Iris Cafe Opens for Dinner: A Charmer in Need of Some Work

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[Photographs: Robyn Lee]

We've been fans of Iris, the cafe and take away/market in Brooklyn Heights, for some time now. Their market space carries a smart selection of produce, fancy chocolate, and pickle-y things that we can get behind; their sandwiches frequently hit our "best of" lists. It's all unpretentious but charming food, the kind of neighborhood place we'd all like to have around the corner.

The cafe started dinner service a few months ago with menu items that fast caught our attention. Cider-braised chicken with crispy skin on top? A savory buckwheat Dutch baby? (We so loved our last one.) Could this be a serious mid-range restaurant for Brooklyn Heights to be proud of?

The ingredients are high quality. The cafe is welcoming, the staff friendly and professional. But at $10-and-up for starters and $20 for entrées, there's some work to be done to make a meal here all it can be.

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Smoked Trout Paté ($10) is pleasantly fishy and creamy enough, but the thin triangles of rye toast they were schmeared on were lacking in both serious toasting and rye intensity. We like our fishy spreads, but for ten bucks need something more on the plate, and some balance beyond crunchy greens.

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Also lacking in whole-grain intensity: a small Savory Buckwheat Dutch Baby ($12) that needs some crisp edges to match the poofy center and filling of apple, cheese, and onion.

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The Roasted Vegetables ($10), sweet and fresh all, came from Iris's garden. The tangy-earthy beet mayo should be bottled and sold at Iris's market and go into every mayo'd sandwich they make. But with a dish this spare, we like more caramelized crust on our veggies. That mayo hints at so much potential, but where's the follow through?

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You'll find it in the Meatloaf ($18), a generous slab of the good stuff joined by mashed carrots and a baby spinach salad. Comfort food to the core, there's insight to keep the meatloaf tender and flavorful but principally beefy, and to leave the sweet carrots unencumbered by excess dairy. It's simple but well-executed plates like this that keep us coming back to Iris.

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There's so much that sounds good about Cider-braised Chicken with kabocha squash, kale, and chicken cracklings strewn on top ($21). But the sultry cider glaze is far more impressive than the chicken itself; it's a far better sauce on the custard-soft kabocha. A plate of reduced cider and chicken drippings over squash, kale, and rice actually sounds pretty great, though not for $21.

We're not abandoning Iris's offerings any time soon, and I'm hopeful their cozy brick-walled cafe becomes the neighborhood centerpiece it has the potential to be. In the meantime, take in the romance without spending the dough, stop in for a drink and a meatloaf to share. Or consider heading over for brunch.

Iris Cafe

20 Columbia Place, Brooklyn NY 11201 (map)
718-722-7395
iriscafenyc.com

About the author: Max Falkowitz is the editor of Serious Eats: New York. You can follow him on Twitter at @maxfalkowitz.

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