Brooklyn fever descends on Mission Hills

Posted: June 15th, 2012 | Featured, Food & Drink, Restaurant Reviews | No Comments

Brooklyn Girl
4033 Goldfinch St. (Mission Hills)
Prices: Salads and starters, $7 to $12; entrees and pizzas, $10 to $24; whole roasts, $28 to $42 (Note: Menu selections and prices change frequently.

Dining with | Frank Sabatini Jr.

Chicken cooked under a brick, served with greens and balsamic. (Photos by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

The former food editor of New York Daily News, Arthur Schwartz, recently said, “What I love about Brooklyn is there are more wonderful little joints than anywhere,” referring of course to the borough’s pulsating hodgepodge of retro and progressive eateries. In Mission Hills, restaurateurs Michael and Victoria McGeath easily embrace that fact with their new Brooklyn Girl after visiting 30 Brooklyn restaurants in one week to gain inspiration.

What they discovered were herds of talented chefs entering the area from Manhattan in order to launch culinary ventures that are perhaps no less charismatic than Thomas Keller’s Per Se or Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin, but without the Midtown pretense.

“Brooklyn has become a very artisan-based neighborhood,” said Michael McGeath, adding that his wife, Victoria, is originally from Brooklyn. “Everyone’s making things from scratch and we’re emulating that here. Walk back into our kitchen and there are virtually no cans.”

Brooklyn Girl puts you in a New York state of mind starting with its brownstone façade, which occupies a street-level chunk of the newly built 1Mission condominiums. Inside, a soon-to-open deli flaunting marble counters and a giant chalkboard occupies a section off of the dining room, where subway tiles cover concrete pillars and birdcages housing sparkly chandeliers hang from high ceilings. Several large images of famous New Yorkers are also eye-grabbing, particularly the enormous painting of stoic-faced Vogue editor, Ana Wintour.

Executive Chef Tyler Thrasher, formerly of Oceanaire Seafood Room, and Sous Chef Colin Murray, formerly of Cowboy Star, oversee an eclectic menu that changes frequently. After nibbling on complimentary popcorn served in upright cylinders, visitors can start out with house-cured meats, matzo ball soup and Vietnamese-style meatballs before proceeding onto things like brined pork chops, wood-fired pizzas and grilled local swordfish. A separate category catering to parties of two or more highlights whole fish, free-range ducks and stuffed pig roasts.

Our meal began with an unusual Caesar salad, using leafy deep-green kale instead of romaine. It was fortified with hard-boiled eggs, skillet-fried croutons and delectable house-cured bacon. The bitter, raw kale tasted jarring at first, but we quickly grew to like the overall composition.

Nostalgia washed over our tongues when attacking an appetizer of pork and beans. Although the tomato-y sauce faintly resembled Campbell’s, these were of the decadent, scratch-made type that welcomed the additions of maple-glazed pork belly, pickled cabbage and a sunny-side egg on top. We augmented the course with an order of shishito peppers, flash fried with soy sauce and ginger and ranging from mild to semi-spicy, just as shishitos irregularly behave.

The chefs have revived the art of cooking chicken under a brick, a technique that I haven’t seen used in years. Here, the entrée features a half bird marinated in whole grain mustard before it’s cooked in a high-heat oven with a brownstone brick on top and a cast iron pan underneath. What you end up with is chicken sporting crispy, highly flavorful skin and juiciness extending right down to the bones. Even the breast section matched the moistness of the leg and thigh, a rarity when cooking chicken other ways.

I had little time to steal a sample of my companion’s gnocci and short ribs as he seemingly cleaned the plate in a New York minute. The slow-cooked rib meat was draped in sturdy Chianti au jus, which gave the Yukon potato gnocci the love they deserved. Earthy beech mushrooms and sweet dried tomatoes added further dimension to the dish. Off to the side, we savored an a la carte order of potato latkes that would have been bland without the support of dreamy, homemade apple butter on the plate.

The McGeaths managed to obtain the recipe for chocolate blackout cake, made famous during World War II by Brooklyn’s now-defunct Ebinger’s Bakery. Classic and multi-layered, we couldn’t pass it up in the face of key lime pie served cleverly in a glass jar. The latter scored an exact balance of sweet and sour, with the added bonus of two graham cracker crusts residing within.

Lunch service at the deli is due to begin any day, but in the meantime guests are urged to make reservations when coming for dinner. Since opening last month, the dining room has been booked to capacity and walk-ins are either turned away or relegated to a few communal high tops in the bar area. It must be the McGeaths and their chefs creating the kind of culinary buzz seen more commonly in the nation’s biggest metropolis.

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