687 6th Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11215 (b/n 19th and 20th Streets; map); 718-499-5623; lot2restaurant.com
Service: Friendly and prompt
Setting: Dimly lit, cozy Brooklyn restaurant
Must-Haves: Menu rotates; we loved the burger, olive oil bread, ribs
Cost: Apps around $10, entrees $20s
The notion that New York is one of the best restaurant cities in the country could mean a lot of things. Could mean the quality of its highest-end restaurants, the constellations of Michelin and New York Times stars—the Riperts and Bouluds and Kellers of the city. Could mean the incredible diversity of immigrant neighborhoods, the ability to walk down a street and eat momos next to ceviche next to falafel next to egg custard tarts.
But one of the most exciting things, as I see it, is the unbelievable number of very good restaurants—where dishes are inventive and well-prepared, service is friendly and practiced, where you know you'll get an excellent meal and enjoy yourself besides. Spots that, in many mid-sized cities, would be the best restaurant in town. There are so many in New York that it's easy for great neighborhood places to fly under the radar. And that's how I feel about Lot 2 in Brooklyn's South Slope—a restaurant that over-delivers on what might seem like modest ambitions.
We first discovered Lot 2 awhile back when we fell in love with its burger, which New York editor Max Falkowitz calls "an eight-ounce monster of alarming beefiness," and which we showcased in a burger month feature. But I found myself curious about the rest of what chef Danny Rojo could do. We were surprised that a little-talked-about South Slope restaurant was serving such an impressive burger. It got us wondering: what else were they doing well on that menu?
Said menu changes often, with the whims of the chef and the market, so the dishes below—with the exception of that burger—might not be what you'll find on a visit. But, given that we sampled nearly the entire appetizer, entree, and dessert lineup one recent Saturday and found no weak links, we'd recommend this cozy Brooklyn restaurant wholeheartedly.
If I could come back and eat the olive oil fried bread ($9) for lunch every day, I would. Chef Rojo told us this dish was the work of sous-chef Katherine Youngblood; she fries a slice of Balthazar pain au levain in what must be a generous amount of olive oil until a uniform golden-brown and nicely crisped around the edges—when you bite in, it's mouth-coatingly olive-oily in a way that doesn't feel greasy, but just makes you appreciate how good that oil is. It's topped with small bits of roasted zucchini as well as the vibrant blossoms, which are gently salted, lemoned, and olive-oiled, with Parmesan as a final accent. It manages to be hearty in the way of a good sandwich though its flavors are nothing but bright and clean.
A yellowfin tuna and anchovy dip ($9) is similarly indulgent but not heavy. The dip starts with an olive oil–confited tuna, which is then blended with anchovies and egg yolks—"we essentially make a thick mayonnaise using the oil we cooked the tuna in," says chef Rojo. It's rich and unabashedly salty, but in a way that just echoes the anchovies; carrots and radishes are a smart pairing here, their fresh crunch balancing the intensity of the dip in a way that bread, say, might not.
Both those appetizers seemed particularly suited to a hot summer night, light-feeling but satisfying; but in the entrees, Rojo's not afraid to go bigger. These Hampshire pork ribs ($22) were of a Flinstonian scale that brought gasps when they clunked down on the table. The meat itself, dry-rubbed overnight then "wrapped in foil and cooked at about 300°F for 3-5 hours," had a beautiful crust and truly fork-tender meat. The bacon barbecue sauce could have overwhelmed the flavor of the meat, but was meaty enough itself that it was hard to mind. ("Adapted from a Suzanne Goin recipe, its base is essentially Heinz ketchup and drippings from the pork," Rojo told us.) The hush puppies, golden-brown fried and steamingly moist within, were a worthy counterpart.
After those ribs, a fluke dish ($26) was a bit less exciting, if certainly well-prepared: a fillet of the local fish is given a quick pan-sear, then served over green and yellow wax beans and snow peas ("Allison Plumer, our line cook and long time Greenmarket fixture scored from Maxwell farms"), chocolate mint ("from our friends at Project EATS"), and pistachios; ginger and lime serve as accents. It's a lovely plate of food but not, necessarily, more than the sum of its parts—as opposed to the polenta cake ($17), which as a dish worked beautifully.
You've got to admire an interesting, satisfying vegetarian entrée; here, Rojo takes cooked Cayuga Pure Organics polenta, folds it with charred garlic scapes and both aged white and yellow cheddar, then allows it to set before it's pan-seared at service for a golden crisp. Polenta's least appealing feature, in my opinion, is its homogenous texture, but making it a cake preserves that creamy richness while adding a bit of a crust. It's backed up by sauteéd black kale and a fried egg, with the thinnest of lacy edges and a yolk poised to pop and drip all over. Like the zucchini toast, it's simultaneously seasonally light and rich enough to feel indulgent.
Desserts lean toward the homey side, but who could complain about a flaky-crusted cherry galette ($8), or this brownie ice cream sandwich ($6)—chocolate ice cream (made by pastry chef Jen Shelbo) swirled with Skippy peanut butter and sandwiched between salted peanut brownies. It's "a recipe inspired by the fudge box mix brownies we all grew up loving," says Rojo.
Just novel enough, well-executed, and a little bit sophisticated while still gut-level appealing: that's how the brownie sandwich struck me, and how Lot 2 as a whole did, as well. The slim restaurant looks like many others in Brooklyn, from the interior design to the housemade sodas and rye-based cocktails; and its dinner menu, proudly listing its vegetable sources and polenta pedigree, may as well. But it distinguishes itself in consistent quality and what seems like the endless culinary curiosity of chef Rojo. It may be a neighborhood restaurant, but if it were my neighborhood restaurant? I'd be there all the time.