If the notion of New York bar food keeps changing, it’s because New York bars do, too. Take, for instance, Fort Defiance, the multihyphenated café–bar–soda fountain–home away from home in Red Hook. It’s not that the place, named for a Revolutionary War fort, has an identity crisis. Modest and inviting, with a smattering of tables and front windows flung open to the street, it seems most of all to want to be a neighborhood social center, and it provides the food and drink to facilitate that role at any hour. At 8 a.m., that means Counter Culture coffee individually ground and brewed on a drip bar and pastries culled from local bakeries. At lunch, there’s a short sandwich and salad menu, plus homemade sodas starring a bracingly fizzy house-carbonated seltzer that the blackboard menu justifiably touts as “the best in Brooklyn.” At night, despite the presence of a substantial grazing menu, the place tends to be treated like a bar, thanks to the high quality of the drinks and the pedigree of the owner and bartender, St. John Frizell, who honed his craft at Pegu Club and the Good Fork. For simple nibbles, there are addictive pimentón-powdered cashews and creamy deviled eggs. Cheese and meat plates are well sourced (La Quercia Iowa prosciutto, pungent Taleggio) and served with practically half a loaf of bread, as is a tasty hunk of housemade pork-and-duck-breast terrine. Of the seafood choices, a jar of smooth, flavorful bluefish rillettes, served with a sweet onion confit, made a delicious snack, and although a half-dozen cold poached shrimp might have tasted excessively shrimpy one night, the accompanying salsa verde and fennel salad almost made up for it. There are plans, gas service pending, to fire up the stoves and start offering daily specials, like red beans and rice and oysters Rockefeller. But Frizell says he won’t turn the joint into a full-fledged restaurant. For him, the café-bar-what-have-you model serves the neighborhood, and its quotidian appetites, quite nicely.Ideal Meal
Muffuletta, Prescription Julep.