Brooklyn Star Brunch: The South Has Risen Again in Williamsburg
"Probably the best biscuits in newly biscuit-crazed New York City."
33 Havemeyer Street, Brooklyn NY 11211 (map); 718-599-9899; thebrooklynstar.com
Service: Informal, friendly, genuinely helpful
Setting: Tiny, minimally adorned dining room.
Must Haves: Buttermilk biscuits, cinnamon buns, ham steak, shrimp and grits, pork chop
Brooklyn Star chef-owner Joaquin Baca and I have a history I'm not particularly proud of. When he was partners with David Chang at Momofuku Noodle Bar, I raved about their chicken soup in the New York Times in 2006. There was only one problem. I spelled his name wrong in the piece (Vaca instead of Baca), which must have really hurt because it was the first time Baca was mentioned in the media. The paper published a correction, but the damage had already been done.
Carey Jones was not even aware of this sordid piece of food-media history when she raved about Brooklyn Star's dinner menu. So when the Serious Eaters descended on Baca's restaurant to check out his brunch menu, I found myself face to face with a man not named Vaca, and his wood-burning oven.
Baca grew up in Texas, so Brooklyn Star's Southern slant can't be considered a surprise. As for the wood-burning oven, it was left behind by the pizzeria that previously occupied the space. Southern cooking utilizing a wood-burning oven? As Baca himself points out: "My family is cattle ranchers in south Texas, and they cook everything in these big wood grills. They'll cook all the shit on them. It's not just bread and pizza."
This turns out to be a good thing. A very good thing, in fact.
Moist, light, corn-studded bacon and jalapeño corn bread ($4.50) comes in a small skillet straight from the aforementioned oven. The jalapeño and bacon, which could have overwhelmed everything else, are used sparingly but effectively. I know I've never used sparingly, effectively, and bacon in the same sentence, but there's a first time for everything.
The buttermilk biscuits ($4) are probably the best biscuits in newly biscuit-crazed New York City. Serious New York eaters like me tend to romanticize the biscuits we find ourselves eating here, so we overstate their deliciousness, but these biscuits are the real deal—flaky, moist, light, and just about perfect.
The cinnamon bun ($4), moist, cinammony, and not too sweet, also comes straight from the wood-burning oven in a small cast iron pan. I tend to be very forgiving about any baked goods served piping hot, but I didn't have to be in a forgiving mood to appreciate these cinnamon buns. They're more yeasty than gooey, and that's a trade-off well worth making when it comes to cinnamon buns. As they cool they do lose some of their serious deliciousness, but what cinnamon buns don't?
Doughnuts ($6 for three) are deftly fried and flawlessly executed, but they were missing some kind of doughnut magic. I did like the Concord grape filling in the jelly doughnut, but it could have used more filling and less doughnut.
Biscuits and Sausage Gravy with Scrambled Cheesy Eggs ($9) are extremely satisfying, but the cheddar cheese isn't really necessary. (How many times have you heard me say that?)
Farm Yogurt, Fruit, and Granola ($7) is a must-have, and not because the yogurt is tart, the granola is good and crunchy, the apple slices are prettily fanned atop the yogurt, and the grapefruit is sweet-tart and juicy. No, it's necessary as an antidote to all the other rich and filling food that will be on your table.
Ham Steak, Mashed Potatoes, Red Eye Gravy, and Two Fried Eggs ($11) is like the blue plate special of my dreams. The ham steak is thick and juicy, the sunny-side up eggs are cooked perfectly, the red eye gravy has bacon in it as a flavor booster, and the peppery mashed potatoes are really fine.
Fried Pork Chop, Fried Eggs, and White Grits ($11)—this is a phenomenal East-meets-South preparation. The juicy panko-crusted pork chop is greaselesly fried, crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside. How good is this pork chop? It's the first time I can ever remember Robyn Lee hogging a plate of food in my presence. (That's a pun.)
Griddle Cakes with Honey and Thick-Cut Bacon ($9): The griddle cakes were light and crisp on the outside, moist on the inside, and if they're not the pancakes of my dreams, they are still pretty damn fine.
Baca's entry in the New York Fried Chicken sweepstakes comes with a seriously delicious potato pancake and maple butter ($11). The chicken pieces themselves have crackling skin on the outside and juicy chicken on the inside, but the breast meat is slightly dry and I did find little pockets of flour in the cracks between the skin and the meat. But overall this is yummy fried chicken.
Shrimp and Grits with Bacon and Fried Eggs ($11) is a fabulous bowl of food. It tastes amazingly shrimpy from shrimp stock, the shrimp aren't overcooked, the creamy Anson Mills grits are oh-so-buttery, and the bacon is crisp and not stiff in the slightest. In short, it's everything you could ask for in a plate of breakfast food, and a worthy entrant in the shrimp-and-grits craze sweeping New York's hipster restaurants.
And the Hot Meatloaf Sandwich on Country White Bread ($9) is way better than your school cafeteria's.
All right, Joaquin Baca, you win. I loved my brunch at Brooklyn Star, and this time I managed to spell your name right.