Blue Sky Bakery

Brooklyn Cafe: Blue Sky Bakery

During the last blizzard – that turned out to not be a blizzard — schools shut down, people “worked from home”, and generally holed up in their habitats. I was planning on doing the same when my midtown appointment suggested that “since we both live on this side of the bridge … ” why not just meet here?” YES, I agreed. And then she suggested a place she describe as having “the most delicious muffins EVER”. Tall order indeed. I’ve had my share of muffins, coffees, the whole bakery thing, and my standards were pretty finicky. Plus I’ve never been partial to muffins, since I never eat the bottom half, and sometimes just annoyingly nibble around the “top” eating only the crust but never the “cakey” part. But She hadn’t steered me wrong thus far, so I was optimistic.

Blue Sky Bakery is a sliver of a bakery, long and lean, it manages to pack quite the quaint, retro, quirky punch, complete with a shoebox diorama! And true to my friend’s word they served up just about the most delicious muffins I’ve tasted. Not only was baked to perfection, but the bottom part is also crusty! For the first time, I didn’t just nimble around the top. I actually finished the entire muffin and wanted more. It was a crustly, fluffy, velvety delight. And I can’t wait to go back.

96 S Oxford

Brooklyn Real Estate: 96 South Portland Avenue

I didn’t want to like this place. Really. I’m a fan of new developments in a big way. But I liked this place the minute my eyes clapped on its rustic entrance. With its ambling path leading to a bricked entry, surrounded by aimless vines, it’s like something straight out of my child hood coloring book. Somehow, the signs of its age didn’t bother me, instead I found them charming. The chandelier and the paneled doorway of the entrance punctuated its charm. Not even the garbage / recyclables tucked around the corner detracted me, nor did the stairs leading to the unit — usually a red flag in my “strongly prefer new developments” book, but not today.

Upon entering, it pretty much is what you’d expect from a prewar co-op. The floors sag here and sigh there, I briefly wondered what happened to the floors but decided to be happy  that they seem like they’re in decent shape after (what looks like) 100+ years of wear. There are odd “mini-steps” separating each room, which perhaps was my biggest pet peeve with this place since it meant I was constantly looking down anticipating a surprise step.  The unit gets plenty of light, which the owner has expertly highlighted with their choice of flowy white curtains in the living room. The agent mentioned that the new owner could probably open up the already lengthy living room and put a direct archway to the kitchen. This would create the feeling of additional space, maybe even enough to section out a small second bedroom (from the living room), and make this place into a “charming” two bedroom. It might work.

The master bedroom was not so well decorated, it looked dark, dreary and grim. The agent later mentioned the owners (a couple) were getting a divorce. Not surprising. But it had good space, light (when the curtains aren’t dark grey and drawn), and nice bones. The one bathroom was a bit odd, it looked like the owners had started a renovation, but then changed their minds. So the shower area has modern looking glass panels, but the rest of it looks old. The kitchen, optimizes the space nicely, but it’s probably worth revisiting the look.

The location is excellent. Practically in the heart of all the places you want to visit in Fort Greene, and near enough subways to make it accessible. The unit’s view in fact looks out into some prime Fort Greene real estate. All that said, I’m not a fan of the price. $399k seems to be a tad too high for a unit that clearly has age. But the $649 in monthly maintenance is what really sets it apart, given there are no amenities or common areas to speak of, it’s tough to justify the high monthly charge.

Interestingly enough, other units in the condo are up for grabs too, units #8 and #5 both are selling for a higher price tag, and probably have more stairs to traverse, but (based on their photos) seem to be more updated. That would have to be weighed against what are probably very motivated sellers for unit #1. Yet, I can’t help but want to check those out as well … maybe next week.

Disclaimer: These reviews were written before I was a real estate agent, and reflects my previous opinions solely as a buyer.

163 Wash

Brooklyn Real Estate: 163 Washington

Those of us in the neighborhood have been watching 163 Washington go up for some time. It’s been slowly dominating an otherwise remarkably flat skyline.  The press has been unclear about this building, what with the website — alarmingly comic-inspired (Lichtenstein) and sparse on the building details (i.e. no amenities listed) I half expected a repeat of 96 Rockwell. But I was wrong. There are agents there, and they were very friendly, even better, they were knowledgable — what kind of wood was used (ash), the finishes, the neighborhood and how much wiggle room there is in the prices.

