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11/21/12 4:00am



Mayfield

688 Franklin Avenue, Crown Heights


“Crown Heights” and “elegance” aren’t often strung together. But the neighborhood is changing. Mayfield, the new bar/restaurant that opened on Franklin Avenue last month, is just one testament to that. There may be fewer luxury housing developments being built here than in other changing neighborhoods, but one thing that has been rapidly multiplying—particularly on the stretch of Franklin Avenue just above Eastern Parkway—is the number of fine-dining establishments.

Opened in the old Franklin Roadhouse space—a former pizza and burger joint that went belly up after its first year—Mayfield has scraped up its remains and taken them to the next level. The interior is elegant while retaining a rustic allure: drop-leaf bar tables, dark wood chairs salvaged from a church in Kentucky, exposed brick walls. A trim of wood panels laid into the bricks in geometric designs somehow fits seamlessly with the frosted glass Art Deco-inspired light fixtures hanging over the bar. But the best bit of décor is the open kitchen, where six cooks in chef’s whites work side by side, like in a sushi bar. Bright and completely exposed, with sparkling-white subway tiles, a raw bar crawling with oysters, and new everything, the kitchen is the focal point of the restaurant, especially for those seated along the spacious bar.

Under chef-owner Lev Gewirtzman, Mayfield boasts clever juxtapositions in its food and drink menus. The sharing plates offer New American (pub) food, with a thick burger or Cuban sandwich, which come with fries or a minimally dressed green salad; fried snacks like oysters in a basket; buttermilk-fried quail; and a papardelle with a luscious veal-breast ragu. The drinks are just as unexpected—and stylishly executed. The New York Old Fashioned has a touch of cognac with rye and a sugar cube. Signature cocktails include the Better and Better, a concoction of Mezcal, Jamaican rum, Velvet Falernum and lemon with almost no hint of sweetness; it’s strong and smooth enough to make you breathless. While the draft-beer selection is limited, the bottle selection includes offerings from lesser-known craft breweries around the country. Lastly, the respectably sized wine list, which includes several options under $10 a glass, was solid and eagerly sampled out by the friendly staff: Oregon Pinot Gris, Argentinian Malbec, Spanish Bombal, Cotes du Rhone, and a fizzy Lambrusco, perfect with the burger.

The bar exudes a pleasant, neighborhood-pub atmosphere; from the stereos, classic rock alternated with 70s soul (it’s named after Curtis Mayfield) on the nights I visited. Several lone patrons and parties of two looked as if they were already settled into their weeknight routines, chatting about sports and headlines. Mayfield serves many functions: cozy sports bar, craft-beer bar, date-night restaurant, people-watching spot. And it serves them all well.

PhotoTora Fälted



11/07/12 4:00am


The Monro
81 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope
3 L’s


There’s a saying in Liverpool, “You’re having a giraffe,” which means “You’ve got to be kidding.” At this unassuming bar in Park Slope, you might walk in and wonder if the owners are having a giraffe, putting on a British pub for kicks in an otherwise unremarkable sports bar. Housed in the former Puppet’s Jazz bar, the Monro doesn’t exactly reek of Englishness the way that places with names like “The Spotted Pig” or “The Fatted Hen” do. There isn’t much in the way of décor that would tip you off, either, save for a few old prints of maps and ships on the walls. But the beer selection goes far beyond Boddington’s, and the crumpets, pasties and pies are quite keen.

You might call it authentic British austerity, this somewhat plain-looking, smallish bar. It takes a while to appreciate its dullness. But after filling up on a few bevvies (that’s Liverpool slang for drinks), the lack of shenanigans begets a pleasantly relaxed and cozy experience. The Monro is named after a pub in Liverpool, where I was told by a bartender that the owner met his wife. When the middle-aged, Liverpool-accented owner, seated at the end of the bar during a slow-starting happy hour, began to engage us in conversation, I couldn’t understand a thing he said.

