N Y'all's City

Month: April, 2012

The Brooklyn Star

by toetoucher36

593 Lorimer St., Brooklyn

First Impressions

Charla:  The Brooklyn Star was a really easy walk from the G train at Metropolitan Avenue.  I must admit that I am biased towards locations that involve only taking one train that will drop you two blocks from your destination.  Maximizing minimal effort, I say! The physical space was candle-lit and cozy (dark enough to need a camera flash), with a stainless steel and wood design motif.  Flowers on tables and drinks from the bar came in mason jars.  Music played at a comfortable volume, and for once I felt like I had some elbow room in a NYC restaurant. The menu advertised that “all animals [served at The Brooklyn Star are] killed humanely with a five point exploding heart punch.  All vegetables are yanked from the earth with extreme prejudice.  Fritos sourced from Plano, Texas.” Finally, someone else has found the humor Cara and I have found in the “Southern as ‘other’” trend being coupled with the focus on hormone free meat.  On that note, I want to be clear that we love clean meat, especially if it’s locally sourced, and even more so if the restaurant doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Cara:  I loved The Brooklyn Star. Perhaps it was the long day I had just worked, or the fact that I was excited to see my friends (or the cute waiters that were oh so attentive throughout the evening). Whatever it was, The Brooklyn Star has the honor of my first TCB rating. The reason you come here is for the MEATLOAF SANDWICH and COUNTRY FRIED STEAK and the BISCUITS, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I loved the look of the menu and the dining room is spacious. We met our buddy, Jake, from Greensboro, and his girlfriend, Lauren. Lauren is from L.A., but likes eating food; she grew up with a grandma from Northern Florida, who fed her well. These two were fun to hang out with; they also appreciate the finer things in life (and I mean food).

Beverages Sweet Tea Sour ($8), Spicy Margarita ($8), Old Fashioned (ooo, forgot to write it down)

Cara: My spicy margarita was worth the reasonable $8, but I’ve had better versions of this on-trend cocktail.  Jake and Lauren had the house Old Fashioned that was nice, with a distinct smoky flavoring.

 Charla:  I had a Sweet Tea Sour after I decided to opt out of the Iced Tea option on the menu.  There is no non-alcoholic sweet tea at The Brooklyn Star.  There is no alcoholic sweet tea at The Brooklyn Star either, but something posing as such in this cocktail.  Anyway, the drink was not as frothy as I expected (and wanted), and was more tart than anticipated. I enjoyed it, however, thought it was a good choice, and appreciated the creativity. If you don’t like sweet tea, don’t worry.  It was probably the least present in taste.

Small Plates:

Grilled Asparagus: w/ poached egg, duck confit, fried oysters, chow chow – $12

Fried Pig Tails with Tater Tots – $12

Tripe Chile: w/ radish, cilantro, lime, Fritos (in a bag), sour cream on side – $9

Biscuits: 3 for $4

Charla:  The Brooklyn Star was a culinary adventure for us.  We had a great time selecting our dishes and taste testing, and that is owed to the chefs’ creative dishes, as well as to our ignorance in some cases.  As someone raised in rural NC, eating things like pig tails and tripe was something I knew happened to some people, somewhere.  Not to me.  WHO KNEW I’D HAVE TO COME TO THE BIG APPLE TO EAT A PIG TAIL?!  I envisioned a bowl of curly tails being plopped down in front of me.  I continued to see Wilbur’s hind side even as I bit into the spare-rib shaped pig tail.  The tater tots were great and homemade.  The asparagus dish mixed some great flavors, and I was relieved to see a Southern restaurant serve chow chow.  To be honest, you don’t even get that a whole lot in restaurants in the South, but chow chow was always present at my grandmother’s home. The Brooklyn Star’s didn’t use green tomatoes, but I’ll let that pass.

Cara:  After a quick glance at the menu, I was immediately excited to order. Frito pie with tripe chili! Pig tails! As Lauren pointed out, was this fear factor? After convincing Charla that it was gonna be okay, we got those two dishes and the grilled asparagus. The asparagus dish was wonderful- a perfectly cooked egg with a non-traditional chow chow (this one was mostly carrots and celery) complimented the sum of the dish perfectly.

