Last week two Eater editors ventured into the most unlikely restaurant to land in Park Slope, Grand Central Oyster Bar Brooklyn. The original Grand Central Oyster Bar is, of course, an icon of New York architecture. But happens when you strip away the Grand Central and replace it with three big storefronts in Brooklyn? What follows is an AIM conversation that explores just that.
MP: Ok, so what were your impressions walking into the place?
DF: First I think I was just taken back by how big the place was. Three entire storefronts. It's enormous!
DF: And empty.
[This dining room is only a third of the entire restaurant.]
MP: Yes, there were maybe like four or five tables filled?
DF: But it was the size of a Times Square restaurant. Like one of those that boasts how many square feet it has.
MP: Right, but not actually that many tables
DF: It was roomy
MP: Which did not help with the empty feeling.
DF: It might prefer to see some of that space over at al di la, which is just down the block, and always overly packed. They would've used it better
MP: So, we sat down back in the corner, overlooking the expanse of the empty dining room.
DF: But they couldn't decided where to seat us.
They were like, "Would you like to sit here, here, or here?" as if emphasizing that they had tons of space.
MP: What did you think of the menu?
DF: The menu was massive! And way too much of it appeared in capital letters
MP: Yeah, full use of caps lock.
DF: Just shouting at you: FISH, LOBSTER, CRABS.
MP: Obviously the first thing I looked at was the cocktail list. And what did I spy but a BIKINITINI.
DF: I'm still sad you didn't order that.
MP: I just couldn't muster up the courage or the straight face to say that word. My question is: Why? How does that seem like a good idea in Park Slope?
DF: Right, it's not Cancun. Or Baja or Vegas.
MP: Do they serve that cocktail at the original Grand Central Oyster Bar?
DF: I hope not. Can we talk about the fact that they call it GCOBB?
MP: Lol. Yes, I'm going to call it that from now on.
DF: When I saw it on the menu at first I was like what is that?
MP: The have a GCOBB cheesecake, a GCOBB bloody Mary...BUT, they did not have a GCOBB salad. That disappointed me. Real missed opportunity.
DF: We did have a GCOBB seafood platter though.
MP: Yes we did.
DF: Those cherrystone clams were scary large, but there were some pretty good oysters.
MP: Also some not good oysters on that platter.
DF: What did you liken one to?
MP: It was a little manure-y.
DF: Even now that grosses me out.
MP: I think that one was from New Jersey, so maybe that says something. And I say that being from New Jersey myself.
DF: I wish our waiter had been able to tell us more about them than where they were from.
MP: But, I will say that our waiter was VERY enthusiastic.
DF: He really wanted to do his job well.
MP: He was totally sweet, if rather naive.
DF: I just think they hadn't trained him.
MP: Yes, I think I heard the phrase "very excellent" like at least 10 times. And also, "You're really gonna like this one." But, props to them for at least having friendly service. And our waiter did give us one huge pro tip: They have a kids section on the menu (because Park Slope, duh), and they list a "kids oyster" for 25 cents!
DF: Possibly the best oyster deal in town!
MP: We wondered if it was even a real oyster, so we asked our waiter, and he said yes. Apparently it's usually a bluepoint. They want to hook the kids early, which I think is actually a pretty cool idea.
DF: And you can only order it if you're a child 13 and under, though they seem to be pretty flexible about that.
MP: Yeah our waiter was like, "A lot of people order a few dozen, but then their kids leave after they eat a couple," and then the adults have all these oysters that they got for 25 cents. And they can't just not eat them, right? So, moral of the story, if you can find a kid to bring with you to GCOBB, do it.
DF: Definitely. I need to borrow my nephew for that one
DF: We followed up the seafood platter with perhaps the saddest bowl of chowder I can imagine being served at an oyster house. There were no whole clams.
