Brooklyn’s Seersucker, a 40-seat Carroll Gardens spot, cooks up some of the city’s most satisfying Southern fare, which, due to the resurgent demand for fried chicken and bacon, is suddenly the city’s new “it” cuisine. Again.
Chef Robert Newton, an Arkansas man, is an alum of Le Cirque, a pedigree that helps explain why he’s so adept at turning the stubborn layer of fat in a duck’s breast into edible silk.
Blackened skin flanks one side, rare meat is tucked below. If the addition of pinto beans and cured pork isn’t sufficiently antebellum, douse the dish as I did with the provided spicy, smoky, hot sauce in a squeeze bottle.
The fiery mix of chilies and vinegar is homemade, of course. This is the New Southern cuisine, which spikes soul food with the local, seasonal, do-it-yourself ethos pervading the culinary world. Trendy menus advertise their farm sources. Pickled eggs come from hormone-free hens. Medium-rare pork chops burst with more flavor than dry-aged beef.
Processed pantry staples, long forgotten, get makeovers -- sometimes. I inquired, with some degree of scorn, how Seersucker sources its fried baloney sandwiches. From the deli, an owner tells me. Right on: The taste of the charred lunch meat, as cognoscenti demand, evokes a really good hot dog.
Juxtapose that with country ham (i.e. American prosciutto) and pimento dip. Want fried green tomatoes? Sorry; they’re being dropped as the weather grows colder, which fact I learned on Seersucker’s Facebook page.
New Southern restaurants love social media. They also love fat; Time magazine’s Josh Ozersky refers to these venues as part of the “lardcore” movement.
So grits are finished with cream, studded with ham, sauced with shellfish fumet. Pure corn flavor soaks up the taste of the sea. Top it off with Carolina shrimp; they give scant more resistance than the porridge, an Ozark paella of sorts.
Such heavy fare needs bourbon to keep the food moving through your pipes. And that leads me to my chief gripe about Seersucker: Beer and wine only. Maybe spirits will come later.
Newton can be a fickle dictator. Fried chicken is prepared only on Tuesdays and sometimes not after 8:30 p.m., which is when it usually sells out. The satisfyingly messy, spice-rubbed bird could be the city’s best. But there’s also fantastic chicken with dumplings -- a creamy stew that’s a pot pie minus the pie; crispy skin subs for the crust. Mop up the sauce with yeasty biscuits, $7 for two.
That’s Northern hospitality. And I’m kind of okay with it, because you pay for the biscuits at Peels on the Bowery, too. The Southern-themed spot, William Tigertt’s sequel to his hunting-lodge chic Freemans, isn’t entirely Southern, and quite chic.
Hence the security guard, the t-shirt-clad LBO executive, the Piedmontese grass-fed steak, the blogger photographing my dinner with her iPhone (really), the game-changing cocktails and promised 90-minute wait on a Friday.
No matter. At least the molasses-hued fried chicken is available every day.
Take a seat overlooking Joey Ramone Place and order that ribeye. At $50 and feeding two, it’s a life-changing slab of cow, so big it doesn’t even fit on the plate. The flavor is unexpected: sweet, nutty, musky.
For a stronger dose of Dixie, devour andouille corn dogs (spicy and fatty), hush puppies (with a chipotle-mayo dip) and mushy-skinned bass (saved by ham hock red-wine gravy).
Seared Montauk squid are delicate enough until pardon peppers sting the tongue. Quell the pain with an expert blend of applejack, lime and concord grape.
Oh, there’s grits too. The great gruel is pocked with dark nubs of bacon so woody I’m tempted to call them Tennessee truffles. Laughing bird shrimp are smaller, sweeter than the ones at Seersuckers.
It’s all a victory for the lardcore movement in New York. Think of it this way: Know of any restaurants down South that boil Cream of Wheat or tout “Northern cuisine?” I rest my case.
Rating: ** (for both)
The Bloomberg Questions
Prices: Most dishes under $25 at both.
Sound Level: Around 70-75 at Seersucker; Peels can get louder when full.
Date Place: If your date wants to gain weight.
Inside tip: Great rum-spiked milkshakes at Peels.
Special Feature: Build-your-own biscuit breakfast at Peels.
Will I be back: Frequently to both.
Seersucker is at 329 Smith Street, Brooklyn. Information: +1-718-422-0444. Peels is at 325 Bowery. Information: +1-646-602-7015 or http://www.peelsnyc.com/.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience. *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels):
51 to 55: Church on a weekday. 56 to 60: The vegetable aisle at the Food Emporium. 61 to 65: Keyboards clacking at the office. 66 to 70: My alarm clock when it goes off inches from my ear. 71 to 75: Corner deli at lunchtime. 76 to 80: Back of a taxi with advertisements at full volume. 81 to 85: Loud, crowded subway with announcements.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)