Worldly Southern and Cheap Burgers at Marietta
285 Grand Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11238 (at Lafayette; map); 718-638-9500 ; bcrestaurantgroup.com/marietta
Setting: A Georgia hotel dining room transported to a Brooklyn townhouse
Service: Earnest and friendly, free of pretense or sass
Compare To: Char No. 4, The Brooklyn Star, Seersucker
Must-Haves: Charcuterie, grits, fried green tomatoes, fried chicken (to share)
Cost: Appetizers $4 to $12, Sandwiches $6 to $7, Mains $12 to $18
Recommendation: Recommended with reservations. A lovely, charming neighborhood restaurant with some perfectible imperfections.
I have to do a double take because this can't be right. $7? What non-fast-food restaurant sells a $7 burger anymore?
But there we have it. A topping of American cheese is free. The option to add a thin, griddled disc of pork cheek terrine costs an extra whopping two bucks. It's not a perfect burger, but it has plenty going for it.
You can get a well-made cocktail here for $9. There's ribeye for under $20. One dinner for four, with drinks for two, tax, and tip, came to $125. There are several young families in the dining room tonight. I can see why—they can afford it.
This is Marietta, the latest Brooklyn-esque Southern restaurant from the people who brought us Peaches, the Smoke Joint, and Little Brother. As with those places, the focus is on new (and not-so-new) takes on Southern classics, with nods to premium ingredients and reasonable pricing. You've heard this story before, but Marietta is one of the few restaurants of its kind where the ingredient-driven cooking actually pays off, and where the prices really are reasonable.
Marietta's no burger and fried chicken joint; just ask the sweet and spicy $10 watermelon and purslane salad with Thai bird chilies and avocado purée. Or look around you at the wood-clad, high-ceilinged dining room straight out of a three star Georgian hotel. You get a more tactile sense of this as you tuck into the charcuterie sampler ($15) with its weightless cloud of duck and chicken liver mousse and more of that crisp-unctuous pork cheek terrine. I found myself digging heavily into the Tennessee brown jam, smoked Duroc pork shoulder whipped with bacon and ham fats, an American take on rillettes that I wish the restaurant sold in to-go jars. They present it all with care—your bread for the charcuterie might take a minute as they butter and toast each slice for you.
You observe this care in the earnest but uncloying service, too, which treats you finer than such a budget-friendly restaurant might suggest. You notice it in the divided dining rooms—a 12-seat bar in one with 20 seats behind for the drinks crowd, and a 34-seat sit-down space with big, bright windows—that keep the restaurant intimate. (Though all those sleek wooden walls and floors wreak havoc with the acoustics once the rooms get full.)
I wish there was the same degree of attention paid to the Memphis Fried Chicken ($13), which is brined in lemon and honey, double dredged, and slightly peppered before frying. It's craggly crisp and improbably moist, but so licked with salt that you'd go parched eating all three pieces by yourself. It's the opposite problem with Long Island Whiting ($12), in which the challenge is finishing your three ample could-be-crisper filets before getting bored. Then there's an obligatory-tasting side of stewy kale and radicchio ($5) that doesn't match up to the best of what the kitchen can deliver. Still, that chicken is well worth ordering—just be prepared to share.
I'd say the same for the burger, which despite its thinness was cooked to a successful medium rare. Like the chicken, it's supercharged on salt. Unlike the chicken, about half of the meat is smoked short rib, which lends buttery, powerfully smoky, nearly porcine flavors to the grind. That's a lot to take in for a $7 burger, perhaps a little more than you may wish to handle, but no one can accuse it of being dull, and with a cold beer or a cool, sweet bourbon Blueberry Hill ($9), it makes a hell of a bar snack. Stick to the burger over the Sausage Sandwich ($6) which features a leathery smoked casing in a big, bland bun. But do get more of those cocktails, like the Storyville ($10), a clean, subtle mix of Ford's gin, apricot nectar, honey, and lemon that is impressively light on sweetness.
These salting issues are not systemic to the kitchen. Knobbly Anson Mills grits ($11) with aged gouda and country ham are ridiculously good—really a loose fondue barely bound with corn. And the fry job on those Fried Green Tomatoes ($8) is damn near perfect, crisp and greaseless on the outside, fresh and fruity within; touches of finely diced raw tomatoes, charred Vidalia onions, and a smoky, spicy mayo make a good thing even better. Let's not forget that watermelon salad, which tastes more southern Thai than northern Georgia, but nonetheless demonstrates the kitchen's facility with produce.
Though should you be after dessert, I'll point out that the excellent Dough is two blocks away and open in the evening, and you may want to head there instead. The housemade sweets at Marietta don't receive the same care as the savory items; Butterscotch Pudding ($6) is stiff and blandly sweet.
I'm harping on these glitches because they are easily fixed, and Marietta would be an even better restaurant for doing so, a place to shout about to your friends instead of keep quietly to yourself while it enjoys its time under the radar. As-is it's a lovely, fun restaurant with perfectible imperfections. I'm thrilled by their deceptively simple cocktails, talented and unconventional charcuterie, and knack for great ingredients, be they produce, cheese, or pork. I appreciate their no-holds-barred approach to burgers and fried chicken, which are refreshingly bold in a city full of cowardly versions of both. And the vibe is more than charming, free of pretense and sass.
Sure, there's room for improvement. But there's much to relish regardless. And relish you should—it's not every day you get a $7 burger in this town.