There’s a happy-hour special of a pie and a pint for $10, which I gamely ordered. The savory meat pies, similar to the Aussie ones popularized by Sheep Station and DUB Bakery, make for a hearty bar snack. Although they’re made by a bakery “somewhere in Buffalo” and warmed up at the bar, the Monro’s potato “crisps” are imported from England. There are eight tap handles, which include the usual British suspects of Guinness, Boddington’s, Fuller’s London Pride and Old Speckled Hen, along with a rotating cast of international brews such as Newcastle, and Bellhaven’s Twisted Thistle IPA, a pleasant pairing for the pie.

If you’re thirsty for spirits, the Monro has some fun with house cocktails—to varying degrees of success. Better to stick with the most sensible ones, like the Whiskey Tea, with bourbon, soda water, sugar and mint. The Victorian Lemonade and Monro Limey are simple concoctions involving gin, citrus, and simple syrup; the English Bulldog uses tonic and marmalade, a combination that might remind you of cough syrup. A Scotch Collins is a fairly safe rendition of the Tom Collins, but with a splash of unnamed wheat beer instead of soda.

It’s not the best place to look for serious cocktails. But the bar curates a fine selection of imported bottles, including on a recent visit Wychwood’s Hobgoblin and Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. You can try some new favorites while watching soccer—sorry, football—on the not-so-big screen TV hanging over the bar. It’s no live jazz, alas, but a taste of authentic culture just the same.

Photo Courtesy The Monro

10/24/12 4:00am



Gran Electrica
5 Front Street, DUMBO
3 L’s


If you’re like me, the word margarita recalls a less-enlightened phase in life. These were neon-pink, high-fructose-sweetened elixirs with a twist of citric acid to ease the burn of bottom-shelf tequila. But Gran Electrica, the latest restaurant from the team behind Colonie in Boerum Hill, has a stylish Mexican theme, and its signature drink on the bar menu is a refreshing margarita sans slushy ice.

And there’s much more to relish from behind the bar. This elegant, “upscale” Mexican eatery is just two doors from Grimaldi’s; it might capture many of that popular pizza spot’s would-be diners, tired of waiting on its winding lines. Cocktails seem to be a focal point here, and the menu gleefully casts Latin ingredients in classic American-cocktail contexts. The Margarita Electrica, for instance, combines El Jimador tequila with Combier, fresh lime juice, simple syrup and lime salt, and there’s a Margarita de Pepino with the same, plus fresh cucumber juice and cilantro syrup. Seasonal margaritas might include the recent beet-stained rendition, which sports Day-Glo pink appeal and a subtle earthy flavor. Prickly pear, watermelon, agave nectar, and jalapeño make appearances in the many other cocktails, and the darkly satisfying Vida de Mole fuses Bittermens Xocolatl Mole bitters with mezcal, vermouth, campari and a twist of orange. As a bar snack, a wedge of Mexican chocolate would suit this drink well.

The more limited wine menu is strong on Spanish imports, in apparent salute to the country’s New World conquests. The bartender recommended a rich, velvety red from Rioja, which pairs excellently with mole poblano. The Portuguese Vinho Verde and Spanish Cava are fine options for much of the spicier, lighter fare, and a Long Island rosé from Channing Daughters Estate adds to the menu a local touch. There is a full arsenal of Mexican beer, ranging from a can of Tecate ($5) to a 32-oz. bottle of Corona Familiar ($14). The draft beers also include one local option (Sixpoint Bengali Tiger), plus Negro Modelo, Dos Equis and Pacifico. Not to be overlooked is the glorified Michelada, a typical hangover twister of Tecate and spices—in this case, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, lime juice, Clamato, and celery and chili salts.

You can pick out for snacks a few tacos or chips and guacamole from the expansive food menu. They’re much pricier than the average Sunset Park taco shop for much the same fare: a pair of fish tacos with shredded cabbage; carnitas (or beef tongue) with onion, radish and cilantro. The food menu’s real appeal is in its “grande” platters, or entrées, which tend to favor savory comfort foods from the whole spectrum of Mexican regional cooking. A pork shoulder and hominy pozole sprinkled with chicharrons was an exercise in simple, humble traditions—and was especially soothing on a chilly autumn evening.

