"I was on a date here last week," said the lady at the table next to ours at Alice's Arbor. We'll summarize for you: the date went well! Perhaps the couple simply had chemistry, but we think this seasonal American restaurant/grocery/cafe on the border of Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy played a big part. After all, it's a date-tastic place.
Nestled along a banquet of wood that once supported a barn in Pennsylvania, beneath a skylight, we started with the mixed pickles ($5). The brine was more sweet than sour or salty, more of the candy aisle than of the sea. Although we chose not to imbibe that night, the handful of string beans, carrots, and cucumbers would have been fine with a bottle of one of the craft beers available. Pre- or post-pickle, we might also have tried one of their cocktails like the Brooklyn Fizz, which combines Prosecco with gin, lime juice, cinnamon syrup, and grapefruit bitters. There's wine too.
The crab cakes ($11) looked like something found in Jim Henson's workshop. Inside blond nests were brown eggs. However, these were not wee Muppets, but crab cakes covered in kataifi, the very thin, shredded phyllo dough more commonly found adorning Middle Eastern pastry. Each cracked to reveal incredibly moist, green-flecked with citrus zest, not very terribly crabby insides. Sometimes when we get home from the movies, we take off our coats and discover several kernels of popcorn, stowaways in our sleeves or hair. So it was with the kataifi, which made the dish difficult to eat yet did nothing that the fried layer couldn't do.
Our trio of tartines ($13) were served on mammoth slices of brown bread, a variation on bruschetta and a good example of the restaurant's devotion to fresh produce. They were, in order of best to bestest, tomato goat cheese tapenade, kale and feta, and white bean purée with asparagus and parmesan. The white bean purée tasted like mashed potatoes and might be one of the most simultaneously low-key and indulgent foods we can imagine. We're thinking of making our own version come Thanksgiving.
Alice's Arbor specializes in farm-to-table, with an emphasis on local farms and tables made from recycled wood. Much like wood that had once been, say, a door had become a table or part of the bar, the food went in for some fiddling and remaking, as if simple preparations might be too, well, simple. The crab cakes had edible hair, the tartines were finger foods for giants, and the hanger steak ($19) offered a Southwest spin on steak frites. Adding to that effect were a biting tomatillo-pepper salsa and "cowboy fries," potato nubbins covered in paprika and cayenne.
To reinforce its homeyness, Alice's Arbor has twigs pile up in a corner, while glass orbs of light dance across the bar. A large branch forms the handle of the women's bathroom. The menu appears on a great chalkboard along an entire wall. A small grocery upfront sells Brooklyn-made goods like jellies and cookies. Above all hangs Alice, a pink patchwork bull's head, bestowing its blessing on anyone who stops in for a sandwich (at lunch), a ham and cheese omelet (at breakfast or brunch), a glass of wine and some oysters (during happy hour), or a new American entree (at dinner). With its lovingly worn aesthetic and locavore cred, it's best for: a Brooklyn date.