The waiter described the pig tails as a sort of pork short rib, and that was pretty accurate. They were a tad chewy, but good.  I saved the Frito pie, complete with a lil’ bag o’ Fritos, for last. You can’t really go wrong with meat, sour cream, and Fritos. This smoky chili was no exception. What a weird dish for my first time eating tripe, right?  I think they could have skipped the weird meat part, and it would have been just as good.

This is the part in my dining in y’all’s city where I concede to the Southern fusion game. This was good; I’m into it. In actuality, I don’t want to eat large amounts of butter and salt all the time, and making Southern food more interesting isn’t a bad thing in this case.

Big Plates:

Country Fried Steak: w/ mashed potatoes, bacon, hot slaw – $15

Shrimp N’ Grits: w/ escarole, fried egg, bacon, pan gravy – $16

Meatloaf Sandwich:  w/ chips – $10

Cara:  Then my amazing MEATLOAF sandwich came out, and it was huge. This thing had a slab of simple recipe meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and a piece of something green all between two delicious, buttery, fluffy white pieces of Texas toast. Potato chips, with the perfect combination of salt and a lil’ vinegar, sided this sammy. I saved the house made pickle for last, and as soon as I took a bite, my face said it all. What a perfectly spicy pickle! We shortly learned that The Brooklyn Star cold pickles these in limited fridge space in the kitchen for 45 days.  This sandwich is only ELEVEN dollars and was just as good the next day as leftovers. To really test The BK Star, we ordered a side of biscuits with dinner. Yes! They were great.

Charla:  I got the country fried steak plate served with mashed potatoes, bacon, and hot slaw.  Y’all.  There was so much food on my plate.  One of the first things out of my mouth was, “It’s real bad for you; you can taste it.”  The dish came with two large cuts of meat, covered in a tasty white gravy.  The meat was placed on top of the potatoes and slaw (the bacon was chopped up over the slaw).  The “hot slaw” was cooked cabbage (just to be clear in case you mistake the description for a warm, mayo-based slaw, which I was expecting and curious about), and cooked to perfection. Everything was perfect.  I don’t even feel like I need to go into detail.  Imagine perfect.  That was my meal.  I even had enough to take home for lunch the next day, which warmed up nicely.

I also really need to mention how much I liked Cara’s chips that came with her meatloaf sandwich.  They were one of the best things on the table.  Jake and Lauren weren’t huge fans of the shrimp n’ grits.  They desired a stiffer grit consistency.  To each his own, ya know.

Parting Shots

Cara: We would like to note that the chef (although we were told that he would prefer not to be named in such a hierarchical manner) is from Texas, and it shows in the cooking. The other owners are from Philadelphia and Dublin.  The Brooklyn Star has a spacious dining room and would be great for a group larger than four. And they serve brunch!

Way to gos- chow chow, frito pie, bench seating, tater tots.
oh no nos- unsweet tea

Charla: The Brooklyn Star probably isn’t the best place for those with shallow pockets.  However, if you’re looking for your money’s worth, you can find it here.  My total meal (a cocktail, splitting 3 small dishes, and consuming one entrée) was about $35 before tip.  I left quite full, and am declaring that Brooklyn Star has been one of my favorite places to eat so far.  TCB, y’all.

I also really enjoyed this meal because Ceezy and I had a chance to talk with Jake and Lauren about geographic differences among Southern dishes, what Southern food means to different people and how it affects our blogging experience.  It’s definitely a topic that we’ll have to write more on later.  Cara and I are from VA and NC (respectively); she’s from the city (Richmond), and I’m from the country (you probably wouldn’t know it).  However, the Southern food she grew up eating from her mom is probably real similar to what I grew up eating (considering her mom and I basically grew up within 30 miles of each other).  We learned that the chef at Brooklyn Star is from Texas, which I think shines through in the smokiness of the BBQ sauce.  But when I think about Texas as “Southern,” I think about it differently than NC as Southern, and even Texas’s neighbor, Louisiana, as Southern.  A quote from John T. Edge’s book, Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover’s Companion to the South (2000), is appropriate here:

“My South includes Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.  In trying to define what constituted the South, I ignored matters of Confederate or Union affiliation during the War Between the States or mapping based upon where kudzu does and does not grow, and looked instead at whether a preponderance of the citizens of the state purported to be Southern.”

