The Brooklyn Star
593 Lorimer Street, Brooklyn NY 11211 (at Conselyea; map); 718-599-9899; thebrooklynstar.com
Service: Attentive and efficient
Setting: Spacious and adult
Must-Haves: Cornbread, Brussels sprouts, country-fried steak
Cost: Easy to leave stuffed for $30/head or less
Opened in May of 2009 in a Williamsburg former pizzeria, Joaquin Baca's The Brooklyn Star really hit its stride a few months later; it had just enough time to win over dinner crowds, launch a formidable brunch, and score a few rave reviews—before a fire shuttered the restaurant last February.
But from this tragic setback came welcome new developments. The first Brooklyn Star's location, which made heavy use of a century-old brick oven, was reborn as the excellent Best Pizza, where that oven is putting out pies good enough to earn Adam Kuban's assurance that the place really does live up to its name. And, a few blocks away on Lorimer Street, Baca has reopened Brooklyn Star in a dramatically larger space with a full bar up front; beer, wine, and cocktails; and a dining room spacious enough that patrons aren't constantly warmed by the heat of that brick oven.
All the greatest hits of the former Star still grace the menu—fried pig tails, Dr. Pepper ribs, meatloaf sandwich—with newer offerings alongside. Our question: Would they impress us as much as they did when the Brooklyn Star first opened?
Brooklyn Star is still working out a cocktail menu, but the drinks they served us were quite good. A Sweet Tea Sour ($8) is a tart and refreshing play on a whiskey sour, while the Dr. Pepper Cocktail ($8) uses a flavored syrup mixed with Gilbey's Gin. It brings out all the interesting characteristics of the soft drink without tasting like it's made for kids. The drink program (beers on tap and by the bottle, a wine list, a full bar) coupled with the attractive, spacious bar area up front makes this Brooklyn Star an excellent place for a drink and a few bites—something that couldn't have been said of the old location.
Start your meal with the Star's breads—none complimentary, but all worth what you're charged. The Buttermilk Biscuits ($4) are plenty buttery with delicious craggy edges, easy to break off and douse in honey straight from the bear; though they're not of the flaky camp (in fact, we remembered the Star's biscuits once being much flakier) they're still light and appealing and worth an order. The Texas Toast ($4) is soft and stretchy inside, golden-brown burnished with garlic butter on the outside, and thoroughly enjoyable, if not memorable. But if you only order one, make it the Corn Bread with jalapeños and bacon ($4.50): baked to order, it's soft and corny and almost puddinglike but with crisp, golden-brown edges.
Far and away the best of the appetizers was the Fried Brussels Sprouts ($9)—the sort of lick-the-bowl dish that disappears immediately, the kind where you order a second bowl while you're still chewing your last mouthful of the first. The outside leaves are brown and crunchy but the whole lot is doused in a sweet-sultry ham apple broth and topped with a pickled vegetable medley whose vinegariness permeates every sprout. It's hard to find a New York restaurant without Brussels sprouts on the menu these days, but Brooklyn Star's are some of the more interesting and irresistible we've come across of late. And the Half Rack Dr. Pepper Ribs ($18) are as tasty as ever, fatty and meaty and sweet.
Also memorable was the Tripe Chili ($9, pictured at top). Though there's no real chili heat, it's still plenty flavorful from a good hit of traditional chili seasonings. The tripe is well-cooked, with none of the funky odor that poorly washed or undercooked tripe can have. If you dislike tripe because of a bad experience in the past, here's a good dish to convince you that tripe doesn't always taste "tripey." And it's accompanied by a bag of Fritos (that, the menu quips, are "sourced from Plano, Texas")—this is food that's not afraid to be low-brow, when low-brow is delicious.
Fried Pig Tails ($11) are about as, well, fried as pieces of meat could be—thin tender, juicy shards of meat hiding under a chewy-crisp crust. Even those skeptical about non-conventional pig parts should feel comfortable with these; the funkily segmented bones and gelatinous layer underneath may seem a bit alien at first, but the taste is all pig. They come with jalapeño-onion hush puppies, appealingly brown-crusted with soft corny innards. We preferred this dish to the Spicy Fried Chicken Wings ($12)—their skin not quite crisp, their sauce not quite spicy, the garnish of pickled carrot too tame to contribute much.
So often in New York restaurants, you'll find creative, appealing starters that eclipse the mains; at Brooklyn Star, if anything, it's the opposite. Every entrée we had, we'd recommend enthusiastically.
Country Fried Steak ($15) just sounds delicious, and not only in name: it crunches when you knife through it, crunches when you spear a piece with a fork, crunches under first bite. That crust absolutely makes the steak—it's everything good about fried food in a bite. The thin strip of meat underneath stays tender and juicy, but it's all about the crunch and gravy. Hard to believe that the modest Roast Chicken ($19) could compare, but it's every bit as good, with the amazingly crisp skin and moist meat that every chicken tries to achieve. Where the sides at Brooklyn Star aren't creamy, they're porky; the rice is studded with bits of country ham and apple and flecked with kale. (It should go without saying that this is a good thing.)
You'd be well-served, too, with the Bacon Wrapped Trout ($21)—its white flesh light and moist and not at all muddy, joining cooked-down braised leeks and indecently creamy Anson Mills grits on the plate. It's perhaps the only entree a moderately hungry eater could polish off alone. The Braised Pork Shank ($28), while listed for two, was a positively Flinstonian portion of fatty, tender, fall-off-the-bone meat that, over a bed of tasty black-eyed peas and vegetables, could have served four.
Two people could easily share Brussels sprouts and that pork shank and leave, delighted and sated, for twenty dollars each. That's really an impression you're left with as you leave Brooklyn Star: one of value. A sophisticated, adult restaurant that's still approachably casual—with soul-satisfying, everywhere tasty, and occasionally memorably delicious fare—that won't set you back too many dollars? Such places are hard to find.
It's natural to compare Brooklyn Star with its former self; in truth, it struck us as a bit less gutsy this time around. It's hard to tell if that's our own shifting perceptions or something that's changed on the kitchen's part. Perhaps it's the difference between opening a restaurant in 2011 and opening one in 2009; at what point are we silly for becoming inured to tripe chili and Dr. Pepper ribs? Maybe it's just that, in the intervening two years, enough restaurants have opened serving pig tails and vaguely Southern fare that Brooklyn Star doesn't seem quite as original as it did before.
Either way, the Brooklyn Star is more than recommendable; even if it feels a bit less like a discovery than it did when we first visited, it's become a mature, good-looking, and solidly delicious restaurant. And for Williamsburg eaters, that's a good thing indeed.