Stanton Social and Crown Heights; Re-imagining French Onion Soup

Stanton Social and it’s unassuming twin Beauty & Essex are two of the hottest eateries to thrive since the revitalization of the Lower East Side (L.E.S). I, personally like to refer to this neighborhood as the ‘Lower-i-si-da’, referencing the large latino community that once and still reside there. But, I would be remised not to mention the neighborhoods large eastern-european community as well.

I am from Brooklyn, so I know a bit about how gentrification works; I have seen it with my own eyes. Part of you misses the gritty authenticity, the inherent ethnic diversity that being mostly poor seems to bring and knowing that everything must eventually evolve. And know, that when I say poor, I use it in a context that is uniquely from a New Yorker’s perspective – any household income that was less than around $50,000 dollars a year. Your working class people comprised of initial babysitters, housekeepers, bus boys, waiters, labourers, etc. – your first generation immigrants.There is one thing that always originally happened in these places – really interesting food.

Last night a friend of mine hooked me up with a rare last minute reservation at the Stanton Social to celebrate my friend’s birthday. I had heard enough about this place and celebrity chef Chris Santos to be excited, even though our dinner-lounge reservation was for 10PM at night. We got there a little late, but that was of little consequence because the party occupying our table didn’t clear out until almost 10:45PM. So, we stood in a cramped walkway between the bar and a wall, constantly prodded and poked by half-drunk or otherwise just rude passer-byers. Eventually, we got seated.

The menu at the Stanton Social is tapas inspired; small dishes meant to be shared ranging from about $7 to $20+ dollars. We ordered a round of drinks and I will say the riesling was ridiculously delicious, then we ordered some food. I came here for the french onion soup filled dumplings. We chatted with each other under almost too dim lighting (could barely even read the menus) and danced a bit to a DJ playing some pretty great music. Then the food started coming and our small table became a delicate dance of serving dishes, plates on laps, silverware, napkins and drinks. I will say this, our servers and waitress were top notch – knowing that space was at a premium, empty dishes were cleared away almost immediately and our every need was taken care of. I had some raw west coast oysters with some delicious accoutrements, the champagne vinegar minuet stood out especially. Then came the french onion soup filled dumplings, I was warned that it was pipping hot. So, I waited a couple minutes to pop the first one in my mouth and to savor all of the tastes before making any judgements. However, I was somewhat disappointed. Other than a really inventive way of re-imagining French onion soup, I was a bit underwhelmed. I had a more delicious soup from Bar Tabac in Cobblehill Brooklyn and sadly to say this will probably be my last appearance at the Stanton Social. The other dishes my table ordered were minuscule at best and you will probably pay $30+ and still leave feeling hungry. I guess the only upside is that you will probably get drunk faster, if that is what you came for or if that is what you’re into.

Now, don’t get me wrong I have some deep sentimental attachments to some newer restaurants in L.E.S that have popped up over the past couple of years, like the Meatball Shop and the Creperie. And there will always be the iconic Katz’s Deli, so I will hang on to a bit of the old L.E.S and tread lightly with the new.

I feel kind of the same way with my old neighborhood; Crown Heights, years after my mom up and moved us to the ‘safer’ confines of Canarsie in the mid 90’s and my foray into adulthood. I always asked her why she didn’t think about buying a house in our old neighborhood and the answer is always with her Trini accent still in tact, “Boy, if they were giving away a house for a dollar, you didn’t want it back then.” She had immigrated first to America and lived through the remnants of the Crown Heights riots and the open wound that took decades to close, if ever.

It wasn’t until I saw Anthony Bourdain’s last episode of ‘No Reservations’ that it hit me. Brooklyn, just like L.E.S. is now on the map and with all that entails, it’s never going to be the same. I saw places I grew up eating from, like Gloria’s roti shop on television and now I know what it must have felt like growing up in the ‘Lower-i-si-da’ and see your neighborhood change before your very eyes. Perhaps, you moved away before the going got good, or maybe you were forced to later, by the seemingly overnight astronomical increase in rent and other cost of living expenses. But, part of me knows that these neighborhoods will never be the same without the people who came and shared their culture, mainly through food at local eateries, bodegas, green markets or even at churching events.

I just wish that when a neighborhood is at the cusp of gentrification, that there is some conscious thought towards how can we make it better, without financial greed displacing those who originally live there. But, who wants to hear that when they can collect an extra $1,000 dollars a month in rent for the same unit? I’ll tell you what – I do and I will give you one good guest as to what neighborhood I will be looking at to purchase my first home. Maybe, there is a need for people from the old neighborhood to move back, or those still there, putting down roots by buying property and getting involved or creating a local business association in order to re-image with a nod to modernity what gentrification or the next version of French onion soup for that matter can be.

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