520 Henry St, Carroll Gardens
Rating: Three out of 5 L's
Take note, comic book nerds: Bar Bruno’s signature burger, a juicy blend of ground sirloin, short rib and brisket topped with avocado, caramelized onions and melted cheese ($14), is called the Bruno Diaz—Batman’s given name, instead of Bruce Wayne, in many Spanish-speaking countries. The Caped Crusader theme seemingly ends there. Instead of framed Latin-American comic books, the walls are decorated with vintage photos of soccer players and thrift store sconces. Along the corner café’s long, windowed wall, white melamine tables are chicly trimmed with bright red rims and supported by black claw feet. Dark faux-wood paneling sets off mod yellow wall tiles, and the liquor shelves behind the bar are artfully arranged. With nothing but banquette tables lining the back half of the restaurant, the space has an open floor plan that could accommodate a big bar crowd. There’s even enough standing room for a makeshift dance floor.
But just as Batman has to fight crime without the help of any supernatural powers, Bar Bruno has to feed a restaurant-rich neighborhood without anything too magical coming out of the kitchen. That said, what’s not to love about lightly salted and sautéed shishito peppers ($6), the Russian roulette of bar snacks? Most shishitos are mild and sweet, but you’re likely to get one or two that pack some serious heat. Wash them down with one of Bruno’s beer-based cocktails—various permutations of Stella or Pacifico with hot sauce, lime, and Bloody Mary mix ($6). In the simpler-than-it sounds tomato and Valbresso casserole ($7), the sweetness of roasted cherry tomatoes plays off salty melted feta. A boneless free-range chicken breast, pan-fried with garlic, thyme and lemon ($15) isn’t so different from something you might whip up at home, but it’s tasty nonetheless. And the frisee salad, with shaved manchego, chistorra sausage bites, avocado and fried egg ($14), is totally serviceable, if not exactly a showstopper. Our only disappointment was a fish special which arrived quite raw, but we were quickly served a replacement dish of well-cooked flaky bass with creamy avocado and bright cilantro pesto.
The most heroic folks at Bar Bruno are the cooks who keep the kitchen open until midnight throughout the week. Around 11pm on a Monday, we overheard a couple of businessmen with loosened ties ordering burgers at the bar and expressing their gratitude for a late-night sit-down meal in this end of the neighborhood. When most local spots are closed and the diner won’t do, Bar Bruno’s simple and satisfying fare really can save the day.