What Does NYC Look Like on the West Coast?

Brooklyn Girl, San Diego

The hype of Brooklyn has reached San Diego, bringing to the neighborhood of Mission Hills a new representation of New York City.

This quiet neighborhood of historic homes and independent businesses sits a few miles above downtown San Diego. On frequent trips to Lefty’s Pizza, at Fort Stockton Drive and Goldfinch Street, I have always been intrigued by the restaurant across the street, Brooklyn Girl.

Who is trying to capitalize on the now-ubiquitous brand that is Brooklyn? 

Turns out, it’s a former Brooklyn resident.

With sidewalk seating, an oyster bar and organic ingredients on the menu, Brooklyn Girl looks like the type of Brooklyn eatery that is now flourishing in the borough. With menus telling stories of chefs’ love for simple farm-to-table food, Brooklyn restaurants like these usually look promising, but fail to excite me (and often fail to execute their menu copy into an enjoyable dining experience) the way the older, ethnic restaurants of Brooklyn do, such as Red Rose in Carroll Gardens or Casablanca in Bay Ridge.

I can’t pass judgement on the food at Brooklyn Girl, but I can say that the restaurant looks inviting, and owners Michael and Victoria McGeath have a story that is quintessentially Brooklyn, circa the early days of its gentrification.

From the restaurant’s website:

Brooklyn has been leading a culinary, artistic and creative revival in our nation. The young and the innovative have been making a pilgrimage across the bridge to set up restaurants, shops, galleries and musical bastions.

 

The parallel between San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter and neighborhoods of Brooklyn is an interesting one. I am too young to have known the seedier days of the Gaslamp, but it certainly turned around. By the time I turned 21, it was the place to go out. Sound familiar?

It’s interesting to see what New York looks like when transplanted to another part of the country. When I lived in San Diego, the best representation of New York City was Bronx Pizza, a small, no-frills pizzeria on the border of Hillcrest and Mission Hills.

Bronx Pizza was known not just for its New York-style slices, but also for its intimidating counter staff. Once I accidentally took someone else’s slice from the counter. When the other customer realized his slice had been taken and complained, the man behind the counter said he’d kill whoever took it. Tucked in a corner, I ate the wrong slice, hoping not to be noticed.

Bronx Pizza is still thriving on Washington Street, offering San Diegans one slice of New York. But just around the corner, Brooklyn Girl is offering a different slice. Just to illustrate how different that slice is, I’ll quote again from Brooklyn Girl’s website:

Mission Hills reminds us of the neighborhoods we visited in Brooklyn. There is an “old-time” spirit here, a reminder of gentler times where children, families and dogs roamed the streets and enjoyed the simpler pleasures. We want to create the “place” where one can come in and enjoy a wonderful cup of coffee and a danish to start their day, to return for a sandwich mid afternoon or refresh with a cocktail early evening. Brooklyn Girl is a neighborhood haunt where there is a comfort level and ease of being, a place to converse with friends and share the simple pleasures of conversation, good spirit and friendship.

We’ve gone from a curt, no-nonsense pizza stand to a restaurant with “seasonal” and “artisanal” written all over the menu.

It’s not just New York itself that is changing, but also how we are represented on the other side of the country.

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