613 Grand St, Williamsburg
Rating: Four out of 5 L's
All too often wine bars are simply restaurants in disguise, inviting you in with the promise of a drink but leaving you with a hefty dinner bill, lest you get an eye-roll from a grumpy waiter impatiently watching you sip a single glass of Pinot Noir. At St. Austere, however, the choice is yours. Want to simply have a drink or two? Go ahead. Friendly owner Fabrizio Pirolo won’t bother you while you drink at the bar. Looking to fill up on inventive Italian fare? Grab a seat at one of the communal tables in back and chow down. The 39-seat bar claims on its Facebook page that it doesn’t want to be classified as a wine bar, club or restaurant; while it focuses on wine, it can definitely be whatever you want it to be, from neighborhood watering hole to low-lit date spot.
On weekend nights, the long, aluminum bar fills up fast, a diverse crowd of business casual professionals and twentysomething creatives taking up almost all of the wooden stools by 8pm. The beers, like all of the wines, come from the Old World, which is what oenophiles call Europe for some reason. There are five brews on tap, including Gaffel Kolsch, Radeberger Pilsner and Fuller’s Porter. Opt for a bottle and you’ll have 30 more choices.
As for wine, you can expect a selection of 50, a nice mix of obscure and approachable bottles with a decent selection by the glass. Sit down and outcomes a ceramic bowl filled with pungent pickles, made in-house and served with little toothpicks. The food here has real pedigree—the consulting chef is Fabrizio’s brother Michael, who serves as chef de cuisine at Scott Conant’s Scarpetta in Miami. The result is relaxed, Italian-inflected small plates that rise above the usual bruschetta and meatball offerings of most wine bars, including a creamy polenta awash in chicken jus and dotted with spicy sausage, and a clever Banh Mi(lano) sandwich made by stuffing a crispy roll with thick slices of mortadella, pickled veggies and a spicy chili sauce.
While Michael helps with the menu from South Florida, the rest of the family helps from here in Brooklyn. Fabrizio, who started out as a wine distributor, co-owns the space with his brother John and his sister Jacqueline, who previously worked on the production side of the wine business. It’s a warm, convivial place, exposed brick lined with wine bottles and works from local artists, with dangling Edison bulbs providing a gentle glow. Call it a wine bar, gastropub or whatever you want; all I know is that you’ll probably be back.