They take cards!  Check out The Brooklyn Star at thebrooklynstar.com.

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Fort Reno

by hairpeacecara

First Impressions

Charla:  Ceezy and I chose Fort Reno after seeing it in the listing for “Dine in Brooklyn” week. My friend and former roommate of two college-years, Travis, was visiting from L.A., and so he tagged along.  Travis has been critiquing my cooking for a while now, so naturally I expected him to be forthcoming about Fort Reno (his contributions will be expressed in photographic representations of the notes he secretly doodled on my paper).  When we found Fort Reno, I immediately fell in love with the aesthetic: open doors, wooden floors and benches, candles, exposed brick, good music, intimate setting, and colanders as lampshades.

Cara:  Char and I walked over half a mile at 9:30 PM on Wednesday before we arrived at Fort Reno, so we were ready for some BBQ. The restaurant and bartender welcomed us with wooden-y warmness, and we had high hopes.

Drinks- $10 cocktails, $5 for a can of Rheingold and a shot of bourbon

Charla: Real talk- I hate paying $10 for cocktails in tiny glasses.  I don’t think it’s cute; it doesn’t make me feel posh. I don’t revel in fancy drinks because my pockets haven’t been, and still aren’t, that deep. I do appreciate a good drink, though, and so I paid $10 for a tiny cocktail.  I went with “The Blinker,” which mixed bourbon, grapefruit juice, and BLACKBERRY PRESERVES (not homemade, though).  Y’all.  JAM IN COCKTAILS.  DO WHAT?!  Though tiny, it was tasty.  Fort Reno was also showcasing a Reverse Happy Hour from 10 pm-12am:  $5 pork/beef slider and beer, or a shot and a canned beer.  The Rheingold is the only canned beer they have, and it’s a NY beer that I’ve never had before in the South.  The shot of bourbon got me good, dribbled out of the corners of my mouth, and sparked a conversation about how all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whisky is bourbon, etc. etc.

Cara:  Almost overwhelmed by the pleasing decor and appetizing menu, we ordered cocktails while we waited for Travis to join us. I had their version of a gin fizz. The bartender knew a lot about what he was serving, and he sure did educate his customers. Once Travis got there we were in the middle of ordering nearly the entire menu; I can’t remember what we didn’t have to eat.

 Tray:

Sides:  Hot Pickles, Cornbread, Slaw, Mac & Cheese, Collards, Burnt End Beans

Meat:  Ribs, Pulled Pig, Pulled Lamb

Cara:  This all came at once on a big ol’ tray. You know, real Southern style because we like to share. I think I snuck a bite of lamb or BBQ before we started tasting. The baked beans were first and we all agreed: they weren’t that good, and what is this burnt ends in the baked beans? Next was the macaroni and cheese (I mean, shells and cheese); I liked them. Another case of “this isn’t Southern” macaroni and cheese that I enjoyed probably because the recipe used some kind of fancy cheese that translated into a mild but interesting taste.

As we remarked on the lack of butter and salt, Travis pointed out that we shouldn’t be surprised. We are in NYC, and people here don’t want to be fat. No one anywhere wants to be fat, but most people around here are actively striving on a daily basis to not be fat. It is a thing. Authentic Southern food that is full of flavor and bacon fat can’t cut it around these parts (or not on a particularly relevant scale).  Sidebar: If all of that is so true, why are we even writing this? Because it is fun and we may get a little  homesick sometimes. Even imitation Southern food is some comfort. 

And on to the greens. Thank goodness for the greens. Even without bacon they were good, fresh and full of vinegar.

Charla:  The way the ordering process was set up reminded me very much of a Southern BBQ joint.  You ordered your meat by weight (1/4 lb., ½ lb, and full pound options), and then picked your sides.

