When Colonie opened on Atlantic Avenue in the winter of 2011 it was the most Brooklyn a restaurant could be.
The spot was long and skinny, with exposed brick and rough hewn wood, rustic and elegant at the same time. It was lauded as the neighborhood restaurant that the area had long been wanting. Alex Sorenson, the opening chef, had spent time in the kitchen at Mas (Farmhouse), one of the the earliest, and best, contributors to the city’s farm-to-table fanaticism. Pork belly, foraged mushrooms and Greenmarket root vegetables all found prominent spots on the menu. The restaurant had been partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign.
It got a star from Sam Sifton in the New York Times, love from the food blogs and quickly became a go-to for anniversary dinners and special occasions.
Six years later, New York is obsessed with fancy pizza and fried chicken and farm-to-table principles have been co-opted by fast casual concerns like Sweet Green and Dig Inn. Does Colonie hold up? The short answer is, absolutely. The food is great, the wine list is interesting, but not too weird for guests who don’t care if their sauvignon blanc is biodynamic, the cocktails are delicious and the service is helpful without being obsequious.
While I would usually start with the food, which I will get to in a moment, I was so impressed by the service that I want to address it first. I was a little bit of a nightmare about my reservation, I will freely admit. It was a group of family and friends, celebrating a graduation in Downtown Brooklyn. I changed different aspects of the reservation twice, first reducing the number of people coming, then changing the time from 9pm to 8pm, after the event we were attending got out early. The hosts I spoke with were unfailingly helpful and when I called to change the time, there wasn’t a hint of grumpiness, the host told me the approximate time she expected the party sitting in our spot to leave and invited us to come immediately and have a drink at the bar. Yes, this was all helped by the fact that it was a Wednesday evening in the middle of January, but the front of the house at Colonie is staffed by pros, no questions about it.
While we waited for our tables they made it exceedingly simple to order drinks at the bar, including sparkling water for the non-drinkers, and seamlessly transferred the bar tab to our table, which may seem like a simple thing, but you know, lots of places screw this up. The service during the meal was helpful, and we always had what we needed, without hovering.
That out of the way, let’s talk food. Colonie’s menu is a lovely balancing act of small plates, pastas and main courses. You could go in, order a glass of sparkling wine, a dozen oysters, a couple crostini and call it a night. Our party of five shared a cheese and meat plate, which came beautifully presented on a slate, with small dollops of honeycomb, mustard, shallot jam and marmalade. Like every restaurant in Brooklyn there was not enough bread, three grilled slices for five diners, which I always find annoying, but everything else was perfect.
We then ordered a collection of plates to share, including a shaved brussels sprouts salad; beets with smoked olive oil, farro and farmer’s cheese; a burger; burrata; campanelle with hen of the woods mushrooms; a pork chop; and sea scallops. Colonie is set up so that you can share small plates or order a traditional appetizer-entree situation for yourself. We wanted to share from all over the menu and they were very accommodating. Our pork chop came sliced for easy portioning and our server helpfully suggested that we add more scallops for a few dollars so that everyone could have one. This plate was actually the only disappointment in the mix–to my mind beautiful scallops need almost no adornment, just proper seasoning. The brown butter in this case overwhelmed their sweetness a bit, not a bad dish, just not as good as the accompanying ones.
Suffice it to say that everything else was delicious, but I want to single out the brussels sprouts and the campanelle, both of which I somewhat expected to be underwhelmed by, but turned out to be very impressive. One complaint I have about farm-to-table dining is that it’s not that different from what I cook at home, and I don’t need to spend $13 on a bowl of brussels sprouts. This delicate but robust salad was so well balanced, crunchy with hazelnuts and toothsome with finely shaved brussels sprouts, savory with pecorino, but lightened by mint and apple, that I am going to try my best to recreate it at home, with no expectation that I will succeed.
The campanelle, a spiral pasta with a curly edge, was so delicious that most of the table seemed to secretly wish that they had ordered it for themselves, not to share. Hen of the woods mushrooms and very thinly sliced kale (I was skeptical but it worked) clung to the pasta with a rich, incredibly savory sauce made bright with hints of white wine and finished beautifully with parmigiano. Hands down, this is one of the best pasta dishes I’ve tasted in recent memory.
If you like to drink carefully made cocktails and interesting wines, Colonie will not disappoint. I tried a mezcal-based cocktail that I completely failed to record any information about that made me extremely happy, as well as brambly and satisfying Petite Syrah from Fleur in California and sparkling rosé from Alexandre Monmousseau in the Loire Valley that was goodness and light in a glass. There’s also a nice selection of local beers and Pinot Grigio from Channing Daughters on Long Island on tap.
Colonie is not cheap–small plates range from $7-16, pastas are $19-22 and mains $18-30–but it’s not a pizza or a fried chicken joint, so there’s no expectation that it should be a bargain. This is a place to settle in, order one glass of wine too many, chat with your companions and order every flavor of gelato for dessert after a luxurious meal.