This Greek is on Fire: MP Taverna Brooklyn

06/15/2015 1:23 PM |
Photo by Jane Bruce

MP Taverna Brooklyn
470 Driggs Avenue, Williamsburg



Michael Psilakis is an unusual sort of food celebrity. If you’ve seen him on TV, he was probably tracking wild, Polynesian boar or hunting iguanas with slingshots on the BBC’s No Kitchen Required, rather than as some preternaturally perky judge on Guy’s Grocery Games. And while he owns a couple of Upper West Side restaurants, it’s not as though he only serves the elite parts of this city; his low-key MP Taverna franchise also includes outposts in Astoria, as well as in Roslyn and Irvington on Long Island, where he lives—and since he spends a day each week working the line at each of his restaurants, he’d like to be able to get home to his wife and kids sometimes.

With all that taken into consideration, a recent Williamsburg expansion—though it perfectly jibes with the neighborhood, with its adjunct performing arts space and progression of share plates—may seem a deviation in form for Psilakis. For one thing, his idea of “sharing” doesn’t exactly involve splitting a single octopus tentacle, swiped with skordalia espuma, three ways. Instead this chef’s sharing style is more about buttressing tables with whopping platters of bulgur wheat, pistachio and pomegranate-studded salad; pulled goat hilopites (small, tender squares of pasta); sweet-fleshed branzino, drenched in olive oil; and pan-roasted lemon chicken—designed for pure, “opa”-inducing pleasure—in haphazard piles of white, off-white, yellow, tan, and brown.

If you’ve ever ventured to one of Psilakis’ other MP Tavernas, you’ll know he hasn’t made many menu changes designed to suit a north Brooklyn clientele. Not that there’s any need, really, since the borough’s Greek scene has remained oddly stagnant over the years; what currently springs to mind beyond gyro carts, diners, rarities like Park Slope’s Faros and Bay Ridge’s Elia, or the seafood palaces of far-off Sheepshead Bay? So basically, Psilakis is filling a hole we’d like to think of as suckling pig-sized—which just so happens to be available with five days notice, along with kid goat, baby lamb, whole fish and veal shank—in our local culinary index.

Sure, we’ve got our hot dog game down, but MP Taverna raises the stakes with tightly coiled sausages, like the red wine-stained Cypriot, redolent of cumin and coriander, and spicy lamb merguez, liberally spiked with paprika and chile. There’s also an affordable assortment of unreservedly rustic mezes, like mussel and pork shoulder stew, grilled calamari with labne, molten saganaki with almonds, and “grandma’s” meatballs moistened with tzatziki, as well as a selection of dips that put Sabra to shame, from a downy, saline fluff of whipped feta to a faintly fishy tarama, a carp caviar tinged with garlic and dill.

Photo by Jane Bruce

If your dinner party can’t handle one of the aforementioned whole animal feasts, consider the baby lamb chops, head-on prawns doused in yogurt, or what might be one of Brooklyn’s very best steak frites, a 45-day, dry-aged porterhouse adorned with coins of crispy garlic and supple heads of roasted lemon, accompanied by flattened planks of thrice-cooked, exceedingly addictive fries. Plunge them into smoky eggplant puree or sun-dried tomato-infused hummus, and you’ve got a winning, stand-alone concept for Smorgasburg.

Our apologies to his family back in Long Island if that ever happens, because we fully expect to find Psilakis working the stand.