We should have asked, but we thought “hot pickles” meant fried pickles.  No.  It meant pickled onions, pickled carrots, and a pickled jalapeño.  Despite our surprise, it wasn’t bad.  Definitely spicy.  However, don’t call it a “pickle” unless it’s a pickle (pickled cucumber).  PicklED, Fort Reno.  Your vegetables were picklED.

I was really disappointed in the slaw.  There’s not really much more to say.  Slaw is a staple in Southern cuisine.  This was a shame that was covered in not-Duke’s mayo, and Fort Reno didn’t invite the mustard to the slaw party.

The cornbread was pretty moist, but needed a sweeter taste to compliment the texture. The mac and cheese was alright, but not nearly strong enough for my taste.  In my opinion, if you’re going for authentic Southern food, you don’t try and get too fancy with the M&C.  Cheddar and macaroni, y’all.  Bake it, and be done with it.

It was also at Fort Reno that I encountered the whole Burnt End Beans thing again, and I was really disappointed.  They lacked flavor, weren’t sweet enough, and were entirely too soupy to count as baked beans in my book.   The collards were about the only thing really going for Fort Reno in terms of Southern cooking.  They were fresh, had a good flavor, and an appropriate amount of vinegar.

Cara:  I continued stealing bites of BBQ throughout our initial tasting of the sides; I liked it. It was nothing special, but I liked how saucy it was. Have I given up my BBQ standards? No, and this wasn’t any kind of authentic BBQ, but still it was good. I liked the pulled lamb, too, but we determined that we were in fact eating shawarma. Confusing for a BBQ joint. And I’m not even compelled to even write about the ribs because they weren’t good, but rather dry, and the little bit of sauce wasn’t memorable.

Charla:For those who care (and we probably all should), Fort Reno’s claim is that their meat is “sustainably sourced”.  The pulled pig was flavorful, and very juicy.  There was a light vinegar taste to it.  It was probably my favorite meat that we ordered. The ribs were a little dry, and needed more BBQ.  My dad TCB’s his ribs, though, so competition is stiff.

And the lamb-do people eat lamb in the South?  That’s a serious question.

Dessert:  Bake Apples and Whipped Cream w/ Biscuit

Charla:  It was alright.  Cara and Travis liked it.  I wasn’t feeling it.  I almost don’t even want to write about it.  The biscuit was too salty.

Cara: I did really like this and probably because the biscuit was too salty. I don’t usually think I want sweet apple things, but I always love it when it is in front of me. The whipped cream was nice and finished off what was a perfect bite of dessert. I honestly wish I remembered more about this desert. Here is my public resolution to be a better reporter.

Parting Thoughts:

Charla:  I really wanted to give Fort Reno a TCB rating.  It really looks like a darlin’ little place.  The bartender, who was also our waiter, was real nice, and we enjoyed the atmosphere tremendously.  It’s really not that the food was bad, but more that Fort Reno is masquerading as a Southern-style restaurant and I’m not sold.  I kept asking myself, ‘would you have this at a Southern Baptist homecoming?,” and more often than not, the answer was “no”.

Cara:  Do I sound cranky about Fort Reno? Well, I would be had it not been for the great time we had. Reflecting back on how strong the drinks must have been, I think part of the reason we had a blast was because we were kind of drunk. I had little discretion for my meal time sound effects (even less than normal); we talked loudly about how we didn’t approve of our dinner, and we all had a good laugh after Charla took a shot of nasty bourbon. Fort Reno is the kind of place that makes me dislike “Southern restaurants” in New York City, but it’s also a perfect example of the reason why people are into this kind of thing. It looked really cool and the bartender had a handlebar mustache.

Fort Reno is located at 669 Union St between 4th and 5th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn.  They accept credit cards.

Texas Pete In Y’all’s City

by toetoucher36

One of the only places I’ve seen Texas Pete in this city, in restaurant and grocery store alike, is at my local grocery store.  For this North Carolina good and Southern classic, visit Compare Foods, 2036 Bedford Avenue in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn.  Leave us a comment if you know where else we can get it.

