If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may or may not have noticed a slow moving shift. A shift in the type of establishments I frequent, and write about. Gone are the days of the almost weekly expensive meals. Hooray fast-casual! There was a time when I would enthusiastically read the power rankings and hot lists on a regular basis, but these days it feels more like a monthly chore. Among my other usual sources, I now concentrate on random openings instead. Places that open with or without any buzz, offering something that gets my attention, in convenient areas.
The shift began a few years ago when I finally understood what “buzz” and “hot” means. I started to talk to owners and chefs about artificial hype, and the various techniques to achieve it. The shift continued when we started to experience disappointing meals by some of the buzz elite, some of which I’ve never written about. But the turning point may have been when a well respected hot list I follow included a restaurant that belonged to someone I know. That restaurant was most definitely not hot, and most definitely shut three months later. What made it hot? Around 3k to a marketing firm.
Enter tiny Cremini in Carroll Gardens. The type of mom/pop that wouldnt normally make much social media noise, and is more of a neighborhood hangout. Although Eater’s Robert Sietsema did discover its Crescia flatbread (more on that soon). Cremini’s opened a few months ago by a young couple offering specialties of their home region, Le Marche, the lost region of Italy. While we dont have any other Le Marche dining options as far as I know, Cremini’s is also the type of place every neighborhood needs.
Owners Riccardo and Elena live upstairs, and the only thing missing in their little place on Court Street is a bell. “Like eating in someones house” is a cliche these days, but there’s no better way to describe this one. Perhaps one day they’ll get busy enough to hire more staff and function more like a regular restaurant. But for the time being, its like walking into your neighbor’s house, grabbing a newspaper, pretending you can read Italian. And after chatting about politics, and 80’s Eurotrash with the owners, about an hour later, maybe eat something.
The menu is unconventional but not too foreign. There’s even a burger, and its a good one. But its important to keep an open mind and not expect a full menu as so many restaurants all over Italy. Although Cremini’s may refer to Elena’s fried cream custards, you get the sense that its the stuffed Ascolana olives that are closer to a specialty here. There are six varieties, from classic, spicy, veggie and more. Best plan of attack is mix and match the 9 pieces, 3 x 3.
Not too far from Cremini’s, people wait one hour for the “hottest” pizza at the moment, F&F Pizzeria (its good!). And a bit further out some wait three hours for a red hot burger at Red Hook Tavern. Meanwhile there’s zero wait at the moment for Elena’s steakhouse quality burger where she mixes three meats, and counters with Provolone, sweet caramelized onions, and.. bacon. The only other main is Le March style “meatballs” of fried pasta with ragu. You’ll enjoy them as long as you can convince the inner New Yorker in you not to expect, well, meatballs.
The Crescia is like a cross between a Piadina and Laffa flatbread where you can mix and match various meats and cheeses. The Mortadella and Gorgonzola settle nicely once the taste buds get over the initial Gorgonzola funkiness. One thing about the new Italian immigrants is they dont mess around with the raw materials. No need to bastardize much these days like the old Sicilian immigrants did. Another such example here is the excellent Tiramisu.
Cremini’s is not the type you expect perfection. Its the type you want to root for. When you talk to restaurant owners these days you get the sense that its a brutal, survival of the fittest market. A real estate market that erased virtually all such places in some neighborhoods across the river. One just needs to step inside Cremini’s to remind ourselves why they are still needed.
521 Court St, Carroll Garden
Rating: 2 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Fried Olives, Burger, Crescia, Meatballs, Tiramisu