"Pastry chef and co-owner Nicholas Morgenstern really knows how to make a dessert—and make you want to eat it even when on the verge of popping."
229 Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11205 (near Clemont Avenue; map); 718-222-1510; thegeneralgreene.com
Service: Attentive, friendly
Setting: Homespun mom-and-poppy vibe with a tinge of barnyard
Compare It To: Char No. 4, Prime Meats, Buttermilk Channel
Must-Haves:Deviled eggs, 8-ounce grilled steak, salt and pepper ribs, salted caramel sundae, chocolate-chip cookies
Cost: $7 to $16 for sharable plates
General Greene is definitely listed in the mythical How To Open A Brooklyn Restaurant: 2008-2009 Edition that Carey described recently in her review of Rye in Williamsburg. Beer served in Mason jars? Check. Local, seasonal, and fatty foods? Check. Somewhere between a barnyard and Prohibition vibe? Mm-hmm.
But at this Brooklyn restaurant, the food, courtesy of recently installed chef Julie Farias, comes exclusively on small plates. Fatty cuisine in tapas form sounds intriguing—or maybe just sad. (Wait, where's the spilling-over platter of ribs?) The menu divides the dishes into “Cold” and “Hot” categories, in addition to bar snacks that include deviled eggs and a radish tower with anchovies. Yelpers seem extremely mixed on General Greene, ranging from "really tasty" to "huge disappointment!!" Whoa, two exclamation points? We had to check this out.
My favorite-sounding salad was the chorizo salad ($12)—a real salad, or meat with an arugula garnish for kicks? Either way, the red meat grease acts like a vinaigrette to the greens, potatoes, and piquillo pepper strings. It's kind of hard to go wrong with two huge chorizo wads.
The collard greens ($7) were crisp, not soggy (a plus), and had a nice bite from the chili pepper flakes. But $7 for a heap of greens? Ehh. The red quinoa (same price) with walnuts and mint was also tasty enough, but just didn't seem worth the tariff.
Dirty rice ($7) is a Cajun dish traditionally cooked with chicken liver bits to give it that nice filthy look. While some versions cheat with soy sauce or gravy, this one stays true to the organ meat addition. Though I'm not a dirty rice expert, this was definitely the crunchiest rice I've ever eaten—unfortunately, it joined the pretty skippable $7 sides department.
"Do you like your mac and cheese loose or congealed?" my friend asked, as if this were as character-defining as the medium-rare or well-done question. She diagnosed this batch ($8) as "loose." Without much cheese-stretchiness action, most of the flavor came from the oil. The big elbow noodles swam in a pool of grease (sadly, like many of the other dishes here). While the crunchy bread crumb layer on top saved the texture a tad, this was no mac and cheese hall-of-famer.
On the other hand, the 8-ounce grilled steak ($13) was a great deal. It came out in log form with enough meat medallions to keep all four of us good on iron levels for the week. Sheesh, that's a lot of meat for $13, plus it's nicely prepared—charred around the edges while still pink and juicy inside. This was a winner. Farias, like General Greene's original consulting chef Ryan Skeen, has a way with meat.
Another carnivorous treat was the candied bacon ($5). Is there such thing as too much of a good thing? I think this dish proves the affirmative. Nobody could have more than two bites of the pigsplosion.
There was something borderline frightening about a creamy lake of bubblegum pink underneath ribs. But as it turned out, the mix of yogurt and sumac, a popular spice in Middle Eastern cuisine, was incredibly addicting and easy to dollop with the ribs. And when they say salt and pepper ribs ($13) they mean pepper, and maybe a shake of salt. It's back-of-the-throat-hitting peppery, but the pink goop was just the right match. Yogurt with meat is a popular Middle Eastern pairing, so it felt less frightening (and wussy? something about meat plus yogurt seemed wussy) with time.
Becoming uncomfortably full at this point, we thought the salty caramel sundae ($7) seemed like the perfect dessert. The tang from the salt, the airy crunch from the pretzels, the cold ice cream—and the caramel brownie hiding in that scoop—worked so well together.
Speaking of ice cream, General Greene has a cart outside, usually open until 11 p.m. Unfortunately the gal was packing up on the blustery night we visited. They call it "Philly-style" ice cream, a.k.a. eggless, because back in the day, ice cream was made by beating heavy cream, sugar, and pureed fruit in a metal bowl over ice, sans egg yolks. Though the restaurant serves ice cream inside too, there's more selection from the cart: salted caramel pretzel, bitter chocolate mint, honey vanilla, green tea pistachio chip, lemon basil frozen yogurt, and vanilla melba.
The cobblers ($9) rotate seasonally, and for a little while longer it will be peach. They definitely achieve the holy trinity of cobbler: good crumble, fresh fruit, and quality vanilla ice cream.
I really thought we could bypass the chocolate-chip cookies (three for $5). Cookies, schmookies. "They are mind-blowing cookies," our waitress pipsqueaked as I was setting down the dessert menu. "Mind-blowing" is a pretty powerful descriptor—and holy heavens, she was not engaging in any server hyperbole! Salty and gooey chocolatey, they were just how chocolate-chip cookies should be. Golden-brown and baked just enough, they still had a soft, molten center.
Pastry chef and co-owner Nicholas Morgenstern really knows how to make a dessert—and make you want to eat it even when on the verge of popping. Besides a few of the star dishes (the steak and salt-and-pepper ribs) the food was good but a little too drippy, even for fat fans. Go to General Greene for the steak, the chocolate-chip cookies, and the drinks in Mason jars. Everything else is less than mind-blowing.