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Daniel Krieger

Eaters’ Journal: 7/3/16: Red Hook Lobster Pound, Chop’t, Ando, Fancy Nancy, and More

Field notes from Eater editors about recent meals around New York City

Red Hook Lobster Pound: When you swing by Hometown Bar-B-Que on a Saturday night, the line is long, but you deal. You grab a beer, you queue up, you grab another beer 30 minutes later, and in about an hour's time you're eating the city's best brisket and listening to live music. But on a recent Saturday I show up and the line is halfway down the block to City Crab. "Two hours," a staffer tells us, like it's some Disney World ride. No thanks. So my companions and I drive over to Red Hook Lobster Pound just up the block on Van Brunt. We waited about 10 minutes for three bar seats. And damn, our meal was on point.

Spicy seafood chowder looked and tasted like someone took a bucket of sriracha aioli, thinned it out with milk, and heated it up. Righteous. Clam strips stood in for fried calamari as the requisite neutral fried mollusk appetizer (too bad they don't serve the plump clam bellies). Connecticut-style lobster rolls were exactly what you'd expect – super lobster-y and buttery. They cost a few dollars more in the proper restaurant ($22) than in the shack, ($18), because the rolls come with fries here, and you're okay with the up-charge because the fries are phenomenal. And really, $22 is still a lot less than what you'd spend on a Manhattan roll. But the money move is the BURGER, which Nick Solares vouched for back in 2015. The blend of chuck, short rib, and brisket has more dry-aged flavor than half of the burgers that purport to be dry-aged around town, and the Maillard char is so gorgeously dense it evokes the crusty burnt ends of an overcooked grilled cheese sandwich. I hate to say this but if you're at Red Hook as a solo diner, you might want to skip the lobster roll (available anywhere) and splurge on the burger (only available here). And by splurge I mean spend $15. New York might be expensive but Red Hook's still got your back. Ryan Sutton

Chop’t: The chopped salad is dead. How else to interpret the newest location of Chop’t at 1450 Broadway, which not only downplays the gambit of pre-chewing your food for easy workday consumption, but highlights plated dishes (both hot and cold), trendbeast grains, and noodles more visibly than its classic blends of nutritional mulch? I mean, a response to Sweetgreen, the comically overcapitalized titan of quasi-virtuous consumption, and the rise of the power bowl, for one: The old Chop’t aesthetic—cramped college cafeteria but GREEN AS FUCK—has been swapped for wood, concrete, and finishes and color patterns extracted directly from Instagram, while the new menu, set against a light wood backdrop that murders legibility, desperately clamors for the kind of culinary authority and, frankly, superior taste (in the cultural sense) of Sweetgreen’s offerings. Ten years ago we had jobs, cash, and Cobbs; now we have bots, Apple Pay, spicy cashew soba noodles and caprese summer salads (which are totally NOT chopped).

Chop’t basically fails in its gambit to appeal to, one presumes, a more aspirational customer: While the new store feels less like being inside of a death-by-fluorescent-light killbox, the products of its fancy new palate still lack the refinement of its more ambitious competitors, even if they continue to get the job done. And the summer caprese and greenmarket salad totally did that. They were neither great nor terrible, hovering, in a very #onbrand way, permanently somewhere between "perfectly okay" and "maybe actually kind of good but I don’t know if I’d go that far?" Which is fine! That’s the whole reason you’re in a Chop’t in the first place: to get the job done.

Put another way, it could always be worse: You could be at Just Salad. Or Pret. — Matt Buchanan

Fancy Nancy: With the recent addition of Tex/Mex/Filipino taqueria and bar Swell Dive to the corner of Bedford and Lafayette in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the immediate area seems to be undergoing a dining surge. Another key element is Fancy Nancy, a rather nice cocktail lounge and restaurant. A friend and I stopped by for drinks and snacks the other night, and found the place nearly filled with a mainly female clientele. Perhaps they were attracted by the chill ambiance: multiple light fixture dotting bare-brick walls, and banquettes that looked like aquamarine park benches. The place is named after the chef’s mother.

