Digging into the cluckin' awesome world of our favorite fried food.
Artisanal pimento—ah, it was only a matter of time before it'd show up in Brooklyn. The chunky cheese spread, ubiquitous once you go south of the Mason-Dixon, is now available in Cobble Hill at the month-old Southern-themed sandwich shop Van Horn. Owner Jacob Van Horn and his chef Rick Hauchman—formerly of Roberta's Pizzeria, not to mention Jacob's childhood neighbor down in Chapel Hill, North Carolina—developed the recipe with three kinds of cheeses.
Sharp cheddar (white and yellow) and parmesan. Well, really four if you count the cottage cheese. It's all mixed with mayo, salt, pepper, and garlic aioli, which Hauchman threw in because it was hanging out in the kitchen for another sandwich. The result is a few notches above the Piggly Wiggly version, but, let's be honest, still a cheese blanket.
Three out of the eight sandwich options include pimento cheese: the BLP (bacon, lettuce, and pimento), the Sweet PLT (minus the bacon, yes, plus a tomato), or just the straight-up pimento (all $8). You might start feeling pimento overload by the third bite but the perky pimento pepper bits keep it interesting, and the "L" adds a welcome crunch.
Jacob's goal is to deliver Southern food he grew up eating, but "cleaner," he says. "I want to strip all the crap out of it so you don't feel debilitated after." The fried chicken sandwich ($12), for example, is a thick breast of buttermilk-soaked meat (from nearby Paisano's) with a crisp, cayenne-crusted coat. It's not wearing a big ol' parka of greasy breading. Then you have the crunchy, jalapeno-spiked slaw piled inside the round sesame seed roll—which neighborhood bakery Caputo's bakes just for Van Horn—to add a refreshing touch. It's one of the few fried chicken sandwiches you'll eat and think, hey, I'm eating a salad at the same time!
Bay Area transplants: you might recognize this sandwich. Bakesale Betty's, anyone? Jacob actually flew out to Oakland and modeled this after Betty's usually-sold-out-before-2pm version. One of the best parts is the simultaneous hot and cold temps:the just-fried chicken and cooling red and white cabbage tossed with whole-grain mustard, poppy seeds, those jalapeno bits, and tangy red wine vinegar.
Of course Jacob can't claim North Carolina without some barbecue pork on the menu. It's smoked for 14 hours, and goes into both sandwiches and the Brunswick Stew ($6). The double meat stew (pork and pulled roast chicken!) simmers in a vinegary tomato base with corn and other veggies. It's like a better version of what you'd have on a scouting camping trip, and so filling, it's definitely a meal on its own, sans sandwiches.
There are sides too: mac and cheese, hushpuppies, and greens (collards and kale for now, but eventually more seasonal veggies). Jacob hopes to have a real dessert menu (pie!) and brunch service soon, and once it warms up, open up the backyard garden for seating.
Van Horn is quickly becoming a nabe spot to tuck in for an unfussy sandwich and cold drink. Thankfully, they were speedy to get their liquor license. Of the four taps, two are reserved for local brews (Sixpoint and Kelso), one's a classic IPA (Lagunitas) and one for the always drinkable Captain Lawrence Liquid Gold. Cocktails ($9) are mostly whiskey and gin-based ("no tequila or rum here"): an Ol' Fashion, Whisky Sour, Whisky Apple, Side Car, and Pimms Cup, all served in Ball Jars.
Each butcher paper-covered table is stocked with pickles and crayons: two good things to have handy.