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Where To Dine Al Fresco

You won’t hear us complaining that spring has arrived early this year.  We couldn’t be happier to trade eating hearty comfort foods for vibrant spring produce and dining in the great outdoors.  From the Upper West Side to Carroll Gardens, restaurants are opening their back gardens, retracting their roofs, and setting up sidewalk seating for al fresco dining season.

Spring is the perfect excuse to conquer new culinary ground.  And if you haven’t been to Fette Sau, you’ll want to head to Williamsburg for barbecue and craft beers on Fette Sau’s picnic tables.  There’s the back garden at Back Forty in the East Village or Maison Premiere for oysters and absinthe under the stars. Spring is in the air, and we’re taking it in one bite at a time.

Maison Premiere
Address: 298 Bedford Ave. btwn Grand & 1st Sts.
Phone: (347) 335-0446
Dubbed “one of the best bars in America” by Esquire,
this sleeper speakeasy manages to fly relatively under the radar. That’s good
for us because that means we still have a chance of scoring a table at this charming Williamsburg spot.  Warm weather is synonymous with chilled drinks and fresh seafood, so
the prospect of enjoying an afternoon of oysters and absinthe outdoors
is almost too good to be true. The French Quarter by
way of Williamsburg, Maison Premiere is furbished with an absinthe fountain, a white marble bar, antique bottles and beer taps.  And there’s a serious
seafood selection, including crab claws, lobster, king crab legs, and
20-plus East Coast oysters, along with a dozen more oysters from the
West Coast. To top it off, the 1,000 square-foot garden and outdoor
oyster bar (not too mention the Bloody Mary menu) sets the stage for a
perfect afternoon with friends.

Fette Sau
Address: 345 Metropolitan Ave., btwn Roebling & Havemeyer Sts. (Brooklyn)
Phone: (718) 963-3404
Let’s be honest: Barbecue is meant to be outdoor food.  Of course, in New York, we take what we can get and it rarely comes off a backyard grill. That’s where Fette Sau comes into play with its extensive menu of smoked meats, woods and expansive backyard. German for “fat pig,” Fette Sau smokes their pastrami, pork belly, lamb and plenty more with red and white oak, maple, beach, and cherry woods. Their barbecue is dry-rubbed and all of the meats are organic, many sourced from heritage breed animals.  What to drink with all that smoky, juicy bbq? They also boast a serious whiskey menu.  Come springtime, the best place to enjoy all of it is in Fette Sau’s backyard along a picnic table or on a tractor seat bar stool.

The Grocery
Address: 288 Smith St. btwn Union & Sackett Sts.
Phone: (718) 596-3335
This Carroll Gardens spot has been a dining destination long before Brooklyn first became fashionable and for good reason. Fresh, local produce dominates the menu with market-driven dishes, like the pan fried monkfish with housemade linguini, spring onions, green garlic, and market greens. And there’s lots more to love than the food.  Take the back garden, for example. The intimate outdoor garden is perfect for dining under the stars while slicing into the slow-rendered duck breast and a generous slice of chocolate fig cake.

Back Forty
Address: 190 Avenue B at W. 12th St. (multiple locations)
Phone: (212) 388-1990
Nowadays, farm-to-table cooking is the norm rather the exception, but we should credit where credit is due. Peter Hoffman was a pioneer of the movement long before it was trendy at Savoy, then at Back Forty.   Though Manhattan lost Savoy last year, it gained a second Back Forty West in Soho (in the former Savoy space).  Until then, New Yorkers can take full advantage of the cozy back garden at the East Village flagship where Hoffman’s serving his signature, local, sustainable fare.  What to expect while dining al fresco on mismatched furniture this spring?  Beyond the eclectic furniture and bamboo fencing are grass-fed burgers, peel-and-eat Louisiana shrimp, pan-roasted young Amish chicken, and grilled country rib pork chop.

A.O.C (L’aile ou la Cuisse)
Address: 314 Bleecker St. at Grove St.
Phone: (212) 675-9463
Combining family recipes with classic French fare, chef and owner Romain Bonnans takes us from the heart of the West Village to France. The menu is dotted with omelets, croissants, and tartines at brunch to lobster risotto, salad nicoise, and steak a Cheval (ground sirloin topped with sunny side egg) for dinner. While you’re not actually in Paris, A.O.C.’s back garden is not a shabby alternative to enjoy authentic French cuisine.

The Farm on Adderley
Address: 1108 Cortelyou Rd. (Brooklyn)
Phone: (718) 287-3101
Brooklynites Gary Jones and Allison McDowell partnered with Chef Tom Kearney to bring their passion for local, sustainable food to their own neighborhood. The Farm On Adderly is excellent all year round, but the back garden is the ideal setting to savor their Greenmarket-inspired dishes and locally sourced meats.  Lots of restaurants talk the talk but this spot is farm-to-table through and through.  For spring, there’s a poached farm egg with wheatberries, quinoa, butternut squash, kale and parmesan, Jerusalem artichokes with pistachio and parsley and plenty more where that came from.

Pure Food and Wine
Address: 54 Irving Pl. btwn 17th & 18th Sts.
Phone: (212) 477-1010

You won’t find dairy, meat or gluten on the menu here, but then again, you also won’t encounter the dreaded tofu, seitan, or tempeh offerings that make most carnivores want to hide under the covers.  Instead, Pure Food & Wine is determined to deliver vegan cuisine with a chef’s hand.   That means vibrant, flavorful dishes, the likes of fresh figs with black truffles and truffle cream or sweet corn and cashew tamales with chili spiced portabello mushrooms. And now that the winter months are behind us, the beautiful back garden is open for drinks at the outdoor bar or dinner along pillow-covered banquettes.

Hudson Beach Cafe
Address: Riverside Dr. & W. 105th St.
Not many people know about this gem in Riverside Park and we’d like to keep it that way, but that would be selfish.  This bi-level spot has a smattering of tables an outdoor kitchen, and lots of portable grills. The menu is simple – burgers, fries, and sandwiches – but the real draw is the laidback atmosphere, an extensive bar menu, frosty cocktails  and killer views of the sunset over the Hudson River. (Heads up dog lovers, friendly pooches are welcome.)

Boat Basin Cafe
Address: W. 79th St., at Hudson River
Phone: (212) 496-5542
Overlooking the Hudson River, The Boat Basin is a New York rite of passage come springtime.  There’s an open air patio bordering the marina and a covered rotunda overlooking the patio, which means ample outdoor seating.  As for the menu, there’s jumbo soft pretzels, nachos, and mahi tacos.  The real play is a La Frieda burger under the night sky.

RG Writer: Ali Baker

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