On Friday, a friend and I dropped by the new edition of Ursula from chef Eric See — smack dab in the middle of Bed-Stuy at 387 Nostrand Avenue, near Madison Street. It reopened a week ago after moving from a mainly carryout storefront in Crown Heights, which had nevertheless been declared one of America’s best new restaurants by several publications, as well as receiving a nomination from the James Beard Awards.
This kind of runaway fame is not necessarily helpful in the short run for a modest spot that even in its new iteration is not very big, and when we arrived a little after 9 a.m. on a Friday, chaos ruled. A line of customers waiting for breakfast burritos and coffee rhumbaed out the door. Inside, about 20 diners occupied seats, most with no food in front of them, while eight employees in the weeds struggled mightily to keep up. There was a blue-tiled coffee station right inside the front door, and opposite that red-chile ristras hung down from whitewashed brick walls, setting the mood. Deeper inside was a lunch counter overlooking the kitchen, and that was where we sat.
Those employees were mostly making food: There was no waitstaff. Diners used a QR code to consult an online menu on which they also placed orders. Back in the open kitchen, cooks assembled one of four kinds of burritos on a counter way too small for the task (as the professional chef who was my companion noted).
In the midst of this tumult, an inspector from the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene dropped by as if conjured up by a malevolent demon. Wearing a brown shirt and looking very out of place, he headed to the kitchen and dropped down on all fours while probing the underside of the stove, waving his flashlight around, after which he began sticking a thermometer into the burritos warming on the flat-top griddle. Has any newly christened restaurant ever been so hard-pressed?
Staff delivered our cappuccinos ($4) followed by a blue corn scone ($5) — which was delicious, with a crumbly texture — a pleasing shade of blue — and tasting slightly of fennel. Eventually, our burritos arrived ($12.50) with a smothering of green chile ($4 extra) and a pile of chopped lettuce and tomato on the side.
My chorizo burrito was surreally good with fluffy eggs, cheddar, ground chorizo, and slivers of hash brown potatoes inside, and some fragments of red chile that made it quite spicy. We were soon fanning our faces, because the interior of the restaurant was also quite warm. Since soupy green chiles dressed the burritos, we had to eat them with a knife and fork, which made it feel like fine dining. My companion’s vegetarian burrito was every bit as good.
As we stood to leave, the inspector was also on the way out, and handed the letter grade to one of the employees. She turned around to display the card and obliged us by holding it up for a photo: It was an A. Meanwhile, the crowds were waning, but I shudder to think of what promised to be a more intense brunch service the following day.