Brooklyn, New York CNN  — 

Missy Robbins likes grappa.

Before pouring me small tastes of a couple on the menu at Lilia, the insanely popular Italian restaurant in Brooklyn where Robbins is co-owner and chef, she assures me that they don’t all taste like gasoline.

The alcoholic beverage’s reputation precedes it. As does Robbins’.

Named best New York City chef by the 2018 James Beard Awards, Robbins is kind of famous in her own right.

Reservations at Lilia, as you might expect from an award-winning chef, are hard to come by. But devoted Robbins fans don’t seem to mind lining up outside the Williamsburg restaurant to wait for a coveted seat.

missy robbins peas
An easy summer dish from a Michelin chef
01:40 - Source: CNN

Once inside, diners may be tempted to start with the chicken liver crostini (it’s divine) or the housemade mozzarella. Whichever they choose, one bite in, and they will see that the Lilia love is founded in reality.

Asked to describe her first restaurant – she has another Williamsburg spot opening in the near future – Robbins simply says, “there’s nothing on this menu I don’t want to eat.”

That philosophy informs every dish. “If I’m not feeling it, and it’s not something I would order here, it’s probably not going to make it on the menu.”

Black bass, salsa verde and coal-roasted potatoes at Lilia

The move to Brooklyn

While Williamsburg, a neighborhood in northern Brooklyn, has been trending for at least a decade, living there wasn’t always Robbins’ glass of grappa. (And that grappa, one with chamomile notes and another with smoky cherry nuances, tasted nothing like gasoline.)

Calling herself “Manhattan-centric,” Robbins lived for a long time in the borough’s West Village. Too many nights sitting in traffic after a long day at Lilia led her to consider relocating to Brooklyn, at least temporarily.

When she moved, she assumed it would be for a year or two. But now that she’s settled, she can’t picture herself leaving.

“I am part of the community,” she adds, listing neighborhood hangouts like they are close friends.

Domino Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Getting to know Williamsburg

There’s Butler, the coffee shop across the street from her building; the teeny tiny Japanese restaurant Okonomi that serves a traditional Japanese breakfast that Robbins loves because it is “prepared in such elegant, beautiful, different ways all the time”; and one of the neighborhood’s newest additions, Domino Park.

Robbins has clearly taken to the “mellow” community. She is, in fact, smitten with it.


The people are friendly and nice, and she says she feels at ease here in a way that she never quite felt in the West Village.

Although Robbins admits that she doesn’t have a ton of spare time to explore Williamsburg’s haunts, she makes an effort to enjoy the neighborhood as much as her schedule allows.

Maison Premiere, “an amazing cocktail bar,” is one of her favorite spots. It’s also a place that she visited long before moving to Brooklyn.

The vibe there is great, she says. “It’s kind of sexy, kind of dark,” and Robbins appreciates the bar’s “old-school vibe.”

Maison Premiere

The Four Horsemen, a gastropub in the heart of the ‘hood, is another of her Williamsburg favorites for drinks and snacks.

Daytime eating, when she can swing it, might mean a pastrami sandwich and matzo ball soup at Frankel’s Delicatessen, a family-operated Jewish deli in nearby Greenpoint.

That is, if she isn’t squeezing into the bar at the iconic Peter Luger Steakhouse to order a hamburger, a menu item only available at lunchtime.

Whether dining at Peter Luger’s or wandering through Domino Park with an iced cortado from Butler, Robbins is at home “in this small town within New York.”

Lilia used to be an auto body shop.

So much love for Lilia

Lilia is so beloved that it’s become much more than a neighborhood spot for regulars to sit at the bar and order a bowl of rigatoni. It’s a destination in its own right.

Since this wasn’t necessarily Robbins’ goal, she is still getting used to the fact that diners want to order off of all seven sections.

Robbins isn’t complaining though, and neither is her staff, who seemed just about as poised and polished as any NYC staff I’ve seen.

On particularly hectic days when the kitchen is super busy – no time to put together family meal for all the employees – Robbins calls her pals over at Joe’s Pizza and asks them to send over some pies.

With friends like that, why would anyone leave Brooklyn?

Missy Robbins’ Williamsburg picks

Lilia, 567 Union Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222, +1 (718) 576-3095

Okonomi, 150 Ainslie Street, Brooklyn, NY 112111, no phone number

Domino Park, 15 River Street, Brooklyn, NY 11249, +1 (212) 484-2700

Maison Premiere, 298 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11249, +1 (347) 335-0446

Butler, 95 South 5th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11249, no phone number

The Four Horsemen, 295 Grand Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211, +1 (718) 599-4900

Peter Luger Steak House, 178 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11211, +1 (718) 387-7400

Frankel’s Delicatessen & Appetizing, 631 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222, +1 (718) 389-2302

Joe’s Pizza, 216 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, +1 (718) 388-2216