–Charla

Brooklyn Rod and Gun,Mandolin Orange, and Juniper: There’s No Place Like Home?

by hairpeacecara

I won’t lie to you and claim that I don’t miss North Carolina.  I’ve been in NYC since August, and I’m still trying to figure out just how this city and I will work together.  But when I talk about missing home, it isn’t just the physical space that I refer to.  It’s the thing that warms your blood, colors your cheeks, and makes you breathe in deep.  I had a taste of home the other night.  Quite literally, actually.

Andrew Marlin came into town with his musical partner Emily Frantz.  Together they form Mandolin Orange, and they were playing with their musical travel partner, Josh Oliver (formerly of the everybodyfields).  I’ve known Andrew since I was about four years old.  We went to the same babysitter. I think I surprised him when I sat down up front.  He dedicated the next song “to Charla, who broke my heart in pre-school.”  I remember it more like we played “Ninja Turtles” (I was April), and he made me touch worms against my will.

Mandolin Orange was playing at this little gem, Brooklyn Rod and Gun, a private social club that “aim(s) to instill respect, appreciation and awareness of nature in our urban setting, while promoting safe and sensible use of these resources.”  It was a space (with a little loft) no bigger than my apartment.  When I walked in with my friend, Shannon (also a Carolina girl), folks were crowded around a centerpiece of a wooden table with benches, covered in peanut shells, beer cans, and grilled meat.  There was a little kitchen with a bar.  The walls were covered in photos, stickers, old maps, and taxidermied fish. Mandolin Orange stood underneath a light bulb, up front, next to an old organ in the corner, covered with other musical equipment (kinda like the new TV on top of an old, broken TV phenomenon).

Sitting in that space, drinking a “Low Rent” Manhattan, and listening to their music made my heart swell, glad to be home in this city, even if for only a couple of hours.  Shannon and I both remarked that it seemed as if we were inside an old cabin at the lake.  Maybe that’s weird for NYC.  I don’t really know if Brooklyn Rod and Gun can be chalked up to this “southern as ‘other’” trend that I’ve seen so much of in these months, but it felt true to me.

**One quick side note, the musical performance was prefaced with a dinner a few blocks away at Juniper.  I had the most savory, worth-every-penny Slow Cooked BBQ Rib Sandwich (with sweet potato fries).  Y’all.  So good.

– Charla

Pies-N-Thighs

by hairpeacecara

First Impressions
Cara:  Charla and I settled down for a late dinner at Pies-N-Thighs on Monday night. I arrived a few minutes earlier than Char, so I ordered the cheapest beer they had, Coors Light, and perused the menu.  It only took me a few minutes to know that we had to try the Carolina Pulled Pork Box and the Fried Chicken.

Charla: ‘Pies-N-Thighs’ is a clever name.  I think it’s cute, but that could have something to do with my beloved connotation of ‘thigh’ with big-bottomed women.  The owner’s (owners’?) diction, in any case, sets a good southern tone, which is fun to say and does well to set the mood for this southern-style, chic, no-fuss eatery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
When I arrived, Ceezy (that’s Cara, to me) was seated in a “back porch-esque” room, if you will; it was a really nice night, and they had the door open to allow a breeze.  Checkered tablecloths covered the tables, which I suppose is a good attempt at “Southern”.  Honestly, I don’t know that I’ve ever sat at a checkered tablecloth back home unless it was a plastic disposable one from the Dollar General that was being used at a cookout or homecoming.  But I get it- southern people are supposed to have checkered tablecloths, like one perpetual picnique.

Drinks:  Sweet Tea- $3 (say what?! c’mon now), Coors Light-$3, Michelada-$6
Cara:  I liked the tea, but I won’t even pretend that I was drinking real sweet tea. Turns out they do make it in-house (they make everything there except for the BBQ sammy bun), but it was not even sweet enough to mask the tea taste.  Charla ordered a Michelada as her beverage after I encouraged the decision. As her first spicy beer cocktail, this wasn’t a winner.