The first 2 BD/2BA unit (8C) was ~966 sqft with a nice 40 sqft balcony off the living room. The view from the balcony is a non-descript Brooklyn view, but having been balcony free now for ~ 3 years I sorely miss it, and this one was nice. The lay out of the unit isn’t great, the bedrooms are railroaded together, a detail you might almost miss thanks to the snazzy  interior design of the model unit, and the finishes are pretty strong. I noticed the custom cabinets, Liebherr fridge, Faber range hood, and spa-like bathroom. Too bad the unsightly air unit is also strong. There’s one in the living room, and each of the bedrooms, not great.  8C wasn’t actually on the listing — but the unit just below it (7C) was at $545k, with $310 common charges. Not a bad price.

The second unit 9A was head and shoulders better. Approximately 1,154 sq feet the added 188 sqft allowed it that much more room to have a very compelling layout, and it’s got two balconies giving it 80 sqft of outdoor space. Plus, this unit had small touches like a pillar here and there, detailed tile work in the bathrooms, HIS and HERS shower heads, and a window in the master bathroom — all yum! Best of all, it’s got a Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn view! It’s a stunning unit, and at $650k and $386 in CCs yes … I’m a little jealous.

The building’s common areas are not not finished but seems to have promise:  a 5,000 SF “yard”, a 530 SF zen garden, gym, and a lounge / common area with a fire place. What it won’t have, is a door man. Which you might not miss since this neighborhood (despite what you may have read on the various threads) is a heartbeat away from Pratt, hardly dangerous grounds. It is however, hopelessly far from any subway station, even the dreaded G.  Still, with FHA loans approved, and a 15 year tax abatement in the works, maybe a bus-to-subway lifestyle isn’t half bad.

Disclaimer: These reviews were written before I was a real estate agent, and reflects my previous opinions solely as a buyer.


Catching up with the Riviera on NYE

NYE Flatbush Riviera

Some new developments and on-going events for denizens of the Flatbush Riviera. First and most exciting, Toren appears to have found a new retail client for its lobby floor — a grocery. Rumor has it that it’s the same grocery that was originally scheduled to open and after much negotiation have reached a new agreement with the sponsor. At last the long road to Trader Joes / Pathmark  may be coming to an end. A grocery along with the upcoming CVS would certainly spice up the neighborhood, putting DoBro well on track to becoming a residential neighborhood.

On the ever busy Fulton Mall, we not only had the usual NYE odd characters but massive sales. Newcomer Aeropostale posted sales of up to 70% off, and there was a verifiable line waiting for Macy’s to open its doors. A stampede of ornery shoppers seemed impending when we passed this morning.

Aeropostale Macy's

Photo from NY Daily News

The Blizzard

Photo from NY Daily News

After soaking in tropical paradise where the only worry I had was where my next Pina Colada was coming from — we came home to snow. And not just any snow but the word on everyone’s lips “blizzard”. I was surprised, after all NYC has seen it’s fair share of blizzards, even if this was purported to be the 6th largest in recorded history, we were built for bad weather, how could a blizzard shut us down? But it did.

Streets in Brooklyn remained unplowed until all of yesterday — and not just side streets but big ones like Ocean Avenue. This left not only residents stranded but I’ve heard reports of buses stranded too.  The sentiment around the water cooler was that seemingly only Manhattan got its streets cleaned, the rest of us were persona non grata on Bloomberg’s priority  list.

Some interesting coverage on 2010′s blizzard.


FR Resorts: The Seabird

Manila 2010

As a way to lure me back to visit sooner than later my brother offered to take my husband and I to Boracay, a powerdery white sand and crystal blue watered paradise. You’ll need to white knuckle a propeller planed flight, a lengthy side car ride, ferry and a final side car ride before you finally get there. But feeling the silky powder (they call sand but I call pure heaven) under your feet is well worth the journey.

Having learned that the resort was still undergoing some renovation I asked if there were still some pre-renovation rooms. YES. And folks if anyone is wondering what renovations can do to your property value just check out the bad boys (below) out. You would swear these weren’t the same resort — eat your heart out. The first thing I’ll be buying when I get back to the Flatbush Riviera are bed runners and throw pillows. Who would’ve thought they’d unify a room (and a complex) so effectively?