While we’re glad that Gran Electrica has brought this dish alive in DUMBO, as well as the tasty cocktails, there’s something kitschy in drinking and dining here. Is it the custom wallpaper of Day of Dead figures dancing around the Brooklyn Bridge? Is it the insistent use of Spanish throughout the menu descriptions? Is it the considerable prices for what is, after all, regional peasant food? Or the fact that the only actual Mexicans in the place are probably hidden somewhere in the closed-off kitchen? It’s probably all those things. And it could probably get pretty annoying—if you hadn’t had one too many margaritas.

Photo Noah Fecks

10/10/12 4:00am


The Owl Farm
297 Ninth Street, Park Slope
4 L’s


Does Park Slope need another craft-beer bar? In the last several years, the neighborhood has become a beer geek’s haven: many of its bars and restaurants fill growlers, and it has its own destination bottle shop (Bierkraft), fancy tasting room (Beer Table), and homebrew-supplies stores (Brooklyn Homebrew, Brooklyn Brew Shop). It would seem the only other thing Park Slope needed was for the owners of Bar Great Harry and Mission Dolores to open yet another bar. Enter the Owl Farm. Opened in June in the old Harry Boland’s space, the spot trumps its predecessors (and most any bar in the area) with 30 draft lines, including two cask lines. But, aside from this advantage, the Owl Farm has yet to harness its full geeking-out potential.

With a sigh, a bored yet upbeat bartender told me that he’ll crank just one draft line—lately, Brooklyn Brewery’s Oktoberfest—over the course of a night rather than work through all the tap handles like a one-man bell choir. That’s a shame, because the Owl Farm brings in some of the most limited-run specialty beers from local breweries and those from afar. Sometimes—gasp!—a keg may take almost a month to kick, whereas in an ideal (i.e. beer-appreciating) world, the taps would rotate out after just days. Rare offerings on a recent evening included a slightly hopped cider from Wandering Star, crisp enough for summer but appropriately autumny in flavor; a single-hop IPA varietal from Bear Republic called Premiant Rebellion; Radius, a saison sold only in Brooklyn from Brooklyn Brewery; and Sixpoint’s Mad Scientists Series #11: Seispunto Especial. The casks held Green Flash Hop Head Red and Heavy Seas Loose Cannon, “a killer high-octane IPA from Clipper City Brewing,” according to the notes on the geeked-out menu. Narragansett and Yuengling ($4 a pint) are always on draft for the less adventurous. There are also well drinks, shot-and-beer combos, and a couple of house wines for unwitting friends tagging along.

The bar has a couple of televisions showing football, and pinball machines in a table-strewn back seating area. It’s bigger than Bar Great Harry but not much more so than 4th Avenue Pub. The walls are newly adorned with owl illustrations by local cartoonist Steven Weinberg (who tagged up the walls of Mission Dolores as well). It’s dark and rather grim inside otherwise, with the bare-essential stock of dark-wood bar stools, tables and chairs.

According to a sign, the bar will host events in the coming months, including brewery tap-takeovers, style-focused nights (such as Imperial Stouts and “gypsy brewers” night—you’d have to speak beer-geek to know what that means), and trivia. My bartender offered an impromptu quiz of his own while I was tasting samples to decide on my pint: “Guess which one this is,” he said, shoving another small glass my way. I’m proud to say I picked it out from the 30 options: Barrier Brewing’s limited-run wedding tribute beer with a hint of chili, “Hot Burning Love.” If you’re a beer geek, basically, go to this place to feel good about yourself.

But maybe there’s also an inner geek in all of us, just waiting to get out. “This is the best beer I’ve ever tasted!” a woman at the bar slurred to her group of friends about a pint she was drinking. “I’m really good at tasting things!”

Photo Jessica Nash

09/26/12 4:00am



Lavender Lake
383 Carroll Street, Gowanus

2 L’s


Lavender Lake, named after a wry term of endearment for the Gowanus Canal, is a big bold undertaking of a bar. Housed in an old horse stable just off the Carroll Street canal bridge, it’s a big place with a big indoor seating area, a big backyard patio, and a big, long, thick reclaimed-wood bar. It has a big menu, six pages strong, with a sheet each for cocktails, beer, wine, appetizers, main courses and desserts. There’s a big burger, about half a pound of beef on a bun with lettuce, tomato, onion and aioli. A big glass door looks onto the big parking lot across the street. A great big number of bottles are piled behind the bar, ready to besot just about any drinking type who’s lost his way to or from Park Slope or Carroll Gardens. Everything from Stoli to Captain Morgan you can get here. And that’s a big problem, among others.

