Carroll Gardens offers small town feel in the Big Apple

For years, tourists, entrepreneurs and young adventurers have been drawn to New York City — and, more recently, Brooklyn — because of its fast pace.

However, ignoring the large-scale growth, and increasing hustle and bustle, there still exist small, closely-knit communities that have built their own unique identity, and, as such, within such a busy city, are becoming increasingly in demand.

One of these areas is Carroll Gardens, named for the distinctive front and back gardens adorning the area’s brownstones by longtime resident and neighborhood booster Buddy Scotto, whose numerous claims to fame include helping to found the Carroll Gardens Association and his efforts on behalf of the Gowanus Canal.

Another resident with deep neighborhood roots is CPEX Real Estate Senior Managing Director Robert Walsh, who served as former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services from January 2002 to December 2013, and has had ties to Carroll Gardens since his family moved into the area in the late 1800s. Consequently, upon beginning his work with the former mayor, Walsh moved with his family back to Carroll Gardens from Charlotte, North Carolina, and now resides in one of the area’s brownstones.

“There’s something about brownstone Brooklyn, and sitting on your stoop on a hot day and watching the world go by,” said Walsh. “I’m not schooled in urban psychology, but it has an impact on the way neighbors and people end up interacting with each other. You get to know your neighbors, and you know the people who live above you — that’s a pretty powerful force for a community, and it can’t be underestimated.”

Within the last decade, prices within Carroll Gardens have experienced the same upwards rush as many other Brooklyn neighborhoods, with prices easily reaching seven digits. But, for many buyers, brownstone living in this particular neighborhood seems to be worth the high price.

“In a lot of neighborhoods where there are a lot of high rises, you don’t get to know your neighbors as much,” said Walsh. “In fact, sometimes you don’t even know your neighbor down the hallway. We just came out of the winter months, and if you had a big storm, you’re helping each other out, you’re shoveling out — you’re looking out for each other.”

Nonetheless, said Scotto, one of the impacts of the neighborhood’s soaring popularity has been the displacement of some longtime residents, as well as mainstay businesses that have been in the community for years.

“The people who have lived here, can’t afford to live here anymore,” he stressed.
The F and G trains are the main train lines for the neighborhood, with the F serving as a major artery for travel through Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens, though traveling uptown in Manhattan or towards the Upper West Side will require a train transfer, bus or cab.

Aside from community connections, Carroll Gardens also offers highly in-demand elementary schools such as P.S. 58 Carroll School, 330 Smith Street, which currently offers a French immersion program beginning in kindergarten, where French and English speakers learn the language they are unfamiliar with.

“I know a number of families who have moved in because of the schools,” said Walsh, whose son attended P.S. 58. “It makes all the difference in the world.”

In addition, Carroll Gardens offers a unique experience of old-meets-new for shopping and dining. Adding to the roster of beloved businesses in the neighborhood that date back decades, many reflecting the neighborhood’s Irish, then Italian roots, there has, in recent years, been an influx of new businesses and restaurants.

Historically, many of Carroll Gardens business owners have also been residents of the area. Current businesses continue to maintain close-knit relationships with the neighborhood, and regular customers are often referred to by name.

“It feels old town, it has that nice neighborhood feel, and that makes it an attractive place,” said Walsh. “There are families that date back decades. It’s a real good feeling.”

Shopping for groceries, or looking for a place to dine out? Peruse Court and Smith Streets. Longstanding landmark Esposito & Sons Pork Store, 357 Court Street, has a neighborhood reputation for offering authentic Italian meats and sandwiches, and Vinny’s of Carroll Gardens, 295 Smith Street, offers a pizzeria/diner vibe for visitors looking for authentic eats in a relaxed setting. For specialty grocery goods, head into Caputo’s Fine Foods, 460 Court Street, or to satisfy a slightly sweeter palate, head to the similarly named, yet unrelated Caputo Bakery, 329 Court Street.

The Chirico family’s Marco Polo Ristorante, 345 Court Street, a traditional favorite, has delivered high-quality meals for more than three decades, and epitomizes one half of the dichotomy presented by the neighborhood; neighboring Enoteca on Court (347 Court Street), the brainchild of Marco Chirico, the son of Marco Polo’s founder, reflects the community’s younger, hipper side.

Coffeehouse D’Amico Coffee, 309 Court Street, established in 1948, connects past and present in a casual setting, maintaining style and history, while continuing to appeal to newer neighborhood arrivals.

Buttermilk Channel, 524 Court Street, known for its modern take on traditional American cuisine, is another dining draw, despite its relatively new standing in the area compared to the aforementioned locations.

On Sundays, year-round, from 8a.m. to 3p.m., Carroll Gardens Greenmarket, on Carroll Street between Smith and Court, offers locals a marketplace for everything from flowers to regional farm produce, cheeses and meats.

Popular annual events include the Bastille Day celebration in July along Smith Street, complete with games of petanque, the Halloween-themed Pumpkin Fest, and the yearly Carroll Park Flea Market, coming up this year on May 21.

“Before settling in at Carroll Gardens, we looked at a number of other neighborhoods,” said Walsh. “My wife and I ended up wanting to replicate, as much as we could, the historic district that we were in in North Carolina, something that was laid back, where it felt comfortable walking in our shorts and sandals to go around the block to pick up a casual meal or a cup of coffee — a block where we could raise a kid that could ride his block up and down the sidewalk.”

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