I knew I was having dinner in Greenpoint when Rihanna was singing "Come here rude boy" over the speakers. Her voice shared the room with an excitable buzz and unseasonably warm November air blowing in from Commercial Street.
In a neighborhood that's seen an influx of new restaurants in recent months, standing out is a challenge. One way to do it is with a personal menu built around your heritage. Another is to open in a former glass factory. Sara Conklin and Sara Kramer did both this summer.
They opened Glasserie in June, far north in Greenpoint where the neighborhood flirts with Newtown Creek and Long Island City. The factory setting is evident in the exposed brick and stressed wood floors, but perhaps most apparent in the room's gratuitous, airy layout.
"I wanted the food to reference the Middle East and the Mediterranean without being overt," Conklin told me in an email. She is from Lebanon, but has lived in Brooklyn's Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods for 13 years. "I felt that large format sharing, which is very traditional in the Middle East, had a place in Brooklyn today." Kramer, the chef, has worked in each of Andrew Tarlow's restaurants. She brings an acute awareness of the neighborhood's gourmet tendencies and shares Conklin's vision. "I wanted to encourage a communal dining experience," she said, "with a specific focus on flavors that I feel are underrepresented in the New York dining landscape." The result at Glasserie is a diverse, streamlined and soulful menu that, large share plates aside, has nothing on it exceeding $19.
Like Grilled Radishes ($7), brought to the table still warm from the grill in a bath of whipped feta, mint, and za'atar. Radishes trade their fierce snap on the grill for a fiery char, and feta encourages the dried herbs and sesame in za'atar to stick to them. The veggies lose their spice once cooked, but the Near East adornment is a welcome distraction.
The Middle Eastern influence is prominent in a take on kibbeh called Lamb and Bulghur Croquettes ($8). Kibbeh are a Levantine dish made from ground meat, minced onion, and bulgar. Kramer serves hers with a bright, herb-specked tahini, which is also where she hides the lemon. They are not your typical, oozing nuggets made rich with béchamel, but a lighter, grassier version thanks to the lamb and bulgar.
Kramer's excitement for fall is displayed in a dish of Brussel Sprouts ($11) and apples. Once roasted, the outer leaves flee their core, turn a deep dark brown and take on a joyful crunch. The subtle sweetness of razor russet apples ebbs the earthy sprouts and flows with the generous smear of tangy chevre at the bottom of the bowl. Pine nut puréle adds more flavor and texture. So too do wheatberries—showered about the dish after they've been dehydrated and fried, they crunch in your mouth with the same snap, crackle and pop made famous by breakfast cereal.
The wheatberries signal Kramer's attention to detail which is unfortunately lacking in the wine list. Like the food menu, Glasserie's wine list is concise and riddled with intrigue. A quarter of the two-dozen selections are from less-explored wine countries like Slovenia, Lebanon, and Croatia. Though tragically, none are listed with the year they were made, and buying wine without knowing the vintage is like trying to buy shoes for someone without knowing their shoe size. But a mezcal, Cynar, and cava cocktail called The Smokey Choke ($11) showcased spirit's smoke and depth of flavor.
The Chicken ($17) arrived bearing the same char as the radishes, but there was also almond milk Kramer made from steeping toasted almonds in milk and cream which is then lightened with a touch of stock, cilantro, and lime. Bell peppers, romanesco broccoli, and dense cranberry beans float on the milk, hidden beneath the chicken breast.
The meal ended faster than I wanted. Not because it was rushed, but because I wanted to sit with the flavors it left behind. A shot of amaro comes with the check, so I sipped Cio Ciaro leisurely with the night air still warm and made sure I knew the easiest way to get to Glasserie, because I'd be heading back very soon.
About the Author: Craig Cavallo is a writer with an addiction to New York City's food and drink. Learn more about his problem at digestny.com.