From the constant subway delays to obscenely overpriced restaurants, we all occasionally consider the prospect of giving it all up and living on a ranch in Idaho. Once in a blue moon, though, we have an evening in the city that reminds us why we still live in New York—and why we will always love it.
This kind of night happened for me a few months back. Everything about it was magical, starting with the Brooklyn backyard twinkling with string lights and ending with live bluegrass music in an underground cheese cave. That could never happen in Idaho.
Step 1: Drink Matcha Cocktails in a Brooklyn Backyard
When I heard about a restaurant backyard filled with wildlife, I imagined cockroaches and pizza rats. But at Olmsted, I was wowed by a microgreen oasis of crayfish baths and a quail coop for fresh eggs—all under an array of twinkle lights—instead.
Keeping with the green theme, Olmsted’s inventive matcha cocktail is basically a millennial eggnog. The bitter tea and burn of the rum is cut by sweet honey and cardamom. The backyard experience also includes a small selection of snacks. Usually I would dart straight for the fondue for two, which comes with local hyper-seasonal vegetables accompanied by earthy yet citrusy Harbison cheese. Due to our dairy-centric dinner plans later, though, we turned toward the vegetable “sushi,” which includes a paper-thin slice of fluke atop a crunchy snap pea, brightened up with preserved lemon.
Step 2: Bluegrass and Fiddles in a Cheese Cave
Walk up Vanderbilt and down Bergen and enter Crown Finish Caves. Head down the winding, precarious staircase into the arched, exposed brick space. The air is slightly dank and chilly—set at the perfect temperature for cheese aging. But these slight discomforts, in addition to the lights strung from the ceiling, only add to the cave’s transcendent feel. Simple wood chairs are lined in rows facing the makeshift stage, ensuring that every seat in the intimate subterranean space has an exceptional view.
At the next Cave Music session, Crown Finish is honoring New York Cider Week by serving Graft Cider, along with an apple and cheese plate with Graft-washed fromages. But the real draw is the exceptional grilled cheese, this time around made with a previously unreleased smoked Cheddar from Grafton Cheese. The sandwiches are assembled before your eyes—watching the cheese slowly melt onto the toasted brioche is almost as mesmerizing as the bluegrass music steps away.
Try your hardest to have the grilled cheese last through the first set of fiddles and pipes from the acclaimed Irish duo Katie Linnane and Ivan Goff. Sneak in another cheese plate before Hubby Jenkins takes the stage. A native Brooklynite, Jenkins uses his talent for multiple instruments to explore his familial roots through musical history: country blues, ragtime, fiddle, and traditional jazz. Jenkins got his start as a busker, performing mostly on subway platforms and cafés but also traveling the world. After making a name for himself, he joined the Grammy-winning group Carolina Chocolate Drops in 2010. Take advantage of this unparalleled opportunity to listen to this exceptional artist among a small group of lucky ticket holders.
PSA: Tickets will sell out within minutes for this show. Mark your calendars to purchase for the November show, because this is definitely one for the books. Oh, and bring a sweater!
Step 3: Pie Time at Four & Twenty Blackbirds
The only thing missing from the cave music experience is dessert. Luckily, the best pie shop in probably the world is a stroll away. Hailing from South Dakota, the founders of Four & Twenty Blackbirds upgraded their grandma’s simple recipes with a Brooklyn twist, incorporating seasonal ingredients and creative flavor combinations to classics. All of their ingredients are local and organic, and they use natural sweeteners such as honey, molasses, and unrefined sugar in their pies.
My absolute favorite is the salted caramel apple pie. The apples are cooked just enough to leave a bit of their natural crunch. Each bite brings you straight to upstate New York’s Wilklow Orchards, where the fruit was picked. The more common cinnamon sugar is replaced by a dark caramel blended with a spice mix that includes a cocktail favorite, Angostura bitters.
Buy a pie to go and carry it up your five-flight walk-up to put in your tiny, two-shelf fridge. These nights are what make it worth it.