Well-curated might instead mean “well”-curated for this cocktail menu. There’s no mention of craft spirits on its list. Nearly every drink is then weakened with soda water: a Tom Collins-type with St. Germain, basil and orange twist (“St. Basil”), a “Pimms Fizz” with cucumber, and a Prosecco with Aperol (“Aperol Spirits”). The house cocktail “L.L.I.T.” infuses lavender in vodka, which is shaken with iced Earl Grey, lemon and simple syrup—a refreshing blend. The “Lucy Ricardo” has a good hint of heat from jalapeño-infused (Sauza) tequila, but it’s seriously lacking the strength you’d expect from a $10 cocktail.

While the staff is helpful and chatty, there may be some big egos here, too; no more than 10 minutes after sitting down, I was slipped a very interesting note from one of them with his phone number. Awkward date proposals aside (and a fairly dark walk from the subway), I resolved to hold a second drink in favor of food. Sadly, Lavender Lake’s food menu is as all over the place as its drinks: assorted pickles come with enoki mushrooms, and a salad of “field greens” has avocados and pistachios; there’s sweet-potato gnocchi with apple butter agrodolce, radishes and apples with butter, fried (out-of-season) Brussels sprouts, potato leek soup served hot or cold, lemon-brined chicken breast, and other things that might make you hesitate rather than salivate. A Caesar salad with grilled romaine hearts is a nice idea, but it’s topped with waxy, processed-tasting parmesan shards that are far from top-shelf. The cherry tomatoes in it were strange specimens, too—bouncy as rubber balls and shriveled-looking. It’s the kind of thing that makes you not want to order anything with meat.

Here’s what Lavender Lake lacks: there’s not enough top-shelf; the ceiling is too low. The wine list doesn’t detail vintages and is succinct. The beer selection is simply ok; this isn’t a destination for rare brews. There may be some big shoes to fill at this erstwhile horse stable/erstwhile sports bar. But they should be kept well-crafted above all.

Photo Jessica Nash

09/12/12 4:00am


Miles • 101 Wilson Avenue, Bushwick
3 L’s

When a new bar opens up on an uninhabited strip of residential and commercially uncharted territory (save for that gritty bodega across the street), there may be shrugs, sometimes chortles, or a wan smile dismissing the plausibility of its success. But in the case of Miles on Wilson, a handsome new wine and cocktail bar in Bushwick, you’d be more compelled to step right in. It doesn’t look new, doesn’t feel new, but rather lived-in and old-fashioned. It doesn’t promise anything incredibly innovative on its menu, and it doesn’t pretend to do so, either, with its understated yet sleek décor. It’s the kind of bar that slips into the scene undercover, making you forget that it hasn’t always been there.

Miles on Wilson actually opened this January, and has recently begun serving cocktails and liquor in addition to wine and beer. Partners Daniel Romero and Travis Dubreuil constructed the small storefront space using found objects in the neighborhood—rusted metal cups as droplights, a bicycle wheel hung horizontally as chandelier base, and wooden pallets arranged in a herringbone pattern against the bar’s wall. A stately portrait of their dog, the bar’s namesake, hangs on the opposite wall, dressed in a suit and spectacles, at first glance a black-and-white photo of Teddy Roosevelt.

But the owners clearly aren’t much interested in illusions or shenanigans with their solid and familiar snacks and drink menu. Head bartender Phoebe Waterson’s cocktails include classics like the Mint Julep, Sazerac, and a Pimm’s Cup with King’s ginger liqueur, as well as “signature” cocktails featuring dandelion and burdock bitters with Plymouth gin (the Salty Miles); lavender bitters, egg white and Old Tom gin (the Violet Beauregard); fresh tomato, agave, basil and moonshine (Midnight in the Garden); and house-infused oolong tea with whiskey (Oolong Iced Tea). The latter makes a subtle presence in an icy glass along with fresh lemon and simple syrup; the drink tastes like a pleasantly whiskey-spiked Arnold Palmer.

