Little Paris

Brooklyn's old Italian stronghold is becoming more and more French


BY Elizabeth Hays DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER Monday, March 9th 2009, 1:06 AM Rosier/News Provence en Boite at 263 Smith Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Owner, Jean Jacques Bernat inside the restaurant. Vive Le Carroll Gardens! The Brownstone Brooklyn neighborhood that was once an Italian stronghold is quickly becoming the city's Little Paris - fueled by a new French program at a local public school. "They used to speak Italian here. Now they speak French," joked Nicole Galluccio, a broker with Douglas Elliman real estate who lives in Carroll Gardens and has several French clients who won't look at houses anywhere else in the city. Neighborhood playgrounds have recently filled up with French-speaking tots - making it easier these days to find croissants than cannoli on Court St., where merchants have seen a surge in French families looking for favorite products from home. "I have a lot of French customers coming in," said Frank Caputo of Caputo's Fine Foods, a venerable Italian specialty store on Court St. opened by his parents 36 years ago. "In the last two or three years, it's doubled." Along with prosciutto, mortadella and other Italian favorites, Caputo stocks lots of different and obscure French cheeses, which often give away which customers are French. "When they order French cheese, they pronounce it the right way," he said. "They do eat a lot of cheese." French government officials estimate there are as many as 20,000 French residents in Brooklyn, more than in Manhattan, with the largest concentration in Carroll Gardens. Butcher John McFadden, whose family owns Staubitz Meat Market, has seen a surge in demand for French-style racks of lamb, boeuf bourguignon and filet mignon. "It's doubled, tripled, recently," McFadden said. "It's good for us." Carroll Gardens' other main strip, Smith St., has become so French that restaurant owners launched a Bastille Day celebration. "If you come to my restaurant on Saturday or Sunday, everyone is speaking French," said Jean-Jacques Bernat, whose postcard-perfect French bistro on Smith St., Provence en Boite, has begun stocking special candies and other goodies, especially for the nabe's growing numbers of homesick expats. The area's French floodgates opened in 2007, when Public School 58 - once so staunchly Italian it was known as "Our Lady of 58" - launched a French dual-language program. "We have people moving into the neighborhood just to be part of the French program," said PS58 Principal Giselle Gault McGee, adding that the school routinely gets inquiries from families in France. "Now that the school is offering a dual-language program in French, everybody's moving there," said Fabrice Jaumont, an education official at the French Embassy, which jointly opened the PS 58 program and others across the city. A similar program at PS 125 in Harlem has attracted Senegalese and West African students. "There are little Francophone villages opening everywhere around those schools," Jaumont said. Last summer, Alexandra Kaminski, who is French, relocated to Carroll Gardens with her family and promptly enrolled her daughter Ella, 6, in the program at PS 58. "At first, I was a bit worried that it would feel like a French ghetto, like a French Club Med," said Kaminski. "We have completely been seduced. It's a beautiful neighborhood. All these Italian people did a good job." Read more:

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