Editor's note: In "Apps Only," Ben Fishner will be eating his way through New York's appetizer, bar, and lounge menus as your guide to fine dining on a budget.
The Roebling Tea Room in Williamsburg is a hip, urban dining room with high ceilings, a long bar and a menu of gussied-up American pub food. That menu is not particularly long, but each item on it looks pretty good, especially the appetizers.
We started with two specials. The Rock Shrimp Nachos ($12) were more moderately portioned than any nachos I'd ever seen. Topped with tender shrimp, black beans, and roasted poblanos as well as pickled jalapeno peppers, melted cheese and a dollop of sour cream, they were quite tasty. The homemade chips weren't soggy because of over-topping, and the whole dish was interesting and well-composed in a way that I didn't expect.
We also tried the Pretzels and Pickles ($10), a bowl of five pretzel balls accompanied by a plate of pickled cabbage, pickled egg and mustard. The pretzels themselves were hard on the outside and soft and puffy on the inside, improved by the house made mustard. The pickled egg was an interesting surprise with its perfectly soft yolk, and the cabbage was tart and tangy. Both pickled items were delicious, and they certainly added value to the dish, but they seemed slapped onto the pretzels, rather than a logical addition—all these really needed was the mustard.
We also shared an order of the Cooked Greens ($5), which in this case was kale cooked so that it was still tender and tossed in a vinegary dressing. Simple and perfectly seasoned, the heaping portion was a good value and a nice dose of green vegetable in what was otherwise a heavy meal.
Next up was the Steak Tartar appetizer ($10, pictured at top), raw steak topped with a drizzle of mayonnaise, lemon juice, capers and fried chickpeas. The meat was delicious, tender and flavorful, but it was the crunchy chickpeas that were the most memorable part of this dish. A really solid presentation.
Finally, we had the Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon ($11), splurging on the additional dollar for the optional bacon. Full disclosure: this dish is an entree, but it is built for sharing. In fact, if you attempt an apps only meal at the Roebling Tea Room, I would insist you split an order of this, probably my favorite Mac n' Cheese specimens in the city. Roebling uses the ear-shaped orecchiette, which perfectly catches the cheese mixture—one that's cheesy, not bland and creamy like some other contenders. The bacon, while certainly not essential, is a welcome addition and does not overpower the cheesiness of the dish, which comes from a blend of cheddar and Fontina, among others.
All in all, the Roebling Tea Room has a menu well suited for the apps only method. There were three of us, and we ate for $48 total—but if you're dining solo, the long bar makes the Tea Room well suited for a drink and snack.