First Bites at The Gorbals


Brooklynites: I’m really sorry to have to break this to you, but your uber-cool borough’s best new restaurant is inside an Urban Outfitters.

Unfortunately for those of us who were really looking forward to gazing down our histper-weary noses at this trying-way-too-hard Brooklyn newcomer, The Gorbals is actually fantastic.

The Gorbals, which opened earlier this summer on N. 6th Street, is set on the third story of Space Ninety 8, a made-for-Brooklyn experimental “concept store” owned by Urban O. On the first floor,  you can browse through mini-retail spaces curated by the likes of local literary journals, and pause to try on a pair of $540 Japanese reclaimed trousers. Up one level you’ll find the usual assortment of faux vintage t-shirts and throwback fedoras, up one further are men’s clothes and the restaurant. It’s a spinoff of an LA eatery opened by the winner of Top Chef‘s second season, featuring a trend-a-minute menu that runs the gamut from bacon-wrapped matzoh balls to bahn mi poutine. In short, this place sounds like it should be friggin’ awful.

Unfortunately for those of us who were really looking forward to gazing down our histper-weary noses at this trying-way-too-hard Brooklyn newcomer, The Gorbals is actually fantastic.

Pickled mussels at The Gorbals (Photo: Brendan Spiegel)

Pickled mussels are both beautiful and tasty at The Gorbals. Photo: Brendan Spiegel

Chef Ilan Hall hails from an Israeli-Scottish family, and The Gorbals is named for a downtrodden neighborhood in Glasgow. His food offers an emphasis on oddball animal parts and suprising pairings, with a particular affinity for matching traditional Jewish foods with oh-so-traif porky goodness. The aforementioned bahn mi poutine sounds too gimmicky to possibly be good, yet it somehow succeeds at tasting like both bahn mi and poutine, and actually being great. Thrice-crooked fries (simmered, blanched in peanut oil, then fried), are perfectly crispy on the outside, but with enough starchy heft left to soak up the hoisin-tinged chicken gravy that’s slathered on top, along with Vietnamese-style pulled pork, thinly-sliced pickled carrots, cucumbers, Sriracha, and kewpie-style mayo. It’s a ridiculous concoction, but most definitely a win.

Less outrageous dishes are just as exciting, like a soy-and-chili-covered broccoli that comes out with the tips of each floret just slightly charred and offering a tingly, satisfying crunch I’ve never noticed in this particular veggie before. “Chewy” carrots, sauteed in smoked brown butter, are served with delicious little nuggets of fried almond cake, while even Brooklyn-ubiquitous grilled shishisto peppers manage to stand out here, nicely salted and plated on a puree of charred eggplant for dipping. A decidedly non-crazy chicken schnitzel provides a lovely, crunchy-meets-juicy bite and is served with “toasted cream pomme puree,” which the server helpfully translated as “the creamiest mashed potatoes you’ve ever had”—a claim that certainly checks out (sorry, KFC, consider yourself dethroned).

All the plates at The Gorbals are designed for sharing—and in this case, that actually means they’re large enough to share, rather than the tiny, two-bite portions we see at so many small plates spots these days. They’ll tell you to order two plates a person, but even three plates for two people will likely be enough for a meal. At $6 to $16, it’s not an extra-value meal, but for unique cuisine like this, a very fair price. Larger groups can also consider the crispy whole pig’s head (just what it sounds like), at $42. There are plenty of other crazy plates that I didn’t make it to on this first visit—from falafel-crusted sweetbreads to morcilla blood sausage custard with uni.

It had to happen: bacon-wrapped matzoh balls (Photo: Brendan Spiegel)

It had to happen: bacon-wrapped matzoh balls. Photo: Brendan Spiegel

The Gorbals’ primary appeal though, is not the main dining room but the beautiful roof deck, lined with wooden cabanas and serving craft cocktails and bourbon-spiked slushies. Unfortunately they only offer a selection of small bites from the menu up here, including pickled mussels (delicious) and those bacon-wrapped matzoh balls, served over a horseradish sauce—yet another bacon-wrapped food that is certainly tasty (being wrapped in bacon and all), but like bacon-wrapped mochi, I’m not quite sure we really needed this to be a thing.

It’s a shame that they don’t serve the full menu up on the roof, because it’s a lovely place for dinner on a cool summer night. Afterwards, buzzed on bourbon slushies, I wandered back downstairs and splurged on faux vintage t-shirts. You win this round, Urban Outfitters.

The Gorbals, 98 N. 6th Street (between Berry and Wythe); 718-387-0195

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