk mozzarella, as well as salads, cocktails, and specials using whatever seasonal ingredients they’re excited about.
The Red Hook location of Somtum Der is where you should be eating Thai food in the area, whether it be for takeout or in-person dining. If you’re looking for extra motivation, be aware that Som Tum Der has a beautiful back patio that’s currently open for outdoor dining off of Van Brunt Street. You can book a reservation online ahead of time to guarantee yourself some papaya salad with salted egg, pork larb, and sticky rice in the sunshine.
The original Court Street Grocers isn’t so far away, but this offshoot Red Hook location works especially well if you’re looking for daytime picnic supplies in the form of pork rolls or a delicious (and giant) turkey sandwich with zingy sour pickles. Grab something for breakfast or lunch and walk to the grassy part of Pier 44 near the Waterfront Museum.