In The Midnight Hour: Walter Foods
Open Until: 1:00 am, Sun-Thu; 2:00 am, Fri-Sat
Drinking Until: close, 7 days
Food Until: close, 7 days
On Grand Street's restaurant row in Williamsburg, Walter Foods has the dimly-lit charm of a speakeasy. And though it's a damned fine place to get a nightcap, it's the gentlemanly grub that warrants a twilight visit. Done up in dark woods and peppered with painstakingly curated knickknacks like toy sailboats and old photos of butchers, the restaurant is made to look like a surf and turf Brooklyn chophouse of yore, a design that filled a niche for the area when it opened three years ago. Attention to detail follows through to their cheeky logo—a bull's head sewn onto a fish's body; it looks like an illustrated version of one of Dr. Moreau's abominations ("Meat Fish just want to be loved!")
Near closing time, the dining room was filled with a mix of two-tops and larger groups occupying the green leather banquettes that line the walls. Several regulars presided over the bar, engaged in a deep discussion on fiscal responsibility with the bartender. "I have more money than you could ever imagine," said one patron, who then admitted, "I'm really drunk." (Way to wear your trust fund on your sleeve tattoo, bro.)
Cocktails ($11) are strong, in alcohol content and the skill with which they're crafted, and the list to choose from highlights classics as well as contemporary riffs from bartender and co-owner Danny Minch. I'd been on a Hemingway Daiquiri kick thanks to http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2007/08/cocktail_hemingway_daiquiri.html from SE-contributor Paul Clarke, and Walter Foods' version passed the test: tart and floral, with a dark-red maraschino cherry nestled into the bottom of the glass. Drinks are divided by spirit into gin, whiskey, tequila and rum. For a twist on a classic, the Bitter Margarita is a great and simple deviation. Switching out Triple Sec for Campari, the aperitif's bitterness lends a decidedly sophisticated air to a drink beloved by spring breakers the world over.
The menu skews American comfort, with a dip into Mediterranean territory. The restaurant takes pride in its raw bar, so an affordable order of clams ($2/ea.) felt like a nice way to start things off. The shucked bi-valves come accompanied with half a lemon, traditional cocktail sauce and a properly tangy mignonette. Briny and bright, they're slurped down easily.
From the starters, crispy green beans ($8) almost sounded healthy, but what arrived was a mountain of obscenely-battered legumes intended for a thinnish honey mustard. What we'd hoped would be a snack-worthy appetizer turned out to be a leaden gut bomb. The honey mustard did its best to cut through the richness of fried batter, but ultimately the coated beans won that battle, dashing any hopes for tasting a flavor other than "fried".
With the majority of entrees falling under the $20-mark, it's possible to have a filling late-night meal here without taxing your wallet too much (it's still gentrified Williamsburg, after all). Though there's better fried chicken ($16) to be had at nearby Pies 'n' Thighs, the crisp if not completely adhesive exterior on this bird is satisfyingly crunchy, and the accompanying smothered mashed potatoes silken. A side of chipotle-honey adds a sweet kick that wakes up the heavy dish.
Vegetarian lasagna ($16) is a throwaway dish at many places, a half-assed attempt at satiating the produce-loving masses, but here, the thick, wide noodles are pliant beneath a thick cap of melted mozzarella. Mushrooms and ricotta add body, but the real star ingredient is Swiss chard; dotted through the dish in bittersweet tangles, it adds a lovely counterpoint to plate's heavier elements.
Dessert at Walter Foods is limited to four choices, and the crock of chocolate banana bread pudding ($7) was petite, but rich enough to compensate for its size. Fresh chunks of banana and creme anglaise moistened what could have been a dry affair. After a hazy night out, this is the kind of highbrow/lowbrow food that's perfect for soaking up the evening's poor judgment.
253 Grand Street, Brooklyn NY 11211 (map)
About the author: Zachary Feldman is a former debutante and current freelance writer. He makes hand-crafted, small batch bitters under the moniker Bitters, Old Men.