Fawkner, the latest addition to the Smith Street strip, is right up Boerum Hill’s alley. Jim Carden and Kevin Avanzato, who also co-own The Bell House, Union Hall, and Floyd, aren’t trying to re-invent the wheel with their new bar. Rather, Fawkner will elevate the somewhat threadbare casual dining and drinking options around the Bergen Street stop–expect thirsty locals to keep the 2300-square foot space pretty well-packed on weekends.
The rotating menu of about a dozen draft beers currently includes Peak Hop Harvest Octoberfest and Down East Pumpkin Cider. There are also basics like Narragansett and Tecate in cans. The speciality cocktails are experimental, perhaps more so than they need to be, but the unusual flavor profiles succeed in drinks like the Murder of Crows, which combines tequila, Campari, and ginger beer. If you’re partial to Old Fashioneds or Sazeracs you should try the Red Rooster, a blend of rye, Pimm’s, lemon and sugar.
Fawkner is being advertised, correctly, as a bar first and a restaurant second–the food seems intended to accompany a night of grown-up drinking, or to soak up alcohol already consumed. This isn’t to say that the menu lacks flavor. But I object to the pretentious notion of “designer sandwiches” in general. These are more like sandwiches designed by your dad in Michigan after he watched a few episodes of Top Chef. Still, try the fried chicken, a nice balance of sweet and savory with buttermilk-soaked deep fried thighs, corn pudding, onion strings and chow-chow (a green tomato-heavy pickled relish). It’s messy as all get-out, but that’s how it should be. On opening night most of Fawkner’s sandwiches, which range in price from $10 to $16, were served on oversized sesame hoagies, which makes them very substantial. Fries, plain, with gravy, or poutined, are offered in easily shareable portions.
I’ve long had a culinary dream that New York City would enact a law prohibiting all restaurants from using roasted red pepper for one year. Imagine what we might discover without it? Portobello mushrooms, for example, represented about 15 percent of Fawkner’s roasted mushroom sandwich (not counting the bread of course). The main event was hiding under a totally overwhelming portion of “marinated” arugula and roasted red peppers. A very tasty buttermilk-blue cheese spread saved the day. Service is a table-takeout hybrid–you place your order at the kitchen window, take a number to display on your table, and servers hunt you down when it’s ready.
Avanzato and Carden like to work with large spaces, and Fawkner is no exception, though it is less cavernous than Bell House and more compact than Union Hall. And while you won’t find a bocce court here (both Union Hall and Floyd have one), Fawkner’s decor is influenced by the sport of falconry. That’s right–the pre-opening press materials for the bar made sure to define Fawkner as a term “used to describe falconry” in olden times. To be fair yesteryear is the name of the design game at Fawkner. The Museum of Natural History is one of the inspirations for the space–seriously, there’s a stuffed ram diorama set into a niche in the wall. The clean, modern, well-lit front bar leads to a back library lounge area, not unlike a smaller version of Union Hall, fit for the Founding Fathers and complete with a fireplace, well-worn leather couches, and vintage portraits of mustachioed men hanging on the dark green walls. The hallway between the two rooms is lined with comfortable-looking booths that are clearly intended for an evening spent with pints and friends. There’s also a back patio that is not yet open, but who cares for now? Summer is over. With that fireplace, cozy booths, whiskey cocktails and the promise of a hot sandwich, designer or not, on the next wintry night in Carroll Gardens, Fawkner will be the place to be.
191 Smith Street, Brooklyn
Hours: 4pm to 4am M-F; noon to 4am Sat-Sun