Moving on to wines, Miles’s tidy selections offer value by the glass. Ranging from $6-$10, the wines fare mostly from Europe, with an earthy 2009 Spanish red at the lowest end of the spectrum and a 2008 Palazzo Della Torre from Veneto at the highest, for $45 a bottle. The most inexpensive white ($7 a glass) proved a crisp, refreshing Muller Thurgau Trocken from Denmark to cleanse the palate for other tastes down the list. The craft beer selection could use better range and finesse; I wasn’t inspired to try any of the familiar lagers and summer ales (Lagunitas Czech Pils, Bluepoint Toasted Lager, Brooklyn Summer Ale) and wasn’t quite ready to head into winter territory with a bottle of Chimay or Rogue’s Oatmeal Stout. The bar offers small bites and pressed sandwiches featuring bread from nearby Roberta’s Pizza, charcuterie from Salumeria Biellese, and cheese selections from Bedford Cheese Shop. A pickle plate ($4) combines pickled beet, cornichons, jalapeños and a beet-stained pickled egg to peck at in the dimly lighted space.

You can feel quite comfortable imbibing alone alongside others, if a tad closely situated, on the barstools. On a Sunday night, the atmosphere was calm, as my neighbors to the left and right scribbled in notebooks, sent text messages, and chatted with the bartender. Rather than a snooty dude with a mustache and vest, the one bartender was a perky young girl who never asked, “Are you waiting for someone?” as I sat down. Nope, just here with myself, I never did respond. And a good, stiff drink.

Photo Jessica Nash



08/29/12 4:00am


Photo Ingalls Photography

Hillside
70 Hudson Avenue, Vinegar Hill
4 L’s


When visiting Hillside, the new sister wine bar of Vinegar Hill House, you have to ask yourself: do I fall in love with the cozy room’s rustic, plant-strewn, country-kitchen feel? Or do I scoff at the tired tendency of restaurants to expect me to pay $12 a drink—and maybe more for an appetizer—while plopping me down at a farmhouse table on a backless stool?

My dining companion immediately chose the latter while I sat, quite literally and uncomfortably, on the edge. But the food is good—much better than the average local, seasonal fare. And the wines are exceptional. Our first two selections from the extensive list—a slightly sparkling red from Slovenia and a funky, earthen-tasting cider from Spain—were distinctive, risqué, and highly sippable slam-dunks. For the wine enthusiast, Hillside is a destination of its own; do not underestimate it, as I did initially, as a mere waiting room for the coveted tables next door. I stood corrected after one round (although not physically).

There is no food beyond appetizers, goading you after one glass too many to enter the line at Vinegar Hill House. That is, after all, this place’s raison d’être. As for those appetizers, there’s a briny beef tongue, pickled generously and served with fresh radishes and dots of crème fraiche on the plate, a distant cousin to Jewish deli fare that’s traveled to Paris and back with guilt-washed ambition. There’s also a roasted bone marrow with flecks of shaved bottarga and dill, served on a pile of salt but plenty savory on its own. There are some salads, sweets, raw shellfish and cheese. You wonder if you could be sated by these alone, but the promise of actually sitting next door makes you antsy and even hungrier.

There is no solution but to succumb. Beforehand, though, try as many wines as you can. There’re no cocktails and only two draft lines at Hillside anyway. There are a few sakes, ciders, and bottles of wine ranging respectfully from $35-$100. None are from the North or South American continents, however. The wine list highlights “island” wines, both reds and whites, from the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe as separate categories. (Croatia, Sardinia, Greece, and the Canary Isles, specifically.) Yes, you may feel as if on an island getaway as you savor these exotic flavors and attempt to start smart conversations if in real life you’ve actually been anywhere near such places. You won’t get much help from the servers: Brooklyn hipster types, just like anywhere else. The average service and incongruous setting to the worldly offerings are disarming, but so are some of the best things about the borough, like highbrow graffiti, or the quiet Admiral’s Mansion a stone’s throw away from the bar in this eerily quaint neighborhood. Hillside’s Americana and purposely repurposed aesthetic anchor this constantly contradictory place.

