Dinner at the Brooklyn Sandwich Society: Small Plates Full of Surprises
For three years, Chef Andres Valbuena and Melissa Gorman ran a supper club in Bed Stuy, inviting guests into their apartment for intimate five course meals. As they opened their first official restaurant in Fort Greene, it was a priority that guests experience a similar feeling of hospitality: "they're not walking into a restaurant, but walking into a home." The Brooklyn Sandwich Society succeeds at being casual and unpretentious, though that's not to say that their food is unambitious.
Brooklyn Sandwich Society describes itself as a seasonal sandwich restaurant, and during lunch, that's absolutely what it is. Their full slate of sandwiches are available during the day and features two vegetarian, two fish-based, and two meat-based options. At night though, the menu offers a more traditional selection of seasonally driven small plates and entrées, and reduces its sandwich selection to just one "nightly sandwich."
Chef Valbuena has years of experience in high end restaurants and has put together a local and seasonal menu that aims to impress more than comfort. The dishes are replete with interesting ingredients (rohan duck, beef tongue) and some unconventional pairings (scallops and raisin purée, perhaps?), but nothing that seems unapproachable.
The bitterness of the watercress salad ($9) is nicely cut by sweet dried figs and strips of meyer lemon zest, and there's a rich and tangy yogurt vinaigrette for balance. But that balance best came at the bottom of the plate, where the undressed greens mixed with dressing only by prodding of my fork.
Those same strips of meyer lemon zest do wonders to brighten the smoked ricotta gnocchi ($16). The fluffy pillows of cheese have a pan-seared crust that crumbles in your mouth, revealing a soft creamy filling akin to a smokey bechamel. The dumplings are so delicate they barely hold their shapes.
Wild mussels ($12) with pea tendrils are very well cooked and served with a briny garlic broth, though the accompanying batard is just a tad too oily to soak up that delicious broth. But no complaints about the side of sunchokes ($9), which are skin on and roughly cut, then roasted and served in a cast iron skillet. The varying sizes leave some bites creamy and others with a slight crunch. The only topping is a sprinkle of sel gris and a touch—though barely perceptible—of tarragon.
And what about the sandwiches? A recent Tuesday night's offering was
The Grand ($14), tender rings and tentacles of squid pan fried with bok choy in a hot and sour sauce, then served on a ciabatta roll. Everything on its own is delicious: the squid is perfectly cooked, the hot and sour sauce (lightly sweetened and heavy on fish sauce) is a tasty spread for the griddled ciabatta...but it just doesn't work as a sandwich. It's difficult to hold and fillings fall out, the whole less than the sum of its parts.
The food at the Brooklyn Sandwich Society isn't always perfect, but it's very often delicious and absolutely affordable. (For dinner. Lunch sandwich prices are in the double digits.) The service is friendly, and come spring, there'll be an outdoor dining area to enjoy. Perhaps it's best to enter with casual expectations, the way you would when entering someone's home, and let the surprises come as they may.