Super Sekrit tip — the wood seen throughout the units are actually the handiwork of a skilled painter. I spoke to the designer who casually said — said that she had hand picked him for his work, and that he used a combination of paint, a rag and healthy helping of creative imagination. No kidding.


FR Int’l: Parc Chateau Manila

Manila 2010
Park Chateau in Pasig Metro Manila is one of the older condo developments of the area, but still offers a lot of strong selling points. The hallways and walk ways may look older, and could use a face lift but they’re still spacious, with amazing light. In fact, rather unique for this condo the natural light is filtered throughout the complex from the center core. There’s enough indoor lighting to support a robust eco-system. We went to check out this development since my sister in law was in charge of one of the unit’s renovations.

I had seen pictures of the project — so half knew what to expect, but surprisingly, it was more impressive in person. The 1 bd/ 1 ba ~ 750-800 sqft’s main window was from the bedroom balcony with the effective use of glass and the layout the light was able to fall gently across the whole apartment. The dining room the wall was texturized with a grey-green marble / stone paneling that punctuated the room with a garden feel. The entrance — which I found to be the most innovative for a condo, actually had a kind of “outside” porch complete with a an inside door so you actually felt like you were entering a house rather than a condo. Nice. Not to be left behind, the master bedroom was well sized — it’s headboard acting as the focus of the room imbued a sense of grandness, and the view from its balcony was entrancing. It made me miss my old apartment with my own balcony that was more like a porch. Alas.

With it’s location, space, view, and just finished renovation they estimated that if the owner were to sell (and apparently he’s not in the market to do that so don’t get your hopes up) it would go for at least 3M (Pesos) ~ $60K. Tempting isn’t it?

night render

FR International Goes to MANILA: Nuvo City

Nuvo City

Going away for the holidays is truly a great tradition, and for this season my husband and I left the sun drenched shores of Flatbush for the balmy tropics of Manila. Once our jetlag became half-way manageable, we set doing what we love– looking at real estate.

First thing’s first, the Philippines is having a bit of a moment, symptoms include not only the shop-til-you-drop fever, but also the glassy-eyed stare of non-comprehension when we name-drop “recession”.  The Philippines is expected to have the second fastest growing economy in southeast Asia (after Thailand) in 2010, and as all Flatbush denizens know boom economies are exuberantly followed by condo building mania. Half way across the world– this logic stood its ground.

Our first stop — Nuvo City an ambitious mix-use 5 tower project  that has barely broken ground but promises to serve up the latest in Philippine condo offerings from a studio to 3BD penthouse. Amenities include: –gym, lounge / conference room / media room,  outdoor swimming pool (for each of the 5 towers), tennis court, basketball, badminton, volleyball, and playground(?).  Most compelling, they’ll have high-end retail businesses in the lower levels — making it into an upscale mall not unlike the Time Warner Center in NY — or other successful developments like Global City — Fort in Manila.

We were offered to view the showrooms – which are similar in purpose to model units, except the materials aren’t exactly the same as the units you’d be buying– more like just the “look and feel” of the place. And some things are just designed to show you what you could do with the place (i.e. wood paneling) which the unit would not be coming with. Still, they were quite impressive. Many of the units came with a balcony, high ceilings, and spacious layouts. They also had a distinct modern aesthetic, overhead showers, roca finishes in some of the bathrooms, homogenous tiling (yum), engineered wooden flooring and synthetic stone tops in the kitchen — which looks nice but I prefer au natural. Glass was also a big theme throughout, they opted for generously over-sized windows rather than the floor-to-cieling drama favored in the Flatbush Riviera, and used it liberally internally using frosted glass partitions for bathrooms (studio units) to master bedroom walls to overlook the living room (penthouse lofts).

Sadly, I couldn’t take a photo of any of the showroom units we saw — as they were  top trade sekrits– so the ones I have are scoured from the internet.

Finally, we got to the real juice, the prices. Generally ~ $65k for ~350 sqft studios, ~$90k -$120k for ~750 sqft 1 bedrooms, and ~ $150 – $280k for 2 bd / 2BA, I kid you not, those are ALL IN prices and not down payments. Even more mind blowing — those are just about the same prices whether or not you’re located on the 2nd floor or the 42nd floor. I discovered this during a conversation that went something like:

Agent: Which floor would you like the pricing structure on? We have units still on the 8th floor which is close to the 5th floor amenities.

