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G at Fulton St.; G at Clinton-Washington Aves.; C at Lafayette Ave.
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Funny to think that future generations may grow up unaware of not only what a newspaper or a television is—let alone an 8-track tape—but also how terrified their ancestors were of Brussels sprouts. That was the thought that crossed the minds of the Underground Gourmet as we tucked into a dish of the pungent little cabbages at Martha, a homey, inviting, sort-of-new restaurant located along a leafy stretch of Fort Greene’s restaurant row. The Brussels in question were sliced in half and deeply charred, some would say burnt, but deliciously so. They came mingled with honey and pickled jalapeño in a piping hot cast-iron pan with a pink hand-knit cozy wrapped around the handle. The masterstroke, though, was the zingy addition of fish sauce. It was funk on funk with a touch of sweet and a dash of hot to take the edge off, and a gang of young vegivores at a nearby table could be seen popping the addictive morsels into their mouths like M&Ms. The person to thank for the sprouts, if not the skillet mittens, is Martha chef-owner Andres Valbuena, a mountain of a man whose shock of dark, spiky whiskers and voluminous apron give him the appearance of an old-world smithy.
Of course, you can’t talk about dunking Brussels sprouts in fish sauce without talking about David Chang and his former lieutenant, Tien Ho, who, in a burst of brassica brilliance, came up with the idea seven years ago at Momofuku Ssäm Bar. In this post-Changian world, cruciferous vegetables and fish sauce seem as natural and classic and maybe even clichéd a pairing as beets and goat cheese. It’s the new normal: local ingredients cooked through a broadly Pan-Asian prism, with less importance placed on authenticity than on flavor. And it’s a realm Valbuena has sidestepped into, after launching the spot with a different name and concept a year ago. Martha is the Asian-hipster evolution of Brooklyn Sandwich Society, an haute sandwich shop that itself evolved from a supper club Valbuena and his partner, Melissa Gorman, ran in Valbuena’s Prospect-Lefferts Gardens apartment. At first, dinner at BSS was all sandwiches, supplemented by seasonal small plates. Then the selection dwindled to one sandwich per night. Finally, with the name change this summer, there were none.
It was a wise decision. While the Society’s featured attractions never entered the pantheon of New York’s star sandwiches, Martha’s menu is a cannily calibrated take on the big, cravable flavors that dominate today’s culinary landscape. Even if this grub is nothing that Brooklyn gastronomes haven’t seen or tasted before, it’s still undeniably delicious.
Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, egg noodles and duck sausage, fried half-chicken.