I tend to explore restaurants that I've never been to in this column, or places I've only visited once or twice. It's not usually a forum for me to rave about my favorite after-work bar, partly because my favorite after-work bar doesn't usually serve great food. Not so with Toby's Public House.
I first fell in love with Toby's at its original location in Brooklyn's South Slope, where they serve serious pizza, great salads, and a fine selection of beers ranging from $4 pints of Toby's Cheap Beer to craft offerings. Bam's beef jerky and the kitchen's dessert calzone didn't hurt either. More than anything, though, I appreciate a low key bar with a friendly staff, and Toby's definitely falls in that category. That they serve a pizza I love is simply a major bonus for a serious eater.
So to my mind it's hands down the best place to grab a drink in the Little Italy/Chinatown neighborhood that the Serious Eats office is located in, a rare blind spot in a city where I generally find it easy to locate a good place to grab a drink. And that's generally the main reason I end up at Toby's. Of course, it doesn't hurt that there's really good food there if I'm feeling peckish. We've written about the pizza before (and I like it quite a bit more than Kenji did), but I stopped in this week to try some of their non-pizza dishes to see how they stack up, and what the best options might be to round out your meal of pizza and beer.
The menu at Toby's is broken up into pizza, salads, fried dishes, and oven-roasted plates, and though everyone in the place seems to be eating pizza, there's a surprisingly robust selection to choose from. We started with a Caesar Salad ($9), which at Toby's is the pleasantly funky kind, not afraid to use enough anchovies and parmesan chese. Wedges of pizza crust fill in for the usual croutons quite nicely. And at nine bucks, it's a best buy on the menu.
Watermelon Salad ($10) takes the watermelon and salty fresh cheese template--ricotta salata in this case—and throws scallions, black olives and fennel into the mix. It was delicious and refreshing, even if it served as a reminder that summer is long gone.
The plate of fried Calamari and Zucchini ($13) is simple and well executed. The paper thin slices of zucchini get crispy in a few spots and worked to make me feel like I was eating a serving of vegetables. I wasn't, of course, but that's not the point. The point is that this plate of fried calamari is perfectly cooked and well seasoned with a light, crispy batter. It's not the bland, rubbery mess that fried calamari too often ends up as. The warmly spiced marinara sauce for dipping is good, although the tangy yogurt cucumber sauce steals the show in the dip department.
My hands-down favorite pizza at Toby's features black garlic, that funky, fermented cousin of fresh garlic, so I gravitated to the restaurant's Manicotti ($12), which is made with a black garlic vodka sauce. While the black garlic added a bit of tang, I wished its slight funk was more present in the dish. Besides that slight drawback, this was a fine version the filling, cheese-stuffed pasta. Too often a mushy mess, here the pasta was cooked perfectly al dente, a nice contrast to the soft fresh ricotta.
Keep an eye out for special menu items as well, like the Shrimp and Smoked Pancetta with White Beans ($12), a bed of rosemary-scented white beans topped with three jumbo shrimp wrapped in smoked pancetta (or as I like to call it, bacon). If the watermelon salad made me miss Summer, this dish from Toby's wood fired oven made me excited for the warm, hearty fare I'm excited to enjoy this season.
Would I make a habit of going to Toby's and ordering these small plates instead of pizza? No, of course not. Toby's is one of my favorite places to eat pizza in the city. But if you're not in the mood for pizza, or if you're just looking to round out your pizza dinner with a little vegetable matter (or fried calamari), it's worth taking a look at the non-pizza parts of Toby's menu.