What if your favorite breakfast counter merged with your most beloved dinner-date spot? What if they met at midday with something neither had offered before: perfectly crisp fries and the best cheeseburger in your neighborhood. For me, the new Smith Street collaboration between the Court Street Grocers team and former Battersby chef Walker Stern feels like a dream I never dared to dream. Boerum Hill’s just-opened HiHi Room is the ultimate Carroll Gardens-Cobble Hill restaurant mash-up. It’s a match made in my own personal version of heaven.
Design-wise, HiHi Room feels like the fun little brother to Brooklyn’s new crop of all-day cafés. I guess we should be careful about throwing gender stereotypes around, but there’s a sophisticated femininity in the cobalt blue back room of Hunky Dory, and a California femme energy in the pastel palette of Williamsburg’s Gertie. HiHi is a little different.
With windows on both ends of the place, white walls, and skylites overhead, the HiHi Room has the natural light essential to an all-day space, and like its counterparts, it also has plenty of seating—barstools up front, with banquettes and booths in the back. But then there’s an Italian Columbo poster and ceramic squid and whale wall-hanging that kinda looks like something someone’s wife wouldn’t let him keep in their apartment. My own husband, who was completely on board with the design aesthetic, noted that the medallion over the front door read, “We are 138 Smith Street,” referencing a 1978 Misfits track. During our breakfast, the soundtrack didn’t get any heavier than Superchunk’s “Driveway to Driveway.”
Fans of the Court Street Grocers breakfast sandwich will recognize HiHi’s Balthazar ciabatta bun piled with a house-made sausage patty, golden scrambled eggs, cheddar, and arugula. Douse it with house-made hot sauce and pair with some strong coffee, poured into a big, heavy mug. It’s big and hearty enough that you might want to pop open your laptop for an hour or so, before ordering the buckwheat waffle with pecan butter for breakfast-dessert.
Later in the day, they’ve got crunchy-crusted hushpuppies, which are so simple and delicious, they make you wonder why every restaurant isn’t serving hushpuppies all the time. Here, they’re served with sweet butter and a bottle of Minorcan Mike’s Datil Pepper Vinegar, which imparts a spicy tang and looks like a specialty item you might find on the shelves of Court Street Grocers.
The dinner dish most likely to make your heart ache for the old Battersby tasting menu is the salt-baked celery root, which involves an olive oil-drizzled, paper-thin slices of celery root blanketing a layer of perfectly chewy faro, hazelnuts, fresh dill, and mirepoix (that is, a fancy name for expertly chopped bits of carrots, celery, and onion).
Much to the despair of my two Cincinnati-raised dining companions, HiHi had run out of their Spaghetti Cincinnati on the night of our visit. So, I can’t tell you about this plate of hand-cut pasta topped with duck chili, cheddar, and onions, but I will say that the cheeseburger is reason enough to pay this place a visit. With its super juicy patty of Dellapietra’s beef, and simple toppings of American cheese, a dill pickle, and fried onions, it rivals the Red Hook Tavern burger, which some might argue is Brooklyn’s best burger of the moment. Pair it with a local beer (they’ve got an Other Half IPA, a Folksbier lager, and a Svendale stout on tap) or a dry, spicy What Cheer ginger ale, from Court Street Grocers own Grocers Bottling Co.
My favorite dish of the night was the Chicken Tremolo, a Jamaican jerk-like glazed half-chicken, with fiery heat to balance its sweetness. I’m still thinking about its accompaniment, a little bowl of perfectly plump, garlicky, herby baked butter beans. As long as we’re getting hyperbolic about HiHi, I feel comfortable saying that I’d happily take a bath in them, while listening to the Misfits, beneath a weird ceramic aquatic scene hanging boldly on the wall.
The HiHi Room is located at 138 Smith Street and is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.