Charla:  Michelada Result:  I didn’t like it. Had it been made with a more flavorful beer, I think it would have been better and not tasted like water (Pacifico), hot sauce and lime juice.  Pies-N-Thighs, thankfully, knew what was good for them and included sweet tea on their menu.  Sweet tea courses through my veins.  However, not every Southerner likes sweet tea.  My boyfriend calls it “dirty brown water trash” (we’re both fans of Workaholics), which is funny because that’s kind of what this tea tasted like.  It needed to be a little sweeter, but it also had that dirty taste to it that some people just don’t like.  Here’s the thing- it could be related to the kind of tea you use, or it could be the tea is just not that fresh.  If the Southern Girl still prefers the sweet tea of McDonald’s, there could be a problem.

Appetizers:  Fried Pickles- $4
Cara: The pickles were pretty good, but the ranch dressing that accompanied them was even better- definitely plenty of buttermilk.
Charla: Cara was going to order pimento cheese, but the restaurant was out.  Well, this is an issue.  A Southern restaurant needs to have pimento cheese on deck.

Main Course
Cara’s Meal: Carolina Pulled Pork Box (with a side of smoked pork collards)-$11
Cara: Okay, so the sum of parts ended up being delicious, but we are writing a Southern food blog, so let me just say: this was not Carolina BBQ. The pulled pork was exactly that, not chopped very much at all, and it didn’t have enough vinegar or sauce to be any version of Carolina BBQ. At first glance I doubted the slaw and its mushy texture, but it tasted great and was a traditional vinegar slaw. When I put the sandwich together the white hamburger bun had reached an excellent stage of sogginess and the pickles (which I had never put on a BBQ sammy) were a great addition. The greens! They were great, fresh and smoked with lots of pork; this was my favorite part of dinner.

Charla: Ceezy’s pulled pork sandwich came on a plain, white bread bun.  That’s Southern right there.  But dear Pies-N-Thighs, don’t label it “Carolina” unless it has more vinegar or more BBQ sauce (extra sauce wasn’t even on the table!), preferably vinegar because I’m an eastern NC BBQ girl. The collards were seasoned just right, and didn’t appear to be frozen or canned.  My dad would have been happy.  Pies-N-Thighs is really TCB-ing their collards.

Charla’s Meal:  Fried Chicken Box (with a side of burnt end baked beans)- $13
Cara: This was pretty good fried chicken. It was cooked well, juicy, and they gave you a ton of it. The only thing that we thought was, “This isn’t quite salty enough.” And then we were reminded that, yes, Southern food is really bad for you. The baked beans were excellent and the biscuit, while not warm, wasn’t bad either.

Charla:  The Fried Chicken Box came with 2 legs, a wing, a biscuit, and one side. My biscuit wasn’t bad.  It was cold when I got it, and could have used more butter.  Actually, it could have used my grandma’s lard biscuit recipe.  The fried chicken was pretty tasty in its own right, and very juicy.  The batter was a perfect crispiness, but could have used some more salt as far as I’m concerned.  I wanted to do a “leftovers” review of the chicken, but I left it on the back of the toilet on the way out.

Also, Pies-N-Thighs taught me something Monday night.  I’m used to having beans with bacon in them, or no meat at all.  Burnt ends, I now know, are tougher, smoky pieces of brisket.  Apparently, burnt-end beans are a thing.  And they were good, too.  Sweet, and not too soupy or too thick.

Parting Thoughts
Cara: Pies-N-Thighs gets questionable looks for calling that sandwich “Carolina Pulled Pork” and a maybe for their food not having a high enough sodium content, but gets high points for low prices, simple menu, and a very friendly staff.

Charla: Overall, I reckon I like this place.  It’s reasonably priced (for the quality and location), and the staff was great.  We both agreed we needed to come back to check out their breakfast, brunch, and pie selection (which included a gluten-free option).  Their meats are naturally raised, antibiotic, and hormone free.  There were not a whole lot of vegetarian options (yes, Southerners can be vegetarians, too), so vegetarians, you might have to do like I did in high school and fill up on hush puppies and sides if you eat there.

**Pies-N-Thighs is a Zagat rated “Best NYC Southern/Soul Food Restaurant”.

For more info:  piesnthighs.com