The snacks were beguiling and the cocktails strong (one called Fur in the Desert featured tequila and cactus puree). A soupy fluke crudo delicately cut was flavored with black sesame and shredded shiso; a set of luscious duck wings gobbed with sweet sauce and crisply fried might make you think Buffalo never existed. "Aren’t those duck legs, instead of wings?" My companion inquired. All I could do was give her a blank stare and keep chewing. They were delicious. — Robert Sietsema

Charrua: I went into Charrua right after Robert Sietsema reviewed it last year, but I didn't go back until I moved to the neighborhood a couple weeks ago — and now I've been three times in the last 15 or so days. It's great to sit by the open windows when the weather's nice, the crowd turns slightly rowdy when Argentina games are broadcast from a projector in the middle of the room, there's frequently a buy-one-get-one sangria deal on offer, and the fondue starter is very, very good. I love the vegetarian chivito, called the el cheto, a "signature Uruguayan sandwich" filled with portobello mushrooms and mozzarella, plus carrots, caramelized onions, and chimichurri, and served with a handful of thick, hot fries. — Sonia Chopra

Peaches HotHouse: At a time when everybody and their uncle is trying their hand at spicy fried chicken, the HotHouse still serves one of the most solid versions in the city. A recent visit showed that they're still killing it. The skin is crispy and not greasy, the Nashville-style spiced seasoning is both flavorful and incredibly spicy, and the meat inside is very juicy. The fried green tomatoes topped with greens and bacon still rank as my favorite version of the classic dish, and the only flaw of buttery sweet cornbread that accompanies the chicken is that the portion is too small. My roommate, who had recently visited Nashville, even said something about how our Peaches HotHouse meal was better than what she ate on her trip.

Cute Southern-themed restaurants with cocktails in mason jars seem to pop up in every gentrifying neighborhood now -- Williamsburg, for example, is teeming with so many that I can barely tell them apart -- but HotHouse proves that not all of them are created equal. — Serena Dai

Prune/Balthazar Bakery: How to get over a break-up in lower Manhattan on a sunny Sunday afternoon: Suppress your tears and march into Balthazar Bakery to buy a petit four — theirs are still the best in town — a perfect cube of sugar with a frosting rose on top. Embrace that sugar rush and subsequent dopamine hit. Walk to Prune, a gentle, dogged place that has the capacity to catch your heart as it falls apart. Find a single stool and order a dirty martini. Order another. Then ask for the asparagus soup garnished with crisp chicken skin. Marvel at the beautiful, lacy perfection of chicken skin. Smirk at the thought that this bowl of pureed asparagus will make your pee smell funny, and that this is proof that the universe will continue to exist, the world will continue to spin, the sun will set and rise again. Order the tiramisu for dessert. Pick yourself up, thank the bartender, thank New York City for Prune, and take the long way home. — Daniela Galarza

Ando: Team Eater re-upped with David Chang’s new delivery-only restaurant this week. It still doesn’t deliver to the office (we’re just outside the zone), so like last time, I requested that the food get delivered to a Chipotle near our office, and I went and hung around outside the burrito shop till the Ando man arrived. This time, we sampled the fried chicken bucket, which is one of the only menu additions since Ando launched in May. It's a whole fried chicken, a big tub of beans & rice, and another huge container of coleslaw. The chicken was flakier than the Fuku and Noodle Bar versions. It was basically a dead ringer for Popeye’s except the meat was juicier and the crust was a bit crunchier. The beans & rice also reminded me of a similar menu item at Popeye’s, although this dish had a distinctly smoky flavor. The coleslaw was not as mayonnaise-y as most fast food iterations, and the cabbage had some bite. Six editors ate their full lunches from this combo pack, and a half dozen more people nibbled and grazed on the leftovers. —Greg Morabito

Baker’s Pizza: This newish Avenue A pizza joint might remind you of the late, great PeteZaaz. While it seeks to be a neighborhood institution, it also departs from the local pizzeria formula by sometimes putting some strange shit on top. The place is decorated with a white upright piano, though no one was playing it on a recent visit. And unlike Zaaz, the pies are available by the slice, even though a reheated slice is never as good as a fresh one from a just-baked pie.

The self-named Baker’s, featuring ricotta, caramelized onions, and little balls of Italian sausage like bocce on a wedge-shape court, was particularly fine. With Brussels sprouts and bacon, the B & B would have been perfect without the white truffle oil which made it smell kind of weird and weedy. In fact 19 ingredients (including speck, pineapple, and kale) stand ready to be incorporated into a custom pie, and prices are only slightly elevated from your neighborhood pizza parlor. — Robert Sietsema

[Brennan & Carr by Daniel Krieger]

Brennan & Carr: I really don’t know the correct protocol for ordering the roast beef sandwiches here. Do you tell them you want it "wet"? Do you ask them to dunk it for you before it gets to the table? Or do you get the juice on the side and do it yourself? Our server, a totally charming young guy in a white coat, didn’t ask us how we wanted it, but I'm glad I ordered a cup of broth on the side. Once our sandwiches arrived, I sliced mine up into quarters for dunking purposes. The sandwich really comes alive after a dip in that dark brown liquid. Budweiser, in a glass mug, was the right pairing.

This is one of those restaurants where the food takes a back seat to the overall experience of being there. I get the sense that the employees care about this little mock tudor sandwich shop just as much as the regulars. —Greg Morabito

Top photo: Red Hook Lobster Pound by Krieger.

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