Eater NY is chronicling what we’re drinking right now in this occasional series on good drinks at restaurants. In our excitement over all of the other details of restaurants, we haven’t given drinks their due. Here’s to the good ones, starting with a staff favorite.
The first time I almost threw up at Brooklyn’s best Thai restaurant, I was saved by a bright orange sour beer. I had taken a second bite of Ugly Baby’s famed spicy duck salad, denoted on the menu with a foreboding UFO emoji, when a wave of heat from my first bite finally hit. I was sweating from my eyeballs.
Our server, an employee named Bond who still works at the restaurant, had clearly seen this before because he rushed over with a bowl of white rice and asked a question that would change the course of my night: “Do you like mango?”
He pointed to a sour beer called “Mango Mango,” one of around 80 cans on a beer list that I had somehow missed while we were ordering food, and said it would be good for the spice. Not in general — with this dish specifically. Three years later, I can’t stop thinking about how right he was.
For all that’s been said about Ugly Baby — it’s the borough’s best Thai restaurant, and possibly the city’s spiciest — I’ve been waiting for the unnaturally good beer list here to get the attention it deserves.
Aside from a passing mention in the Infatuation, none of the reviews written about Ugly Baby in major publications mention the beer menu. In part, that’s because the restaurant was B.Y.O.B. when it first opened, a brief period during which most of the city’s critics appear to have based their reviews. Then again, beer rarely gets the spotlight in New York restaurant reviews. Maybe the critics are watching their gluten intake. Or maybe they don’t take the drink as seriously as chef Sirichai Sreparplarn does.
“We need drinks that compliment or pull through the intensity of our food,” the Thai chef recently told me over Instagram. “The craft beer breweries put out nowadays has everything that we look for: brighter, juicier, fruitier, more acidic and more herbaceous. We couldn’t help ourselves to come up with a huge list.”
Sreparplarn displays his collection of cans and bottles on an orange, two-sided menu that’s usually handed over with sweat stains, dried-up pools of panang curry, and other signs of life from previous customers. There are tall boys from upstate New York, imported bottles from Italy, cans from local brewers including Talea and Grimm, and a $48 sparkling cider made in New Hampshire. There are also a handful of stouts, suggesting that at least one person among us is pairing fried sea bream with coffee-flavored beer.
When I returned to the restaurant last week, I was pleased to see that this aspect of the restaurant had survived the pandemic, however impractical it might seem for a restaurant with around 20 seats. “It’s a restaurant that does whatever they feel like and having a big beer list is one of them,” says Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, the owner of Queens brewery Evil Twin.
Jarnit-Bjergsø has been selling his cans at the restaurant for years, after getting to know Sreparplarn as a regular at Ugly Baby. The chef is “passionate about craft beer,” he says. “That’s the reason the list is so good.”
Sitting in the dining room, it struck me that the list was almost unrecognizable from my visit a few years earlier, and I had to wonder — what would save me from the spicy duck salad this time? The answer, it turns out, hadn’t changed. Two bites in, Bond emerged with an armful of canned beers. “Try this,” he said.