Walt Whitman-Approved: The Runner

05/21/2014 4:00 AM |

The Runner
458 Myrtle Avenue, Clinton Hill

You can’t judge a restaurant by its website. The Runner’s is tasteful but fusty: the logo appears over an olive-and-gold floral textile, like a swatch of a grandmotherly carpetbag, and the tagline reads, “An American Heritage restaurant and bar with recipes inspired by Clinton Hill circa 1900.” The thought of old-timey roasted meats didn’t really excite my taste buds. As I walked toward Myrtle Avenue, I braced myself for some light period garb: beards paired with take-me-seriously suspenders, or thrift store vests over vintage button-downs with sleeves rolled to reveal swirls of forearm tattoos. I yawned just thinking about it—but I had gotten it all wrong.

We entered through a cozy, dark-wood barroom, where bursts of laughter erupted over pints of Bell’s Two Hearted Ale and the Other Half IPA. The host, a friendly, modern-looking guy in a flannel shirt and glasses, led us to an adjacent dining room with a wood-burning oven in an open kitchen area. The scene was as laid-back as a neighborhood bar and grill, with nary a waxed moustache nor a high-waisted trouser in sight. Servers—mostly ponytailed young women, all in present-day apparel—smiled as they sailed by, carrying plates heaped with hunks of fragrant bread. These giant, airy popovers were served warm with sweet walnut-raisin butter, and their puffy deliciousness made us feel sorry for all the gluten-adverse people in our lives.

We were wary of the section of the menu titled “tartes”—after all, savory tarts (especially with that added “e” at the end) sound like something heavy and quiche-like that comes in a thick, buttery crust tucked into a little ramekin—but, no, ours was a generously sized, wood-fired pizza piled with rich, salty bacon, sweet caramelized onions and nutty melted gruyere. Paired with a huge, crisp chopped salad of kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and pistachios in a pleasantly tangy vinaigrette, this pizza-tart could’ve made a hearty meal by itself. We overdid it by also ordering the well-browned and well-seasoned roasted cauliflower with fried shallots and plump raisins in addition to the simple, hearty whole roast chicken for two, which was served with fresh watercress and fennel dressed in lemon juice. Everything was scrumptious all over again for lunch the next day. If all local restaurants were this good in 1900, then the Brooklyn food scene has really gone downhill in the last century.

The prices are reasonable, the portions are big, and the heavy-handedness of the website doesn’t really transfer to the real-life space. Sure, a well-worn copy of Leaves of Grass is available to page through if you’re waiting in line for the bathroom, but we imagine that if Walt Whitman still lived in the neighborhood, he
would’ve approved.