MP: It tasted exactly like Progresso to me. We should emphasize that it was Manhattan clam chowder, not New England clam chowder. We figured that was like the signature thing to get at GCOBB. But it tasted more like beef stew.
DF: What did you think of the main courses?
MP: Really....retro. Like, out of the '90s. I mean, one was tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes
DF: '90s era yacht club
MP: The tuna was decently cooked (rare in the middle), but it was a HUGE mound of ok-tasting mashed potatoes.
DF: The plates were unaware of their retroness. We also had that cheese risotto with scallops, and it was a huge portion of that as well.
MP: Again, the scallops were cooked fine though.
DF: The scallops were truly delicious. Sweet and tender. It was the highlight of the meal for me.
MP: They at least get (mostly) good quality seafood it seems.
DF: Though it doesn't seem that they get a great variety of seafood.
MP: Oh yeah, we checked out their seafood counter when we walked in, which is in one of the three storefronts.
DF: Yeah, I'm always looking for a new seafood counter, but this one wasn't special. The bar area around it actually looked nice, though.
MP: And of course it was totally empty, as was the kitchen behind. But back to the scene in the dining room while we were eating. There were four full tables I think, mostly couples.
DF: There was a couple that sat down and then got up to leave.
MP: They took one look at that all-caps menu and hightailed it out of there.
DF: I really can't emphasize how enormous the space appeared
particularly when it was so empty. The tables were like at least three feet apart.
MP: But someone was actually celebrating their birthday, at a big round table right in the middle.
DF: Under the nautical themed chandelier.
MP: Quite the spot. And at the peak of the celebration, three waiters came over to sing Happy Birthday. I should say all three waiters, because I'm pretty sure that's all there were.
DF: I don't know how many places still have waiters who sing. It was kind of sweet.
MP: In a heartbreaking way. Because it was like, they had nothing else to do. Also, how did that birthday end up there? Do you think the person celebrating their birthday chose it? Or was it like, the dad? Or the clueless boyfriend?
DF: Can we talk about the music they were playing?
MP: It was like was the music we listened to before we knew there was stuff out there besides what our parents listened to.
DF: I mean it was sort of nice in a nostalgic way. It made me miss being in high school.
MP: Ok, so now we're finally on to dessert. We got the blackberry napoleon.
DF: Blackberry Napoleon sounds good! And our waiter said it would be.
MP: He said we would like it very much. But he said that about everything.
DF: But there was so much sugar that my teeth felt like they were in shock for a solid hour. And the pastry was too tough to cut into bite sized pieces.
MP: I have never had such tough puff pastry in my life. I don't know how they managed to make something usually light and flaky so rock hard.
DF: It was lacquered in sugar
MP: It was also just a mess. Cream and jam just sort of blobbed onto the plate. Again, super retro.
DF: Maybe the people celebrating the birthday were hoping they could turn back the clock, and it would be 1995 again.
MP: So, one last thing to address: neither of us have eaten at the original, correct?
DF: True. I think it has some old school New York class, and that's why people enjoy it. It's an icon.
MP: But the space itself is the most iconic thing. I feel like that's what people really go there for, so what's the point of going to the one in Brooklyn which has none of that? How did it even end up in Park Slope of all places?
DF: It could possibly work if they opened just that oyster bar section, minus the kitchen. But no big restaurant belongs on 5th Avenue.
MP: It is just tragically clueless. Really heartbreaking, if you're the empathetic type.
DF: It's like a really bad sequel movie. Sometimes sticking with the original is the best idea.
MP: But there was some decent seafood amid the mounds of mashed potato. And I was totally charmed by our server, because I'm a sucker for people who are trying so earnestly
DF: He truly wanted us to have a good dining experience. I just wish the management had taken the time to teach him what he was talking about. Like which oysters to recommend and things like that.
MP: So, would you ever go back?
DF: Probably not.
MP: Yeah. But if I can find someone under the age of 13 to drag along, I might.
DF: Invite me along if you do