Buttermilk Channel is a restaurant in Carroll Gardens serving up a menu of Southern-inspired comfort foods. I went last week with three friends to see how they'd fare as an ad hoc small plates restaurant. What we found was a restaurant that, while not perfect, has put together a menu that sidesteps Southern stereotypes and offers a few unexpected hidden gems.
We started with two items from the snack menu. First up was an order of Hush Puppies ($5), served with a green chile aioli. They looked good sitting in their little dish, but they were a disappointment—dense in the middle where they should have been light and fluffy. It seemed like a bad omen for a place that supposedly specializes in Southern cooking.
The next dish to arrive at our table was another snack menu item, Caputo's Mozzarella with Basil and Warm Anchovy Sauce ($5). The mozzarella (from Caputo's down the street) was skewered between big chunks of crusty bread with a basil puree drizzled on top. The anchovies were present, but as fillets rather than in sauce form. The dish was finished with a squirt of balsamic syrup. Somehow Buttermilk Channel takes one of the most tired flavor combinations in the world and makes a pretty memorable dish out of it.
Next up we sampled a few of the house made charcuterie and local cheese selections: Mustard-Glazed Grilled Bacon ($5), Country Ham and Foie Gras Terrine ($12) and the Local Cheese Plate ($10). The bacon came out, two of the thickest-cut pieces I've ever seen, topped with a sweet mustard sauce that tasted as if it were sweetened with pancake syrup. With the bacon was a sweet bread salad—a bit too sweet to go with an already syrup-slathered chunk of bacon, but I'd be lying if I said we didn't eat all of it. At five dollars, this dish is a phenomenal value, a counterpoint to Char No. 4's pricier version that we tried a few weeks back.
The foie gras terrine, bordered by a thick strip of country ham, was every bit as delicious as it sounds—the rich foie complemented by the salty ham. This came with crunchy toasted bread as well as a salad of endive and a pile of sweet caramelized onions. Finally, the cheese plate was another hit, three cheeses (Cayuga Blue, a goat's milk blue cheese, Magic Mountain, a hard sheep's milk, and a soft raw cow's milk cheese called Windermere) served with more crusty bread, honey and marinated cherries. The accompaniments could have been better, but all three cheeses were delicious and at ten bucks, this was a good deal.
For our "main course," we finally hit up the appetizer menu proper. (To our waiter's credit, he didn't bat an eye at our ordering style, and even seemed to enjoy the curveball of a party of four ordering nothing but snacks and apps.) Buttermilk Channel's bread basket alternative wins points: goat cheese popovers. You can't quite taste the goat cheese, but they're still good.
Like our foray into the snacks menu, the first item to arrive from the appetizer section was a real disappointment. The Bibb Lettuce and Radish Salad ($7), with a simple-to-the-point-of-boring lime vinaigrette and shaved strips of asparagus, was unremarkable in every way; maybe the ingredients all came from the Greenmarket, but there was still something lacking here. Next up, though, were the Spice Rubbed Baby Back Ribs ($10), four ribs served with a tasty cider glaze and cabbage slaw that cut the fatty meat with its vinegar tang. After the ribs we had the Grilled Flatbread ($11) topped with grilled ramps, house made buttermilk ricotta, lemon oil and a healthy grating of pecorino romano cheese. The bread was buttery and flaky, and the toppings were all top-notch, coming together to form something that was comforting yet original.
We spent $65 before tax and tip, or $16.75/person—a mere $1.75 above our target price range. I'd call this meal at Buttermilk Channel a success: we left full and, with a couple of exceptions, the food was very good. The staff were accommodating and the surprises of this meal so good that I will definitely be returning to see what other secrets are lurking in the Buttermilk Channel.
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