How many restaurants have you been in lately that could be said to be relaxing? That was the vibe when a friend and I went to check out Lowerline in Prospect Heights, a newly opened restaurant from Louisiana native and Tulane University alum chef John Verlander. The place is narrow, deep, and elegant. First thing inside the door are three tables, and then a white marble bar so reflective it actually fills the room with soft light. Frou-frou décor is kept to a minimum; let the food and music get you in the mood.
Lowerline is part of a surge of intimate Cajun-Creole restaurants in Brooklyn that includes Gumbo Bros. and Café Booqoo. All three offer a limited menu of po’ boy sandwiches on an appropriately squishy demi-baguette, and a few stews and rice dish such as gumbo and jambalaya. Gumbo Bros. concentrates on excellent gumbos, while Café Booqoo is more into the sandwiches. Where Lowerline (named after a street in Uptown New Orleans) distinguishes itself from the other two is in oysters.
The other two places don’t mess with them, in sandwiches, grills, or cook-ups, but the minute you enter Lowerline the first thing you see is a selection of raw oysters on ice. On a recent evening, there were two from the East Coast and one from the West Coast. These can be had on a raw oyster service, priced from $2.50 to $3 apiece, accompanied by the usual cocktail sauce and mignonette. But these bivalves are so fresh, all you really need is a squeeze of lemon.
These oysters are incorporated in fried form into an oyster po’ boy ($16), and there’s also a po’ boy featuring fried shrimp and another that stacks on the roast beef and smothers it in gravy. We tried the first and last, and both were great. (For New York restaurants, the bread is the highest hurdle, and Lowerline clears that hurdle admirably.) A nifty deal offers a half po’ boy and cup of gumbo for $15.
That gumbo is made with seafood and okra, available alone in cup and bowl sizes ($8/$16). We didn’t try the red beans and rice, but did order the crawfish etouffee, which was adequate but too mild for our taste. Beer (including Abita), wine, and cider (the latter from Austin, Texas) are available to lubricate the meal. I only wish the 10-bottle wine list had more selections by the glass; there are only three.