Posted on April 16, 2010 - by

Food-Fronted Development at Full Mast

Guest Post by: James Boo
Originally Posted on The Eaten Path

When a conversation with my neighbor, Lulu, hits the twenty-minute mark, it won’t be long before she raises her right pinky, dons a frenzied grimace and puts on her best impersonation of Herman, a clinically insane man pacing back and forth, hooking thin air and repeatedly chirping: “Neer! Neer! Neer! Neer!

A lifelong tenant of my building in the Puerto Rican enclave of today’s Williamsburg, Lulu has reminded me more than once that the apartment building across the street stands on the former grounds of a psychiatric ward, where mental patients would mill around the gates and chat with kids on the street through a wire-mesh fence.

Williamsburg, like much of New York, has quite a bit of history behind it, and Herman’s antics comprise one small tale of many that are still waiting to be passed down. You might not know this, however, from the average New Yorker’s loyalty to the universal hipster narrative, that knee-jerk understanding in which the crazies and kids are now one, making Williamsburg little more than a weekend zoo for Manhattanites and a convenient target for the collective rolled eyes of the city. Given how little people seem to think on how this neighborhood’s various parts have come into being, going back in the day through Lulu’s stories is a nice way of sparking the imagination and offering glimpses at our lionized landscape that cut through the newspeak of pop-cultural geography.

Being just as transient as the next twenty-something, I don’t say this to stake out a claim on authenticity. As I move out of Williamsburg, I simply hope that twenty years from now this patch of Brooklyn won’t be remembered in the form of skinny jeans, facial hair and poorly conceived irony – the so-called “hipsters” of Williamsburg deserve better. Real communities, new and old, continue to write their own stories between Broadway and Nassau, and if the growth of Brooklyn’s locally sourced food scene is any indication, the resulting merge will be something more interesting than the displacement of roots with cash registers.

Mast Bros. Chocolate - Fresh! the Movie Tasting - Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY
The Mast Bros. Chocolate tasting I attended last week as part of the publicity blitz for Fresh! is one example of how the dining scene in Williamsburg is equal parts consumer-based gentrification and organic community building. At a glance, the event seemed a stereotypical meeting of the prissy and the pricey; gourmet chocolates set out alongside flowers as the conversation of an affluent, educated crowd of mostly white faces.

Mast Bros. Chocolate - Fresh! the Movie Tasting - Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY Mast Bros. Chocolate - Fresh! the Movie Tasting - Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY
A closer look at the Fresh! campaign and a deeper taste of the gathering on North 3rd St would reveal an element of ownership that instills affluence with anima, particularly in how the Mast brothers uncompromisingly handcraft their chocolate to the enviable passion that Shane Welch and his staff at Sixpoint Craft Ales put into their Brooklyn-based brews. While the $7 price tag of a Mast Bros. Chocolate bar (higher if you purchase it outside the factory) screams high end consumerism, the intimacy of this hole-in-the-wall factory and beard-charmed accessibility of its owners makes a more complex statement of migration and growth, one which shines in significant contrast to the new Duane Reade pharmacy in construction just a few blocks away.

Mast Bros. Chocolate - Single Origin Madagascar With Cocoa Nibs
The chocolates on offer during the tasting certainly offered a real taste of personality. I’ve dismissed the Masts’ chocolate as too floral in the past, but was happy to be proven immensely wrong as I sampled piece after piece of the brothers’ standard rotation of bars. Like my colleague over at Food in Mouth, I quickly got over the intensity of the chocolate and become much more concerned with when I could procure the next bite-sized chunk.

Mast Bros. Chocolate - Single Origin Madagascar With Cocoa Nibs
The most satisfying aspect of Mast Bros. chocolate is that the foo foo liner notes that accompany its product are stunningly accurate. Single origin, 81% cocoa Dominican Republic is a hefty expression of earthy flavors – “rustic earth, black tea, rum, black berry, maybe even tobacco and sometimes licorice,” to be precise. Likewise, The Masts’ Fleur de Sal de Guerande (hand-harvested sea salt from France) is “a perfect finishing salt, amplifying the sweetness and citrus of the Madagascar cacao,” and the “nuttiness, fruit and beautiful texture” of the Mast’s meaty cacao nibs introduce a hearty element to their chocolate that is as much to savor as it is to feel. The distinctive profiles of each bar bore much of this flavor text to my taste buds in way that rarely happens when I drink a glass of red wine.

At the top of my list, single origin, 72% cocoa Madagascar “tickles your palate with blood orange, dried sour cherry and raspberry notes. Soft tannins and bright fruit linger on your brain like a night in Napa Valley.” As I popped piece after piece of this chocolate into my mouth and grappled with the flavors as they unwound on my tongue, these ridiculous, J. Peterman-worshipping words only become more true, with one all-important difference: Whereas Peterman dealt in plastering status onto schlock, Rick and Michael Mast engage in creating food that encapsulates labor and art.

Mast Bros. Chocolate - Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY
Is an artisan chocolate bar the form of hipsterism, matured? Is it simply another unwitting offensive in socioeconomic restructuring? The Mast brothers, flanked by like-minded, locally-focused entrepreneurs at the Brooklyn Kitchen, the Meat Hook, Marlow & Daugters, Pies and Thighs, the Greenpoint Greenmarket, and the many other members of North Brooklyn’s blossoming food community, have nurtured an answer that goes beyond dive bars without eschewing them and stands up to five-stars without pursuing them. Most importantly, these voices are not alone in their statement of delicious development: With the help of social media and the spark of generational change, a similar process has taken root in urban environments all over the United States.

I’m not one to know exactly how this spirit will guide the evolution of Williamsburg, let alone the rest of the country. Despite the fact that culture clashes of gentrification are very much alive and well, this town’s food-crazed denizens, the Mast brothers certainly included, have done a lot in my eyes to make a tasteful case for their ongoing invasion.

Mast Bros. Chocolate - Fresh! the Movie Tasting - Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY

Mast Bros. Chocolate
105 North 3rd St.
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Open Sat. and Sun. 2pm-8pm



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