Embrace it. Have a heated argument over nothing with your date. Fill your belly and shill over double your budget by dining next door, too. Fuhgeddaboudit. There’s nothing like taking a small vacation while staying very much at
home.

08/01/12 4:00am

Photos Cody Swanson

Skylark
477 Fifth Ave, Park Slope
3 L’s


The bar is long and dark, with only storefront windows facing the street. The walls are littered with framed 70s-era kitsch—here some needlework, there a backlit photo of cows—and crepe paper clings to the wainscoting as if a long-ago birthday party had never been cleaned up. There are two lonely pinball machines, and several lone males drinking bottles of Corona or cans of Tecate at the barstools. This clientele recalls Timboo’s, the bar that had occupied the space for more than 40 years, before new owners opened Skylark here earlier this spring. In many ways, nothing has changed.

You get the sense that whoever designed the décor of Skylark had an attachment to his or her grandparent’s basement den. “Sleek” is about the last thing you could call it, with salvaged couches with floral prints and pub light fixtures—all mismatched, of course. The retro-drab touches are part of the bar’s supposed update to post-millennium hipness, in an age where Park Slope’s blue-collar residents and dingy shops have been increasingly replaced with well-heeled families and boutiques. Fifth Avenue happens to be a divey-ish strip, with old standbys like The Gate and sports bars interspersed with expensive eateries like Stone Park Cafe. But it’s hard to tell whether Skylark, oddly quiet on a recent Friday night, will make the cut with newer locals while it appeals to the old.

Best to stick with the simplest of the fruity cocktails, such as the Chavelle, with Beefeater Gin, St. Germain and fresh lemon juice ($10). Skip the watery, sugary Barracuda, with rum, simple syrup, lime juice and seltzer ($8), unless it’s a very hot day and you need a soda. The beer list is dominated with craft American lagers, such as Captain Lawrence Liquid Gold, with a healthy list of cheap cans and bottles, such as Tecate ($3). The “beer specials” menu features some lowbrow twists, such as the Manmosa (Allagash White with fresh OJ, $6) and shot-and-can combos.

Pressed sandwiches come in a basket with a side for about $10 each, if you’re feeling snacky. A “French Onion Soup” panini has caramelized onion jam glued between bread slices with oozing Swiss cheese. It, like the coleslaw and potato salad, is desperately seeking seasoning. Fortunately, the bartender shoved a shot glass of brick-red sludge my way at the bar without any instigation—their homemade Bloody Mary mix, which she suggested dipping the sandwich in. Thick with horseradish and Worcestershire sauce, it helped, and the staff overall are friendly and unpretentious. Just like the good old days.

07/04/12 4:00am

Photo Cathy Erway

Alice’s arbor
549 Classon Ave, Bed-Stuy
4L’s

The succulents really say it all: growing improbably from vertical containers and wooden crates against the bar’s facade, these non-native plants thrive, beckoning passers-by to take a peek inside. It’s not a plant shop, but a decidedly rustic bar-café called Alice’s Arbor, planted like a spaceship on a residential block just off busy Fulton Street on the border of Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy. This is far from the first sighting of gentrification in the area, but a compelling one nonetheless. And with its arsenal of reasonably priced cocktails with craft spirits and Southern-Creole inspired menu, it has the potential to charm just about anyone.

Aside from the succulents smothering the door, Alice’s Arbor is one of many restaurants in Brooklyn that just wants to be Marlow & Sons. There’s a mini market to one side of the entrance, selling charcuterie, local pickles, and organic products ranging from Cayuga Organics whole grains to Mrs. Meyer’s hand soap. There’s a cacophony of old light fixtures, including vintage green aluminum ones over the bar, and a cluster of glass globes strung with lights over the market. There’s reclaimed wood paneling, and patches of actual wooden twigs winding around one another in corners of the space (including the bathrooms).

There are oysters, of course, which are provocatively priced at $1 apiece during happy hour, and bar snacks that include (excellent, Cajun-spiced) fries and (disappointingly bland) house-made pickles. But if it’s a bar that you seek, then cozy up to a stool across from the stained glass kitchen walls, or a tall table with stools in the separate barroom from the spacious dining area.

