Wildly popular Williamsburg restaurant St. Anselm gets legendary waits for a reason. In a neighborhood largely defined by rowdy bars and high-low casual places to eat, a restaurant nailing simple but carefully executed food with a gracefully tousled Brooklyn vibe is a welcome thing. In his 2011 restaurant review, Times critic Sam Sifton called St. Anselm "Keens for the millennial set," as accurate a tagline as any.
Not that this helps you when you come by for dinner and are quoted a two hour wait for your table. So where should you go instead? The neighborhood's most acclaimed quasi-fancy spots—Diner, Brooklyn Star, and Maison Premiere—can offer equally long lead times. Here are some alternatives.
The Closest Call
A short walk from St. Anselm you'll find Allswell, a gastropub with great drinks and small plates and a solid steak and burger. On Fridays and Saturdays, waits can go just as long as any of the restaurants listed above, but on quieter nights you may have better luck scoring a surprise table, or just as nice, a seat at the bar. It's worth trying your luck, but maybe call before you head over.
Williamsburg south of Metropolitan has a number of reasonably priced, rather tasty restaurants that often lack the crowds of their northern neighbors. I still can't figure out why Zizi Limona is never mobbed considering the quality and depth of its new Middle Eastern cooking and its warm, friendly dining room. Over on Driggs, Bistro Petit is a cute place that actually deserves to be called cozy. Its surprisingly successful Korean-French menu includes a braised lamb shank that may remind you of a dish you could find at St. Anselm, even if the lighter treatment takes you elsewhere.
If your long-wait disappointment has you in the mood for simpler comfort food instead, fried chicken shack Pies & Thighs serves the fried chicken and biscuits to win you over. Or head over to Blue Collar for a no-frills burger. It's not a sit-down-and-linger kind of place, but we dig it anyway.
Bars While You Wait
If you elect to hold out for your St. Anselm table, do so in one of the neighborhood's many, many bars. Want some food to tide you over? Get a liver and bacon sandwich at Post Office, where the American whiskey list goes on and on. Hit up The Commodore for some of the city's best nachos. Or visit Radegast, a refreshingly civilized beer hall with a sausage grill and a mustard bar—I've started many a night in Williamsburg there with a crisp lager or one of the menu's more exciting Belgians.
Nearby bars where food isn't a priority are even easier. For some casual go-to bars, I asked north Brooklyn resident and Williamsburg bar fan Niki for her picks. Here they are:
"For a killer beer selection, look no further (or farther) than St. Anselm sister bar and next-door neighbor Spuyten Duyvil. There are only about six brews on tap, but the international line-up of bottles is massive, supplemented by a thoughtful collection of wines for the hop-weary or averse. If you're looking for cocktails, though, I'd head straight for Larry Lawrence, a cavernous wood- and brick-lined joint where the drinks are stiff and your chances of grabbing an actual seat are astronomically high for the neighborhood. Plus there's a kooky see-through outdoor balcony spotlit on the upper level to scratch your
voyeuristic people-watching itch.
"But if you're the impatient type, there's also no shortage of activity-packed bars in the area to get you through your wait. If the name or the signage doesn't clue you in, it won't take long after stepping into Full Circle Bar to realize that you've stumbled into skeeball heaven. They've also got a full bar and remarkably good selection of canned beers (I'm talking the good, IBU-heavy stuff). But on warmer evenings, my go-to is Lucky Dog, where you''ll find a shuffleboard table and a massive (for Brooklyn) backyard filled with so many puppies. It's a dog-lover's goldmine, and the drinks aren't half bad to boot."
What are your go-to bars and restaurants in this part of Williamsburg where you can actually get through the door? Let us know in the comments.