Cheers to you, Brooklyn. We’ve made it to springtime. Cherry blossoms and new restaurants are ready to bloom. Here, in my second installment of our new food column, I’m excited to share some of the most delicious things I’ve tasted (ridiculously delicious potatoes in Ridgewood, Trinidadian-Cambodian lunch treats in Gowanus, and my favorite new sandwich). Plus, there’s a whole slew of brand new and soon-to-open spots to check out, from homey Midwestern fare to mouth-tingling Szechuan cuisine.
Rolo’s: Daiquiris, Rib-Eyes and Ugly-Delicious Potatoes
This spring calls for strawberry daiquiris and wood-fired steak. At Rolo’s in Ridgewood, the daiquiris get their depth from a blend rhum agricole, a funkier, grassier, more savory style of rum that’s typically distilled on the islands of the French Caribbean. The deep-pink concoction captures the sweet nostalgia of a strawberry daiquiri with a sophisticated edge. The steak, sourced from Rosenkrans Farm in the Finger Lakes, are dry-aged for 6 weeks in-house, butchered in the Rolo’s kitchen, cooked to smoky perfection over a wood-burning grill, and finished with a green garlic butter. The result is a righteous, melt-in-your-mouth bite.
Rolo’s doesn’t fit into a specific category or ethnicity, but their wood-fired grill pulls together their somewhat eclectic, totally fun, crowd-pleasing offerings. The most outrageous thing I’ve eaten in a long time was listed on the dinner menu as “crispy potatoes ‘war style,’” without a description. It’s basically a pile of crispy-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the-inside, well-salted roasted potatoes, with a liberal dollop of profoundly spicy peanut sauce, and a lavish spoonful of Kewpie mayo, comparable to the amount of Cool Whip a generous grandma might serve on an ice cream sundae. Oh, and there are chopped white onions sprinkled on top.
General Manager and partner Ben Howell explained this “ugly-delicious” dish, which one of Rolo’s chef-partners, Rafiq Salim, brought into the kitchen: “Rafiq was born in the Netherlands—he’s Indonesian and Dutch—and there’s a ubiquitous street food at frite shops in Amsterdam that is called patatje oorlog, which translates to ‘potatoes at war.’”
It sneak-attacks one’s taste buds, so rich, so fiery, so impossibly delicious. “That peanut sauce is Rafiq’s family recipe,” Howell continued. “It’s made with both sambal and whole Thai bird chilis, plus kaffir lime leaves. It’s aromatic and very spicy.”
Speaking of heat, don’t sleep on the cold-weather specialty of dry-style Szechuan cabbage if it’s still on the menu when you visit. This dish looks like someone dumped a jar of spice blend on a plate of humble, roasted vegetable, but it’s ludicrously delicious.
Whisk + Whiskey: Get Baked in Gowanus
This verdant little jewel box of a cafe is tucked away on an industrial stretch of 4th Ave in Gowanus. Whisk + Whiskey is worth a visit for coffee and treats, like their soft and chewy birthday cake cookie (a big, thick sugar cookie rolled in rainbow sprinkles) or a slice of red velvet cake. But the real draw here? Their Trinidadian-inspired bakes—fluffy, circular bread, set to soak up big-flavored fillings. Owners Secoyah Browne, who was raised in Brooklyn by Trinidadian parents, and Chandra Touch, a first-generation, Cambodian-American, combine their food cultures in an addictively delicious sweet chili chicken bake, dive into Caribbean fare with their smoky, deeply flavorful jerk bake, and cover local needs with a bacon, egg and cheese bake. While you’re there, be sure to order their house-seasoned plantain chips, the best I’ve ever tried.
Szechuan on Smith: The folks behind the highly regarded Hupo in LIC have opened Shan at 191 Smith Street, and their menu brings some mouth-tingling heat to Boerum Hill with dishes like spicy cumin lam, dan dan noodles, and crispy pork with Szechuan peppers.
Pizza al fresco: Fornino has opened their primo rooftop location at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6 for the season. Everybody knows about their wood-fired pizzas, but can we talk about their crispy eggplant sandwich? It’s piled up fresh basil, pistachio pesto, tomatoes, arugula, Ricotta, Parmesan, and sweet balsamic glaze on focaccia. Paired with views of the Manhattan skyline, I think it’s one of the all-time best vegetarian sandwiches around.
Midwestern Charm in Prospect Heights: One of our favorite Brooklyn chefs, Greg Baxtrom (of Olmsted and Maison Yaki), expands his empire with Patti Ann’s. Named after his mom, this new, family-oriented spot is serving Saltine-crusted salmon, duck meatloaf, and root beer floats.
More openings: Brooklyn Hots is serving “garbage plates” in Clinton Hill while Place des Fêtes is now serving Spanish wine and seafood in the neighborhood. Royal’s Rib House has re-opened in Bed-Stuy, and a new Persian spot, Eyval, has opened in Bushwick. In Brooklyn Heights, the owners of Colonie have re-opened Pips, their natural wine bar next door, serving springtime specialties like maltagliati pasta with fava beans, spinach, and lemon.
Coming soon: Café Spaghetti on Columbia Street is set to open in May, and the chef from my favorite Brooklyn restaurant, Bar Bête, has secured the keys to a mysterious new spot. Plus, it looks like Blank Street coffee is opening an outpost in the lot by the RiteAid on Smith Street between Union and President. In Williamsburg, Mission Sandwich Social is set to open on May 3 at 326 Bedford Ave at South 2nd, bringing big, saucy subs on San Francisco-style Dutch Crunch, a crackly crusted bread that’s new to NYC.
Bottomless brunch: If you’ve got the stamina to rock 90 minutes of midday bloody Marys, mimosas, screwdrivers, beer, wine or well drinks, Ten Hope’s leafy Williamsburg patio is waiting for you and your good-times crew. Go bottomless for $25 per person with the purchase of an entrée every weekend from 12pm to 5pm.