Bar cocktails prove refreshing and relatively inexpensive, at $9 each. Moreover, they’re tended by a friendly French bartender and, for table service, by equally thoughtful and pretty waitresses. (The question, “Are you Alice?” was quickly answered by a waitress, who simply pointed to a red animal skull on the wall’s mantle: “No, Alice is the bull.”) Although I couldn’t taste the lavender-infused simple syrup in one of the night’s special, off-the-menu cocktails, the “Alice” cocktail was beautifully balanced between tart and bitter, with Buffalo Trace Bourbon and blackberries. A house margarita is made with El Jimador Bianca, house Curacao, and orange bitters, and the obligatory fizzy cocktail, the Brooklyn Fizz, accompanies Prosecco with Old Tom gin, cinnamon syrup, lime juice and grapefruit bitters. The beer bottle selection is extensive and varied, mostly consisting of American craft selections such as Captain Lawrence with a European straggler, Weihenstephaner. There are only three draft lines, but again, well-selected, with a refreshing Kölsch for the summer along with Sixpoint Crisp and Empire IPA.

The wine list was more expansive; our waitress was savvy in recommending the peach-colored rose and a Spanish white under $10 a glass (bottles of each were $30). Rather than getting drunk, my date and I devoured the fried soft-shell crab as a snack; it was served on a pool of salsa verde with its normally black and bulging eyeballs removed by the kitchen beforehand. But it was otherwise intact, and looked ready to pounce upon the table. The menu boasted a hint of Southern pride, with its crab cakes and Creole-inflected sauces. But on this rainy Friday night, few patrons were found to take the bait. They should: a roast chicken entree, large enough to share, was lip-smacking, featuring local free-range chicken leg quarters, charred green beans and buttery mash with plenty of jus. There’s no burger on the menu, perhaps a missed opportunity. But that would be very ordinary, which this place is not.

06/20/12 4:00am

Illustrations Joseph Kaplan

With all that’s blooming on Brooklyn’s urban farms lately, it’s easy to forget that, just half an hour or so outside city limits, there’re vast reaches of unclaimed land. Such was the conclusion that Brooklyn gardener and beekeeper Megan Paska came to after her backyard in Greenpoint proved insufficient for all her agricultural activity (which includes tending rabbits, heritage egg-laying hens and hives producing her own CSA shares of Brooklyn Honey). Teaming up with Seven Arrows yoga and wellness retreat in Locust, NJ, Megan is determined to break ground on an expansive new homesteading project with an educational twist. Next year, Megan plans to have a fully operational farm on 20 acres of waterfront land. In addition to providing agricultural workshops and farm-to-table meals at Seven Arrows, she and her partner Neil will host educational videos online, so that everyone back home in Brooklyn can learn about everything from beekeeping to food preservation.

We caught up with Megan about the new venture, described in more detail in her current Kickstarter campaign, which runs until July 5 and will finance infrastructure for the farm (gifts for donors include a jar of that honey).

Why did you decide to make the leap from “homesteading” in Brooklyn to rural NJ?

I had been farming part time in the Catskills all last season and loved it, so I started looking for places near the city that I could live and farm. I didn’t want to completely cut myself off from all the work I had been doing here, or my personal and professional relationships. I figured there had to be someplace where I could have the best of both worlds: proximity to culture and resources, and space to explore homesteading and small-scale farming in a way that didn’t feel so much like fitting a square peg into a round hole.

What will you miss about gardening, raising chickens and beekeeping in Brooklyn?

I won’t miss the limitations, but I will really miss changing people’s minds about the practicality of growing food, raising small livestock or keeping bees for one’s own uses. If you only seek to feed yourself and your family and neighbors, you can accomplish that pretty easily here. And it is so needed. Having a relationship with soil and growing things is a big part of the human experience. I’ve never understood people who keep plastic flowers in planters on their stoop instead of real ones—a common sight in Greenpoint—but I digress. I loved being in a position to lead by example. Fortunately, many have taken up the practice of urban farming, so there is no shortage of great examples to learn from.