275 Van Brunt Street, Red Hook
This place doesn’t look like other restaurants. On a high-top table in the back, an explosion of flowers erupts from the open mouth of a taxidermied horse’s head. Meat grinders affixed to rustic dining tables also function as vases. The space harks back to Old Red Hook, pre-Fairway Red Hook, where you could buy your gin out of a bathtub at the dearly departed liquor store LeNell’s, and the heavily taxidermied décor at Bait & Tackle—before it became a trend—made you feel as though you’d entered a wormhole that transported you far beyond the city. Proprietor Erin Norris once tended bar at Bait & Tackle, which she called “the neighborhood’s nerve center” in the Kickstarter campaign that helped get Grindhaus going after Hurricane Sandy nearly washed it away.
The names of her Kickstarter backers are scrawled on the wall by the front door. Beside the kitchen, a bold, cartoony painting depicts a guy puking. It caught my eye as Norris herself, who was bussing tables and waiting on all of her tiny restaurant’s 20 seats during our visit, brought over a pair of shot glasses filled with orange juice under warm carrot puree. I was thinking about the barf art by the kitchen and the dead horse spewing up a floral arrangement as I sipped, but it still tasted
Also really good? Everything else we tried. The house-baked, buttery, garlicky, parmesan “parkerhaus rolls” made the place feel like the homiest puke-atorium on earth. Mellow, tender kale got a kick from anchovies and garlic, freshness from shaved sunchokes, and a satisfying crunch from smoky-salty breadcrumbs. Toothsome, ink-black pasta shells came topped with sweet little clams, a touch of chile, and bottarga, which brought on a pleasantly fishy funk. Pitch-perfect seared scallops were plated prettily with fresh sorrel fronds, buttery avocado and shaved carrot. Succulent lamb met creamy polenta, shallots and artichokes. A fizzy, tangy palate cleanser of carrot juice, seltzer and a buttermilk floater made way for one of those barely sweet mad-scientist desserts: a small bite of olive oil cake paired well with tart blood-orange supremes, beguiling honey-tea foam, and a sprinkle of surprisingly tasty toasted quinoa. Like everything else at Grindhaus, it was weird, but it worked. It’s worth journeying to Red Hook for a meal at this one-of-a-kind place, where the peculiarities of the décor mesh with the warmth of the hostess and the craftsmanship of the kitchen. Just keep in mind that they’re only open Friday to Monday, and they only take cash.