The New Brooklyn Cuisine
To the honor roll of sainted outer-borough dining destinations like Franny’s, Dressler, Applewood, and Egg, let’s add Char No. 4, on Smith Street. On rainy evenings, I like to slouch at the long, tobacco-colored bar with the rest of the scruffy bourbon scholars and contemplate the impressive display of esoteric bourbons and ryes, including a bottle of Jim Beam Distiller’s Masterpiece Port Finish, which costs an astonishing $100 per shot. But the real reason to visit this deceptively nondescript storefront operation is the cooking of Matt Greco, who fills his reasonably priced menu with an assortment of elegantly rendered, homey treats. The classically trained chef uses crushed cornflakes to bread his fried oysters, brines shoulders of lamb into delicate, candy-pink ribbons of pastrami, and produces a diabolically delicious BLT made with pickled tomatoes, a melting slab of braised, fried pork belly, and fresh romaine. If you have room after your plate of smoky Texas-style beef links and a helping or two of heart-clogging “fried pork nuggets,” don’t forget the butter-pecan ice cream, splashed with a shot of bourbon, of course.
The latest downmarket hot spot in restaurant-mad Williamsburg is La Superior, on Berry Street, where the tiny space was packed, the last time I dropped in, with crowds of local taco fiends clamoring for a taste of authentically messy Mexican-street-food specialties like plump corn-cake gorditas filled with chorizo, and the massively nourishing, impressively economical $7.50 “torta ahogada” made with spicy chile de árbol and vats of gently stewed pork poured over a layer of pleasantly soggy sourdough bread. If you wish to dine like a true midtown swell, however, sprint around the corner to Walter Foods, on a semi-darkened stretch of Grand Street, where it’s a relief to sit in the dimpled black leather banquettes with the rest of the local gentry and sip sophisticated Manhattan-style concoctions like the pleasingly anesthetizing Diablo (tequila and honey), while snacking on helpings of pepper-crusted filet mignon and the inspired local version of pigs in a blanket, made not with hot dogs but with Mexican chorizo wrapped in a buttery pastry crust.
For a properly rustic dose of what my perceptive “Underground Gourmet” colleagues have called the New Brooklyn Cuisine, take a seat at The General Greene, on the corner of DeKalb and Clermont Avenues in Fort Greene, where the bar is made of polished butcher block, the bar stools are fashioned from dented old tractor seats, and the former midtown pastry chef, Nicholas Morgenstern, plies the neighborly mob of farm-to-table converts with barnyard staples like deviled eggs and bacon-wrapped dates, along with enticing fusion recipes like slow-baked pork ribs dressed with creamy aïoli, and blocks of bread pudding leavened with ham and melted Gruyère cheese. All sorts of high-end barnyard creations also adorn the menu at Bussaco, on Union Street in Park Slope, but if you’re wise, you’ll conclude your ramble through the gastronomic wilds of Brooklyn with one or two of the restaurant’s deceptively artful desserts. The seasonally changing treats have included platters of fresh-baked chocolate-chip and peanut-butter cookies and an elevated version of crème caramel touched with maple. But the dish my confection-starved food friends in Brooklyn can’t stop nattering about is the densely creamy, icy-smooth panna cotta, which is served with wedges of grapefruit or roasted strawberries and decorated with a dusting of vanilla beans.