Parish Hall opened last year, the sister restaurant to brunch-all-the-time Williamsburg mainstay Egg. Like that establishment, Parish Hall is singularly focused, almost obsessively so, with fresh, seasonal ingredients obtained as locally as possible. As Parish Hall's menu is full of snacks, small plates, and salads, I stopped by to see how a diner would fare bypassing the entrées and sticking to a meal of smaller bites.
Bread and Butters ($6) seems silly at first; I for one was deeply incredulous about the concept of a butter tasting flight. Ronnybrook butter from the popular upstate farm is clean and fresh tasting, while the country ham-infused butter is deep yellow, smoky and rich with a porkiness you could easily pick out of a lineup. My favorite ended up being the slightly tangy, funky goat milk butter, though opinions varied across the table. Parish Hall effectively turns the bread basket into an interactive experience, forcing you to pay more attention to the butter you might otherwise mindlessly apply to bread before the meal starts.
For those who can't decide among the small plates on the menu, a few are helpfully combined to create the Sample Plate ($12), another fun series of bites at a reasonable price. The contents vary from day to day, but expect charcuterie selections, pickled veggies, and dressed eggs.
We received a small pile of tender, slightly gamey lamb prosciutto and a piece of toast slathered with rich, earthy duck liver mousse garnished with diced apple and thinly sliced celery. Chunks of pickled beet and kohlrabi brightened things further. Dressed eggs (which as far as I can tell is Williamsburgese for deviled eggs) are seasoned with plenty of herbs and topped with a dainty beet chip that adds crunch. This plate didn't really have a clunker on it. But note the portion size: what you see is portioned for two; larger groups may have trouble splitting it further.
The hits kept coming with two plates of toasts: one topped with smoked trout ($7) and one with sautéed mushrooms ($7, a special menu item). The smoked trout was dense and sweet, and yes, smoky, with a touch of citrus mayo and a few errant leaves of tender sharp arugula. The trout's the thing here, and it's honored by being paired with ingredients that let it shine and thick, crusty bread.
The mushroom toast was more of a hodgepodge: sautéed mushrooms combined with Brussels sprout leaves and topped with shaved cured egg yolk, which acts as a creamy answer to parmesan cheese and makes the dish significantly more striking.
A carrot salad ($13) featured both roasted and raw shaved baby carrots from Brooklyn Grange, faro, mixed baby greens, creme fraiche, and a carrot vinaigrette. The double-carrot approach gave both a deep sweetness and a nice fresh flavor, but ultimately there wasn't enough here to make for a great dish. Meanwhile, the warm brassica salad ($12) of Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi cabbage, and potatoes finished off with an egg yolk and sunchoke vinaigrette, was a good bit more flavorful and way nicer to look at, but much less substantial. Both salads were nice reminders that eating locally in the winter doesn't have to be boring, but neither was a must-order.
It's better to go with a plate of fried broccoli ($7), cooked along with crispy jowl bacon and tossed with pickled mustard seeds. It'd be hard, and mighty disappointing, to mess this dish up, but it still exceeded my expectations. An especially nice touch is the leaves on the florets, left to crisp up in the fryer like a crunchy broccoli chip.
In many ways Parish Hall epitomizes what one pictures when thinking about dining in Williamsburg: the food can be dainty, bordering on twee, and the kitchen's obsession with local ingredients seems to invite mockery. But of that dainty food I tried, all of it was delicious, inventive, and not particularly expensive. Four of us spent $64 before tax and tip, and we were treated to friendly and professional service from staff that didn't shove the locavorism down our throats.
I can't speak to the entrées on the menu, but of the small plates I can say that despite the cliché potential, Parish Hall delivers on its promises.
About the author: Ben Fishner is Serious Eats' advertising operations administrator, and he is currently planning his next meal. In addition to writing for Serious Eats, he blogs at Ben Cooks Everything. Follow him on Twitter or Tumblr, won't you?