FR: {seeing they also have units on the 42nd+ floor}  I’d like to see the 42nd – 44th.

Agent: {silence} .. even for the 2 bedrooms? For 2 bedrooms we have corner units available on the 13th floor, which isn’t too far from the 5th floor amenities.

FR: Are these amenities on the 5th floor the swimming pool, and tennis courts etc,..?

Agent: Yes

FR: {gestures to husband} — HE only goes to the gym 2x a month, me 3x week TOPS, and with the gentle tropical sun (sarcasm inserted) we may never go to those “amenities” during the day. But I’ll be seeing my view EVERY day.

Agent: {shrug and smile} — people here like the amenities.

True story.


Brooklyn Restaurant: Motorino


Everywhere you look people have been talking about Motorino, everyone from NY1, NYMag,  Rachel Ray, even the venerable NYTimes has gone so far as to crown Motorino as the best pizza in NYC. Fighting words indeed.  My husband being the fiendish pizza connoisseur of course has had this place on his hit list for quite some time. We went there well into the evening, so unfortunately the photos don’t do this place justice, you’ll have to take my word for it. The hunger-creating smells entice you well over a block away. The ambiance is simple, with a real wood burning over as its centerpiece. Overall it creates an atmosphere of simple pleasures, letting its patrons focus on the task at hand, eating the pizza.

We decided to start off with the Margherita DOC and the Pugliese, thinking that 2 pizzas between the 4 of us would be enough. We finished off the two in record time, and were still hunched over our tables, hoping one more slice would magically appear — if we looked hard enough. We talked  ravenously about the cheese to crust ratio, the freshness of the basil on Margherita and the richness of conflicting flavors in the Pugliese. It didn’t matter that our breaths were laced with so much garlic that we would’ve killed every character from Twilight — it is impossible NOT to bond over this pizza.

How could it be that good? It is. And like all good things, it leaves you wanting more. We ordered a third. True story.

Motorino Motorino Motorino Motorino Motorino Motorino Motorino Motorino Motorino

Fulton Mall

Brooklyn Neighborhood: Fulton Mall


I remember the first time I beheld the Fulton Mall, nearly 10 years ago. I hadn’t earned my Brooklyn legs yet, so I and a friend of mine decided to venture to Brooklyn together, using the tried and true Manhattan reasoning of “in the case we get stranded, at least I’m not alone”. We took a wrong turn (of course), and ended up on Fulton, and if you think it looks bad now … well we quickly realized our mistake and did the world’s fastest 180, and it wasn’t the abundance of 99-cent-like stores that tipped us off.

Fast forward almost 10 years later and I’m house hunting, being lured by Belltel and her space. The only problem is, the neighborhood is clearly still developing, and while the Fulton Mall no longer keeps me up at night, I’m not sold that it’s going to change any more than it already has. And it has gone through a lot of change. Josh’s grand parents  reminisce about how this was the place for shopping back in the day, anchored by some fine stores like Abraham and Strauss. But somewhere along the line it fell out of favor. The “nice” retail stores shifted to the suburbs, and while Fulton Mall was still purporting to be “third most commercially successful” retail street you wouldn’t know it by looking at it. The city had spent millions trying to revitalize it, giving its corners more lights, removing the bus shelters that operated as homeless shelters, all to marginal avail it didn’t seem perceptibly THAT much better. The stores were the same, sneakers, cell phones, 99-cent-junk and thrift stores that also sold expired grocery. Yuck.

But then in this perfect storm kind of way it just all fell together, and suddenly the nicer stuff WAS coming, not just “reporting to think about it”, but as soon as Aeropostale swung open its doors the rest are finally pitching a tent.  Aeropostale, then Shake Shack, and even health conscious Panera is joining the party — practically next door to it’s competitor,White Castle. There’s talk of others, some sound like real possibilities:H&M, Sephora, and Filene’s Basement, others are just delusions of having drunk too much Kool-Aid, the Apple store.  But even with just this development — I’m happy enough to not complain for at least a week. I may even start to brag about it, and join in on conversations that Park Slopers have about their 5th Avenue. Wait for it.

IMG_2416 IMG_2415 IMG_2414

Living the fabulous A-List Life in Downtown Brooklyn