546 Clinton Ave, Clinton Hill
Rating: 4 out of 5 L's
Sure, there are plenty of reasons to check out Hot Bird. The most obvious is its beer garden, packed with communal picnic tables, cozily fenced in from the hum of Atlantic Avenue, that iconic yellow signage, advertising an eponymous but long-gone barbecue joint, perched overhead. The warehouse-chic ambiance of the indoor seating area is worth a visit, too. And, of course, there's the well-curated beer selection. At the time of our visit, the dozen drafts included the refreshing Infinite Wit from Nebraska Brewing Company, Otter Creek's malty Copper Ale, and the ever-drinkable Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA.
But this bar's secret weapon? Chocolate cake. See, Hot Bird's patio is home to a food truck owned by Alan Harding of Gowanus Yacht Club, Pacifico, and the late (and arguably great) Schnack. A thermometer near the take-out window denotes the temperature within, which hovers over 100 degrees, as a couple of ladies in bandanas slave over burgers and brats. Before you get to dessert, you'll want to try their rice balls—crisp on the outside, with creamy rice and melted cheese inside. They've also got something called a "knock mi"—a split and grilled knockwurst with all the fixins of a bahn mi, without too much spice. Seems that all the heat was packed unexpectedly into the vegetarian sandwich—its layers of chickpea polenta, roasted red peppers, eggplant, and ricotta were topped with a fiery long hot chili, stem and all. The chili wasn't listed on the menu and made us wonder if they were playing an unbearably spicy trick on unsuspecting vegetarians. Some Crystal Lite-ish watermelon-cucumber lemonade helped to cool things down, and dessert made us forget about it entirely.
Five bucks buys a messy hunk of light-yet-moist, just-sweet-enough, super-chocolaty cake, filled and sloppily topped with thick and melty chocolate icing. As neither a lover of cake nor a chocolate fiend, I only ordered this because they were out of carrot cake. But this isn't your average dry and springy birthday cake. I thought it tasted like a candy bar. My drinking buddy, a culinary school graduate said, "It tastes like nougat, doesn't it?" Somehow, it did. The next day, she was still wondering about it. "Could there be marshmallow topping in the icing? Could that explain the flavor? How was it so delicious?" They're pushing some pretty good chocolate chip cookies and buttery raspberry bars, too, but we'll be back to ponder the deliciousness of that amazing chocolate cake.