Of all the restaurants opening in Brooklyn this fall, the new Grand Central Oyster Bar outpost in Park Slope struck us as the most surprising. While the century-old Midtown dining icon is certainly a fine place to enjoy some bivalves, it’s known far more for its ambiance than the cuisine. It’s a grand old restaurant full of commuters, tourists and old-school power lunchers. In short, it’s about as Manhattan as you can get. So what’s the Oyster Bar doing coming to Brooklyn? What’s next? The de Blasios move Gracie Mansion to Bed-Stuy? The Rockettes take up residency in Bushwick?
It turns out that GCOB in BK isn’t that far-fetched an idea after all. The spinoff is the brainchild of Jonathan Young, former general manager at the original oyster bar and longtime resident of Park Slope/Greenwood Heights. “People have asked me forever, ‘Where can I buy good oysters in Brooklyn?'” says Young, who has hoped for many years to make the Brooklyn franchise a reality. When Young saw Fornino pizzeria abandon its massive Fifth Avenue spot, he chatted up the super of the building, seeing an opportunity to make his dream of a Brooklyn oyster bar a reality. Working with co-owner Bruce Fox, another vet of the Grand Central family, Young hopes to keep the best parts of the Manhattan original, but presented in a more neighborly, Brooklyn-appropriate package.
To that end, the front of the 5,000-square-foot restaurant will serve as a seafood market, selling a daily-changing variety of oysters, mussels, fresh fish and other fruits of the sea. “Whatever is on our menu that day,” says Fox, “you’ll be able to take it home and make it yourself. We’ll even show you how to cook it.” Elsewhere, there will be a lobster tank, as well as steam kettle stations where you can watch chefs cook up the same signature shellfish stews and pan-roasts found at the original oyster bar. Executive chef Justin Ernsberger, a longtime Brooklynite formerly of Walter Foods and The Mermaid Inn, will add his own touches to the menu, including snacks like seafood tacos, ceviches and lobster rolls, as well as a lineup of pasta dishes–a significant departure from the Manhattan venue. But the overall focus here will remain on oysters, 16 daily varieties with an emphasis on Long Island but also coming from as far across the ponds as New Zealand.
The space, really three conjoined smaller restaurants as it was during Fornino’s time, will pay homage to the original with gold-painted arches, tiled accents, and a mural of Grand Central. They also hope to offer Saturday morning classes in topics like oyster shucking techniques, and plan to add lunch and brunch options shortly after their targeted December 1 opening. And yes, Park Slope, there is a kids’ menu. There will be fish sticks, made from scratch, of course.
256 Fifth Avenue, oysterbarbrooklyn.com, opening Wednesday, December 18 at 4pm.