Manhattan Special in Brooklyn

Brooklyn has a completely different atmosphere than Manhattan, it’s more laid back, suburban even, without the intensity and energetic evolution of the city. So last week when we explored the old Italian neighborhood around Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill we found original restaurants and businesses that had been in the same family for years. The scouts on all those classic Italian movies – Moonstruck, Saturday Night Fever, Goodfellas plus most of Scorsese’s other films, didn’t have to wander far from the bridge to find perfectly authentic locations. The decor hasn’t changed much, ( in some cases not even the menu ) and many of the stories were only second generation – like the one about ordering a coke without gas during the prohibition if you wanted a glass of red wine.

Ferdinando’s Focacceria has been serving the same ‘special’ for 50 years that we know of, a deep fried thinly moulded chick pea cake with whipped ricotta cheese inside a sesame bun. (The locals joke that it still tastes as good as it did in their childhood because the oil hasn’t been changed!) Then there’s Mazolla’s bakery that boasts the best lard bread in the city. The name was not a good sell for me, but the taste was. Light and morish, the bread had chunks of bacon and a glazed chewy crust. By then we really needed a coffee so went to Heath Ledger’s old local ( D’Amico’s ) where we not only had an exceptionally good expresso, but also discovered Manhattan Special. This is a carbonated coffee drink that is absolutely delicious and has been around for over 100 years, when the makers first came to America from Southern Italy. For some reason – and despite the name – you can’t buy it in Manhattan, only in Brooklyn. We drank it everywhere we went that day, but ‘on tap’ it didn’t taste as good.  The trick to maximise the taste I was told, is that you take off the top slowly so that only a small amount of gas escapes, and then drink enthusiastically straight from the bottle. When in Rome…

The best part of the day was being driven around in an immaculate 1971 Cadillac playing doo-wop classics and hearing stories about the ‘hood. It was a far cry from hooning around Adelaide in my 1954 Morris Minor Ute in the olden days, but the effect was the same. Everyone stops to talk and leaves with a smile. Some even ask to put their head inside the car for that unmistakable smell from their past – very special indeed!

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