Star Serves Frito Pie, $89 Steak, Murdered Veggies: Ryan Sutton
The jokey menu at The Brooklyn Star reveals that its vegetables are “yanked from the earth with extreme prejudice.”
The food is a nod to owner Joaquin Baca’s Lone Star heritage. The American Southwest by way of Williamsburg, the Star is where tiny women eat brontosaurus-size beef ribs, tattooed men don’t mind the country music playing and an Irish bartender spikes your sweet tea with a splash of bourbon.
Credit Baca, an ex-partner in the Momofuku empire, as a pioneer of lardcore, the movement that matches comfort food (and sometimes junk food) with the Blue Hill approach to seasonal, sustainable, ZIP-codable everything. How else to describe a chef who glazes Niman Ranch pork with Dr Pepper?
The original Star, with its tiny, elbow-banging booths, burned down in 2010. The new version, at seven weeks old, is bigger and with slightly more comfortable seating. But don’t expect Baca to get all fancy.
Take the wine list: There aren’t any French sparklers. I like to think that’s in deference to the “Champagne of Beers,” Miller High Life, which is available by the bottle.
Summer in Galveston
Or consider the oysters. They’re topped with barbecue sauce -- not KC Masterpiece. The Star uses a vinegary concoction that softens the briny blow of Beau Soleil bivalves ($18 for a half- dozen). Le Bernardin’s mignonette evokes the Cote d’Azur; Brooklyn Star’s spicy riff tastes like summer in Galveston.
Wash it down with a Pimm’s Cup; co-owner Simon Gibson gives the British libation (spiced gin, mixed fruit and lemon soda) an American twist by subbing out a slim Collins tumbler for a supersize glass.
Such a cavalier beach-chair state of affairs might be too laid back for some, but quirky touches like these elevate the Star from a neighborhood joint to an original worth the cab fare from Manhattan.
Is the mac & cheese ($9) a little mushy? Not a problem. Just use the dorm-room approach to al dente: Let the dish cool off for 10 minutes and watch it firm up. Each bite delivers a bacon-cheddar rush. Tame the fatty flavors with Frank’s hot sauce (same stuff they put on Buffalo wings).
In fact, thank Baca for arming every table with Frank’s. The kitchen splashes the stuff over a great romaine salad with bacon buttermilk dressing. Use a few dashes for crispy pig’s tails, which taste like porky chicken wings.
Baca sometimes mimics the dubious (yet addictive) flavors of drive-thru food instead of kowtowing to French technique. That means no beurre noisette sweetbreads. The chef fries them into little bites -- an offal analogue of KFC’s popcorn chicken. The soft, neutral meat is less important than the hominy coating, which gives diners a shotgun blast of corn flavor.
Tex-Mex reaches its microwavable apex with Frito pie -- a can of Wolf Brand chili poured into a bag of corn chips. The Star goes for a bit more elegance, placing chips on the side and spiking the chili with tripe.
Vegetables aren’t exactly vegetarian here. Brussels sprouts are fried and tossed with country ham. Peas and carrots are glazed in chicken stock, then mixed with heady lamb bacon and duck fat breadcrumbs. Collard greens, braised in ham hocks, sit below a grilled pork chop.
The “two man” ribeye at $89 has just as much saliva- inducing depth of flavor as Minetta Tavern’s $118 version. But the cold, rare interior couldn’t hide the sinewy fat. Try chorizo-stuffed quail ($16) for a lighter meal; it’s paired with a chili-lime spiked jicama slaw, a bright hat tip to Mexico.
Finish with tapioca creme caramel, then hop on a stool by the open windows and watch the B48 bus rumble to Greenpoint as Hank Williams croons over the sound system. Sip on your grapefruit and gin cocktail. It’s brown, because the bartender adds a little Dr Pepper syrup. Rating: **
The Bloomberg Questions
Price: Most dishes under $30.
Sound Level: Loud, about 75-80, sometimes higher.
Date Place: Yes.
Inside Tip: Solid blackened trout, shrimp & grits.
Special Feature: Skip wine for sub-$10 cocktails.
Will I be back: Yes.
The Brooklyn Star is at 593 Lorimer St., Brooklyn. Information: +1-718-599-9899 or http://thebrooklynstar.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: Quiet enough to converse sotto voce. 56 to 60: Speak up, please. 61 to 65: Lean in if you want to hear your date. 66 to 70: You’re reading one another’s lips. 71 to 75: Heads turn because you’re yelling. 76 to 85: Ear-splitting din.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.