The Columbia Street Waterfront District peters out at Atlantic Avenue, as does Columbia Street itself. But if you cross the thoroughfare and cut through Palmetto Playground, you’ll wind up on Columbia Place. That’s where you’ll find Iris Cafe, a popular coffee-and-sandwich spot that recently obtained a wine-and-beer license, the crucial prerequisite to launching dinner service. Though still under the radar, the evening menu at Iris is a boon for locals looking for a casual, homestyle dinner cooked with a distinctive Slow Food-locavore approach.
As fans of the café’s sticky buns and country-ham sandwiches can attest, Iris does not aspire to serve “health food,” and its six-apps, four-mains menu at first glance comes off as unalloyed Americana. But if Iris has a hidden agenda, not unlike Chió’s grano arso fetish, it’s to sneak in whole grains and white-flour alternatives whenever possible: The chewy toasts spread with smoked-trout pâté are actually Finnish Ruis, the high-fiber, low-glycemic-index Queens-baked rye, and the Dutch baby pancake that accompanies a string-tied parchment “parcel” of wild mushrooms is made from buckwheat. Because it’s impossible to escape kale salad, especially in Brooklyn, Iris serves it as a special, and boiled bok choy, carrots, and squash make a salubrious starter plate with caper-mayo dip. Among the entrées, you’ll find rosy pink, herb-infused shavings of leg of lamb, garnished with millet, the grain you probably haven’t thought about since your collegiate Moosewood Cookbook phase, and fish en papillote, a cooking technique dictated as much by logistics as by taste: The ventless electric kitchen precludes frying, sautéing, or any other method that could result in billowing smoke or lingering odors. Though there is a tendency toward overcooking (especially with the roast chicken, which comes with a nutty spelt pappardelle), a moist meatloaf special is crisp-edged, leavened with Finnish Ruis crumbs. For dessert, we recommend the lemon posset, or eggless custard, over the chocolate cake—not just because the former is light and cool and served with crunchy buckwheat-poppyseed cookies, but because the latter’s secret ingredient (avocado) adds relatively little in terms of texture or flavor.
But these quibbles are nullified by the tranquil setting, recently reconfigured to accommodate a bar serving a handful of wines, regional ciders, and local beer and kombucha on tap (naturally). It might not yet be on every fare-seeking taxi driver’s radar, which is probably just how the locals like it.