Fashions come and go in New York, but one look that never loses currency in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is helmet head. Tousled hair isn't a goal, but a symptom of the preferred transportation of the young creatives who inhabit the borough's northernmost neighbourhood alongside a sizable Polish population - a concentration reportedly second in the U.S. only to Chicago.
Hearing "on your right," the courtesy phrase for getouttatheway, is only slightly less common than catching the Polish greeting czesc. It's a funny pairing in Greenpoint, but it works: Vegetarians love borscht.
In the past few years, the number of new businesses has skyrocketed. Residents are buzzing about a forthcoming French bistro (a first), a "social club" (which means bar in hipster-speak) and their own piece of a planned 28-acre waterfront park and promenade, although that's still a year off. Save for buses, the G train - one of the subway's most irritatingly erratic lines - is the only direct route into the neighbourhood (hence so many enthusiastic cyclists). On a recent Saturday, a band of helmeted twentysomethings from all over the city careered around the neighbourhood on an urban field trip, making stops for authentic Polish food, local beer and old-fashioned doughnuts, which they inhaled alongside likeminded others, balancing old-school calories and exercise.
Greenpoint is bookended by two subway stops, Greenpoint Ave. and Nassau, and the blocks in between are rich with stylish boutiques, thrift shops, home-style and fine dining and the best people-watching. Helmets are optional.
The name Junk is misleading, especially since the price tags at this thrift shop aren't rock bottom. But that won't keep you from enjoying the weird and wonderful collection of curios, such as large dioramas made by children at a defunct suburban museum. In the right setting, these hodgepodge sculptures of parrots or horseshoe crabs and poster paint might just pass for outside art. 214 Franklin St., 718-383-3751
Green eggs and ham (and challah)
Unlike the surrounding boutiques, Brooklyn Label gets an early start, serving weekend brunch from 9 a.m. The menu brags that everything here is made from scratch, and that includes the tasty red and green hot sauce - find something, anything, to douse it on. It's unnecessary, though, atop Green Eggs 'N' Ham, a hearty dish of eggs and challah toast topped with baby spinach, arugula pesto and a slab of ham (or not). 180 Franklin St., 718-389-2806, brooklynlabel.com
Ed Raven, a long-time importer of German beer, recently opened Brouwerij Lane, where you can buy growlers (64-ounce jugs) of any of 20 beers, including American craft brews, local beers and KBBK, a locally made kombucha - the fermented-tea elixir favoured by health nuts. The former auto body shop is heated by a vintage wood stove; neighbours and visitors hang out while sipping $2 half-pint samples straight from the tap. 78 Greenpoint Ave.; 347-529-6133; brouwerijlane.com
Good looks, great prices Regulars at Dalaga are loath to share the secret of this jewel: cute women's clothes at prices that leave stylish New Yorkers slack-jawed. The husband-and-wife owners met at college, where he studied film and she fashion; hence the adorable vintage-boudoir vibe. Most of the clothing suits a day-to-night look, but one terrific number, a marabou-feather cocktail dress, was worth sole evening wear for $99. No time to browse? Dalaga's website ships to Canada. 150 Franklin St.; 718-389-4049; dalaganyc.com
This old house Steps from the waterfront is a row of houses dating from the late 1800s. One houses Le Grenier, a shop selling delightful housewares, mostly antique. The merchandise doesn't adhere to just one era, so you might find Victorian and Art Deco items cheek by jowl, such as etched champagne coupes and vintage silver, or apothecary lamps and an old icebox. 19 Greenpoint Ave.; 718-569-0111; www.legrenierny.com
Avant-garde clothing is rarely affordable or easy to wear, but it's both at Alter, which is really two stores, one men's, one women's. Both stock stacks of skinny jeans from Swedish label Cheap Monday, while the men's store has California labels such as Shades of Greige and the women's arm carries Toronto-based Preloved and the Montreal vegan handbag line Matt & Nat. 109 and 140 Franklin St.; 718-349-0203; alterbrooklyn.com
On the waterfront
Greenpoint has plenty of waterfront on the East River, but until 2011, when a massive parks development is set to be complete, residents enjoy the terrific Manhattan views at WNYC Transmitter Park, an interim, mulch-covered plot at the former site of a public radio transmission tower. 2 Greenpoint Ave.
Literary fiction, such as Stoner by John Williams (the staff pick for March), rules the sales list at Word, a cozy bookstore where the staff and patrons spontaneously break out in passionate book-club banter. The shop carries many titles by area writers such as Kate Christensen, Wells Tower and Jami Attenberg, plus a charming kids' books section and sometimes a table of freebies outside. 126 Franklin Ave.; 718-383-0096; wordbrooklyn.com
A bilingual menu, reasonable prices and home-style food are the draws at Lomzynianka, where eight pillowy potato-and-cheese perogies are just $5 and a plate of mixed salads (cole slaw, red cabbage, beets, sauerkraut and more) is $2. There is an enticing assortment of blintzes, but save your sweet tooth for one of two specialty shops within a few blocks. 646 Manhattan Ave.; 718-389-9439
It's hard to believe that the Poles ever rationed sugar when you visit Slodycze Wedel, a Wonkaland of Slavic candy. Bonbons in shiny, colourful wrappers overflow from baskets. The treats are sold by the pound and labelled in Polish, so while chocolates with fillings such as coconut or coffee are easy enough to decipher from the wrapper, plum and advocaat, which tastes like boozy eggnog, can get lost in translation. Ask one of the kind shop girls for help. 772 Manhattan Ave.; 718-349-3933
A doughnut Neverland Fillings are also a specialty at Peter Pan Bakery, which is famous for light and crumbly and homemade doughnuts, often still warm from the oven. Neighbourhood retirees, single hipsters and families can be found lingering at the retro counter, but most patrons eat the 90-cent treats standing up outside, ogling the window display. The uniformed girls couldn't name just one local favourite, but suggested white cream coconut and the "old fashion cruller." And while one clerk said the latter was too plain for her taste, it wasn't for mine. 727 Manhattan Ave.; 718-389-3676