Watty and Meg
248 Court Street, Brooklyn NY 11201; map); 718-643-0007; wattyandmeg.com
Service: The host fellow who's pretty much always manning the front is super nice; the rest of the staff is attentive and friendly, but less memorable.
Setting: A comforting worn-in feel with tin ceilings, vintage wallpaper and a chandelier in the backroom.
Compare to: Buttermilk Channel, Frankies 457, No.7
Must Haves: Merguez with lentils, seared diver scallops, garlic shrimp with cheese grits
Cost: $7 to $11 for appetizers; $12 to $24 for mains; $8 for desserts
Watty and Meg, which opened in Cobble Hill in early May, joins a smattering of others in the neighborhood that all share a few trademarks: a retro feel that's throwing back to some era, maybe colonial (or another one we probably weren't around for), a rustic cooking emphasis with at least a couple "hand-made," artisanal, or pickled things, and a casual, denim-friendly dress code. People inside look happy, the menu sounds interesting, and most likely there's exposed brick involved. Others in this same category include: Frankies 457, Char No 4., and Buttermilk Channel.
Granted, they all have slightly different priorities (for Char No. 4, it's bourbon, and for Frankies 457, Italy), but it can be hard to distinguish one from the other underneath all that vintage wallpaper.
In this case, a chef from Virginia, Sosie Hublitz, is spotlighting pretty safe American fare: shrimp, iceberg wedges, and hangar steak. The food and mood totally fits with the rest of Court Street, and feels like it's been there even before the Trader Joe's era (the market opened last September a few blocks away). The name comes from two former employees at Hublitz's restored diner in Richmond, Virginia, Millie's. Sorry to the Scottish literary experts who assumed it was referencing an 1800s ballad with the same name.
But as much as you want to like this place, the food is just so-so.
There are five appetizers with a rotating soup of the day. The salad trio ($12) comes with kale, quinoa, and an avocado that's sliced up like chicken breast. There's enough 'cado for four people (all fanatics, in our case) to feel satiated.
The seared diver scallops ($11) were cooked just right, and swam in a pool of yummy stuff: green apple, leeks, English peas, Marcona almonds, and veal demi glaze.
The merguez with warm lentils ($11) is very lamby, like you can almost taste the grass the animal ate in the fields (in the best of ways). And it's great how lentils just go along for the ride, but still add a little nutty crunch.
The grass-fed burger ($12), made of organic beef, was fine, but the bread-to-meat ratio was a little off. The meat was juicy, but not very flavorful and it hardly mattered with two overwhelming bread puffs in the way. If you want meat, get the hangar steak (and have the inevitable leftovers for lunch tomorrow), which comes with shrimp mashed potatoes (potatoes with shrimp hunks, just like how it sounds), steamed broccoli, and a very satisfying Malbec sauce.
The garlic shrimp with cheese grits ($16) is one of those decadent dishes you can maybe only justify if you went to the gym that morning. Or promise to tomorrow. The havarti cheese is stretchy, in the way the best mac and cheese is, the shrimp are huge, and the collard green stew needs to be there for some fatty overload palate cleanser moments.
Now, you would think this place would do chicken right, but they went a little berserk with accessories. The pumpkin seed and mint pesto stuffed chicken breast ($19) comes with succotash and butternut squash puree. All of these elements are lovely alone, but together, it's a silly pile of food.
There's that rule about not ordering chicken at a restaurant (how boooring of you), but there's that other rule about using it as a benchmark for kitchen talent. In this case, Watty and Meg was too ambitious and if you want to get all deep with analysis, it said a lot about the restaurant in general.
The fruit cobbler with vanilla ice cream ($8) was a little sweet, but definitely not bad. Luckily, few have screwed up butter, brown sugar, and fruit.
There's no question that Watty and Meg is a welcome addition to the BoCoCa neighborhood (er, Boerum Hill-Cobble Hill-Carroll Gardens). But it's a little pricey for what it is, and to achieve the same vibe with slightly better food, you should really be at Frankies 457 down the street or No.7 in Fort Greene. But, hey if you're walking by and seduced by the sidewalk seating and bartenders in sophisticated-looking ties, go for it. You'll leave pretty full and happy, just not blown away.
Also, hit up the ATM first—for now, it's cash only.