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Wilma Jean

Critic's Pick Critics' Pick

345 Smith St., Brooklyn, NY 11231 40.680121 -73.994937
nr. Carroll St.  See Map | Subway Directions Hopstop Popup
718-422-0444 Send to Phone

  • Cuisine: American Traditional, Southern/Soul
  • Price Range: $$

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Photo by Sarah Silberg

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Official Website

wilmajean345.com

Hours

Daily, 11am-10pm

Nearby Subway Stops

F, G at Carroll St.

Prices

$5-$16

Payment Methods

American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa

Special Features

  • Brunch - Daily
  • Dine at the Bar
  • Kid-Friendly
  • Lunch
  • Take-Out
  • Family Style
  • Reservations Not Required

Alcohol

  • Beer and Wine Only

Reservations

Not Accepted

Profile

Dr. Mary T. Bassett, the commissioner of New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, shouldn’t blame Robert Newton if Brooklyn’s collective cholesterol count suddenly skyrockets. Nor should she find him at fault if that borough is seized by a gout epidemic. After all, at Newton’s shuttered Seersucker restaurant, the Le Cirque vet and Arkansas native tried to get New Yorkers to appreciate a more refined, less clichéd (and not-so-artery-clogging) version of southern cooking. In pursuit of that goal, he supplemented what he called his “cleaned-up southern” menu with rigorously sourced ingredients and not a few fruits and vegetables from his neighborhood Greenmarket. He also heroically attempted to wean the locals off their barbarian zeal for fried chicken by initially restricting it to Tuesday nights. Well, it didn’t work. In short, Newton wanted to channel the spirit of Edna Lewis, the grande dame of southern cuisine; his customers, he discovered, were hoping for a role model built more along the lines of Pies-N-Thighs co-founder Stephen Tanner, the bad boy of deep-fried dive-bar food.

Now, like a parent who pacifies a belligerent toddler with a Pop-Tart, Newton is giving his public what it wants. In July of 2014, he and partner Kerry Diamond shuffled two of their Smith Street properties, moving their Vietnamese restaurant Nightingale 9 to the old Seersucker space and turning Nightingale 9’s former home into a restaurant called Wilma Jean. The super-casual spot, named for Newton’s grandmother and adorned with old-timey concert posters and a smattering of vintage family photos, specializes in fried chicken sold by the piece, by the dinner, on a bun, in a salad—even on a stick, the way they do at all the best gas stations down South. And with its craggy crust and high-decibel crunch, the bird’s as juicy and flavorful as any you’ll find in New York. The old Seersucker Robert Newton and Dr. Mary T. Bassett wouldn’t recommend it, but you’ll want to eat this chicken much more frequently than once a week. Ditto a perfectly proportioned, crisp-edged cheeseburger on a squishy sesame-seed bun, and any of the sides, especially smashed and fried Red Bliss potatoes, a hunk of corn bread with salted molasses butter, and braised collards with country ham. (In fairness, the chef attempts to atone for his dietary sins by keeping portions small—and affordable—and ingredient quality high. That burger’s grass-fed, and the chicken a free-range clucker from New Jersey.)

Newton groupies will recognize a few migrations from his other menus, including the notched-and-fried bologna sandwich he served as a $6 snack at Seersucker on a Thomas’ English muffin with Dijon mustard. Here, it’s been Wilma-Jeaned, arriving on a Martin’s potato roll with a swipe of French’s and sold for a dollar less. Likewise, a new version of Nightingale 9’s excellent salad of thinly sliced raw collards turns up bathed in a celery-seed vinaigrette with roasted North Carolina peanuts. (Yes, you can get it with strips of fried chicken, but that’s going too far.) In keeping with the family-friendly vibe, there’s no hard liquor, but the terrific selection of local beers can be had in full- or half-size pours. (Hop-heads need to taste the Other Half Hop Showers IPA, brewed ten blocks away.)

To further distance Wilma Jean from any Seersucker-like association with fine dining, Newton serves everything in either paper boats or plastic mesh baskets on metal cafeteria trays, and the friendly service is accordingly built for speed. For dessert one recent evening, a tiny tin of warm peach cobbler served alongside a paper cup of Blue Marble vanilla ice cream was ordered, delivered, and devoured in about 90 seconds—a fitting tribute to the fleeting flavors of summer.

Recommended Dishes

Fried chicken dinner, $16; cheeseburger, $11; collards salad, $8

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