Fine food shopping and unique finds at Court Street Grocers on the southern tip of Carroll Gardens
Photo by Joshua Kristal
Court Street Grocers in Carroll Gardens almost didn’t made it to the neighborhood. The owners, art school grads Eric Finkelstein and Matt Ross, had secured a space in Prospect Heights for their operation in 2009, only to find themselves in a 13-month battle with the Department of Buildings. It was a fight they didn’t win.
You could say fate had a hand in the location, 485 Court Street between Huntington and Nelson streets, in that burgeoning zone of Court Street that overnight has turned into a buzzing eating and shopping area, kicked into gear by the nearby restaurants Prime Meats and Buttermilk Channel.
“We were walking down the block, and, literally, they were hanging the ‘For Rent’ sign,” says Finkelstein of the space that is now home to shelf upon shelf of regional American food products, Orwasher’s Bakery breads, house-made daily take-home specials, pastries (the rugelach is made by Finkelstein’s dad) and desserts, not to mention the store’s much-lauded breakfast and lunch sandwiches.
Judging by the constant stream of customers and near-perfect Yelp score, Prospect Heights’ loss is Carroll Gardens’ gain.
It may be the sandwiches that are getting all the attention for their understated simplicity and use of quality products—the triple-decker turkey club features a delightful combo of confit dark meat, roasted white meat, bacon, mayo, lettuce and tomato on white—but the inspiration for the store came from the owners’ love of underexposed high- and low-culture foods.
“We decided to be less precious about that sort of stuff and just get stuff that we love,” Finkelstein says of the decision to stock products as varying as Cheerwine from North Carolina, Duke’s Mayonnaise from South Carolina, Edwards Berkshire half slab bacon from Virginia, Stony Brook Butternut Squash Seed Oil from upstate and Fox’s u-bet chocolate flavor syrup from Brooklyn.
But there is no product pigeonholing at Court Street Grocers. On one of the many white shelves that line the narrow store, Brooklyn’s Sour Puss Pickles sit next to sambal paste. Down-home Old Bay? Check. Upscale olive oils? Check. The list goes on, and on and on.
An example of their meticulous sourcing is the Court Street Grocery’s weekend bagels. Finkelstein and Ross went on a bagel-scouting expedition trying just about every bagel in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan. They settled on hand-rolled, boiled bagels from the Bagel Hole on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, which they pick up themselves on the weekends. The properly petite bagels beg not to be toasted. They are dense and chewy on the outside with an inviting golden sheen. The everything bagels are an epiphany.
Finkelstein and Ross don’t deal much with big distributors, which means the hundreds of products displayed are about 70 percent sourced directly from producers, which “is basically a logistical nightmare,” according to Finkelstein, but one they are willing to put up with.
The love of fine food products started for Finkelstein at Rhode Island School of Design, where he was a sculpture major creating work about food. In New York, he started making bread for Orwasher’s Bakery, eventually managing the wholesale business. Ross got an early introduction to food as his mom runs a catering company, and he went on to work at Bedford Cheese Shop in Williamsburg.
In 2006 the two helped to open the now-closed Balducchi’s on 14th Street and started talking about what they would do differently. They talked about it pretty seriously, and then stopped talking. But the idea resurfaced, and now the pair put in a minimum 13-hour day, seven days a week.
Finkelstein says it’s been easier than he thought, in part because of the constant stream of regulars—with some coming in several times a day–and the warm neighborhood feeling on the southern tip of Carroll Gardens.
All those hours seems to have inspired the two to expand. A self-serve dining room stocked with wooden tables and chairs recently opened in the adjacent brick-walled storefront. Eventually Finkelstein and Ross want to do table service for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The two are looking into a beer and wine license and hope to work with a start-up beer producer for a product unique to their store. A sidewalk produce stand will appear once the weather warms.
It’s yet another notch in the belt that is Carroll Gardens’ cornucopia of fine food delight.
Court Street Grocers
485 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231
Daily 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.