688 Franklin Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11238 (at Park Place; map); 347-318-3643; mayfieldbk.com
Service: Friendly, likable, open
Setting: Spacious, narrow, softly lit
Must-Haves: Fried clams, fried quail, spoonbread on its own if you don't get the fried quail
Cost: Apps under $15, entrees under $22
Grade: Highly recommended for the neighborhood
As we put on our jackets to walk to Mayfield in Crown Heights a few Sundays ago, my dining companion asked me: "Should we call ahead and make sure they're still serving? It's almost 10 p.m." We did; they were.
It wasn't the sleepy Sunday, last guests lingering that I'd expected. Instead, a lively dining room, a crowded bar, a sense of energy. We wound down our meal with bourbon and then Fernet, paid the check with no hurry, and left with a good dozen people still eating. Midnight. Sunday.
Having visited Mayfield only three times I can't say whether that's a pattern, but if my experiences have been any indication, this is a neighborhood spot that's filling a void. It's as successful a bar as a restaurant, gathering place as eatery, with a menu I'd eat from any day of the week.
Opened back in October by Lev Gewirtzman and Jacques Belanger (both of Ouest, both chefs, though Belanger is all front-of-house here), Mayfield brings something new to this increasingly coffee shop– and eatery–crowded stretch of Franklin Avenue.
Such restaurants fall somewhere in the general progression of gentrification, Brooklyn-style, when a capital-R, social-media-ed, you-know-the-rest Restaurant lands to anchor what's likely to be a restaurant row. How do these things go? Neighborhoods evolving along with their new residents—perhaps first there's a coffee shop (or bakery, or deli) with better-than-average coffee; then a grocery store with a good produce section. A little wine shop, or a better beer selection at Key Foods. New sandwich shops. Comfortable cafés. And finally, a full-fledged, sit-down, wine-listed, craft-cocktailed, night-out-for-dinner restaurant. Mayfield is the last of those. (The artisan mayonnaise shop is somewhere further down the line.)
That's not to suggest a value judgement about what a neighborhood "should" be, or who and whose institutions "belong"; all I can say is, there's a crowd that's already received Mayfield enthusiastically. "We're the only bougie restaurant here," said our server one night. "I think there was a neighborhood need."
Chef Gewirtzman's menu includes many takes on American classics, almost all of which are executed beautifully. House-Corned Beef Tongue ($10) smells like a Reuben when it hits the table, in the best possible way: warm griddled rye bread; tender petals of beef tongue corned in-house; a pile of sharp sauerkraut. Fried Clam Bellies ($13) sport an aggressively crunchy shell, plump and crisply fried, soaked in buttermilk before they're dredged and flour and Old Bay. They're essentially American pleasures both. Other dishes reflect the greens-loving Brooklyn of our time, like a plate of Roasted Brussels Sprouts ($10) with cubes of prosciutto, turnips, and pickled mustard, the sheep's milk cheese Dante grated on top. (At my first Mayfield meal, we had to order a second plate.)
Of the mains, there's plenty to love about the Berkshire Pork Chop Saltimbocca ($22), wrapped in proscuitto and sage and pan-seared. Its accompaniments almost steal the show: A bed of farro cooked in mushroom stock with caramelized onions and brussels sprout leaves; grilled radicchio with a balsamic reduction. Sides dominate, too, in the buttermilk fried quail ($20), crunchy and well-seasoned on its own but made a complete pleasure once paired with supple, jiggly-middled corn spoonbread and bacon-laden collards. And if you'd like to linger a bit longer, an apple upside down cake, a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream to top, is worth an order too.
At some point, I realized that I was eating pickled honshimeji while the couple next to me were throwing back beers and "Highway to Hell" played through the speakers. My kind of meal. Plenty of Brooklyn restaurants these days will bill themselves as neighborhood spots—knowing they have an audience within walking distance, knowing they'll pay for good food—but, frankly, don't treat customers with neighborly goodwill. At Mayfield, I saw servers seat two members of a party of three, without making them wait for their tardy guest (!). I saw servers linger with diners, chatting about college basketball (playing on a muted screen overhead) or opining on after-dinner amari. It's easy to welcome a restaurant that wants to welcome you back.