Last night, I took my first trip to the brand-new Barclays Center. I wasn’t expecting to step inside the arena for some time, if ever. But when someone says, “Do you want a ticket to the Nets game,” and you’ve never been to an NBA game in your life, it seem like yes is the proper response.
After living in the neighborhood for the past few years, the mega structure has been a bit of a blight on my daily march down Flatbush—over time, it’s started to remind me of a beached sea mammoth with out-turned gills. To say that I wasn’t exactly itching to visit Jay-Z’s new digs would be an understatement. But when the opportunity arose to catch the second official appearance of the Brooklyn Nets, I happily acquiesced.
I’d heard plenty of reports from friends about the new arena: How the sleek black-on-black interior whispered of the possibility of catching a glimpse of Hova trekking through corridors lined with Kings County-based food vendors. I’d heard about the bran-new, incredible interior and how it was hard to go and not be proud of all things Brooklyn. And still, I was skeptical.
I took the N (which had been transformed into the Q thanks to that b*tch Sandy) to the newly-hyphenated Atlantic Ave-Barclays Center stop, and for the first time, I exited via the signs to the newly constructed entrance. If there had been trumpets announcing my arrival at the foot of the castle, I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised. The line of subway stalls open onto wide cascading stairs, and a growing view of that sweeping 360-degree big screen.
There were people getting free tattoos as long as they agreed to sign their skin away to the Nets logo for the rest of their lives.
People whipped out their iPhones so as not to miss that perfectly-lit Instagram shot, and I became momentarily nostalgic, remembering my first visit to Yankee stadium back in 1990—an adventure including ice cream eaten out of mini plastic batting helmets, a hand shake from Don Mattingly, and a view that made my four-year-old self hold her breath as the storied hallway opened up onto an expanse of green. This surely wasn’t that, but it was innately New York and—more to the point—Brooklyn. And like that, I was being swayed, and I hadn’t even entered the arena.
Everyone who works at the Barclays Center is super nice, which I guess is not innately Brooklyn, but was a pleasant surprise anyway. There were lots of pretty escalators and black velvet curtains all over. There were also people getting free tattoos as long as they agreed to sign their skin away to the Nets logo for the rest of their lives. The home team lost, and I didn’t really care; I was there to take it all in, and more importantly, to eat the upgraded arena food everyone’s been talking about.
Plenty of ink has been spilled over Barclays’ all-Brooklyn food options. Many critics weighed-in after press tastings. But what about the regular folk attending a game with some buddies? I wanted to see the vendors in action, during a game, and find out how hard it was to get a pretzel or a hot dog with my beer. I ended up ordering neither, but did discover some pretty great options for game-time dining.
What I saw most people eating was relish-laden franks and mounds of crinkle fries and tater tots. Those arena classics came courtesy of Nathan’s, and there was something comforting about the tried-and-true holding court with flashy newcomers like Fatty Cue and Brooklyn Farmacy.
I ventured mere feet down the curving hallway to find a cart, sans any sexy Brooklyn title, boasting nachos as its only item.
I went for a beer first, a $7 Bud Heavy over smaller, more expensive options like Brooklyn Lager or Stella Artois. Apparently you can buy Sixpoint Sweet Action somewhere, but I never saw it—the other, bigger breweries are much easier to track down.
Next, it was on to macaroni and cheese piled high with beef brisket from Fatty ‘Cue. The curly ringlets of noodles laid in a creamy tangle below sweet morsels of slow-cooked beef. It surely wasn’t the court-side food I’m used to—this was some next level arena dining. Most importantly, the vehicle for the grub—a well constructed, extra-thick plate-bowl hybrid—made bringing the dish to your seat easier than expected.
With cheese still on the mind, I moved on to nachos—a dish that I felt obligated to sample in the current surroundings. Habana Outpost advertised a platter with house chipotle-cheese sauce, and so I ventured a taste. The chips were round and just mildly stale and mealy, while the queso was quite good. When taking into consideration the hazard-yellow liquid cheese that often blankets chips at sports games, I was willing to forgive some of the missteps. That was until I ventured mere feet down the curving hallway to find a cart, sans any sexy Brooklyn title, boasting nachos as its only item. For the sake of comparison, I tossed my mediocre Habana Outpost platter to the wind and took my chances on nachos #2. This rendition was stacked with black beans, guacamole, salsa, cheese sauce, and sour cream over a triangle chip mountain. More delicious queso and much better stacking quickly set a new bar for arena nachos.
The evening finished with more beers, a shared slice of chocolate cheesecake from Juniors (my first of its kind, which did not disappoint), and curiosity about what I had missed. Long lines at Calexico dissuaded me from waiting for a taco, though my interest was definitely peaked by its popularity with the crowd. Sandwiches like the Cubano at Habana, the bánh mì from Fatty ‘Cue, and one with sausage from Saul Bolton’s Brooklyn Bangers also seemed to be pretty popular and easily consumable.
My main piece of advice: Stick to the fare of the upper floor for shorter lines—places near the entrance and on the first were slammed for much of the evening.