Fried Green Tomatoes, Shrimp, and Grits at BedStuy's Peaches Market
If life imitated Sesame Street, then every restaurant would be as idyllic as Peaches Market. On a recent evening, the place was pleasantly bustling with happy and good-looking multiculti families. A grandfatherly man sat alone at the bar, chatting with a waiter over a chilled bottle of rosé. A handsome couple, celebrating their wedding anniversary with their children and grandchildren, was at a large table in the center of the room. "Give her a kiss for 41 years!" called their daughter, poised to take a picture. "But I don't want to see any tongue action! Keep it clean for the kids!"
Peaches is located in a part of Bed-Stuy called Stuyvesant Heights, smack in the middle of a protected historic district of brownstones. The restaurant shares the block with Bread Stuy, a bakery, and an independent bookstore. On a summer evening, the neighborhood seems like a quiet, neighborly pocket of small-city life. A relaxed Southern-style café with a takeout counter, high ceilings, big windows, and a patio strung with white lights, Peaches fits in like it's been there for years.
Owners Craig Samuel and Ben Grossman have deep roots in Brooklyn: Both were born here, and Samuel has lived in Bed-Stuy all his life. They met 15 years ago while working at Picholine and have collaborated on two other Brooklyn restaurants, Smoke Joint and Little Piggy, both in Fort Greene. Grossman told me that he and Samuel wanted to bring a family restaurant to the neighborhood, and that's what Peaches is—a family restaurant in the best sense, relaxed and unpretentious, with a menu full of things you'd want to eat. The only problem is that not all of the delicious-sounding dishes are quite as well-executed as you'd hope. But the place isn't claiming to be a destination or a temple of gastronomy; it's aiming to be a comfortable neighborhood café. So although the food could be better, it is also, on balance, just good enough to let the place work its charm. The bonus is that the prices are friendly, too: Many entrées are $10 to $12, and the most expensive plate is the beef ribs, at $18.
The menu is straightforward, composed of starters, sandwiches, mains, and sides, and the offerings will change frequently with the seasons. At the moment, the food skews Cajun (cuisine from rural Cajun country) and Creole (New Orleans–style Afro-French-American fusion). Barbecue from Smoke Joint and prettied-up Southern soul food round out the options.
Happily, if there's one thing the kitchen excels at consistently, it's deep-frying. (And that's not as common a skill as you might think.) Fried green tomatoes are burnished, salted disks, pleasantly sour inside and dolloped with smoked jalapeño mayo. The fries are sensational—resolutely crisp, even after they sit for a while. They're dusted with a savory barbecue spice mix that Grossman calls "No. 78" (for how many tries it took to get the blend right). Not surprisingly, he wouldn't give me the recipe.
An appetizer called firecracker chicken—fried-chicken strips in a sweet-spicy glaze—incited controversy. The crunchy strips were sizzled up just as perfectly as the french fries and served with a side of blue-cheese dip. I loved them, and only wished that they were spicier, but a friend at the table insisted that I didn't eat enough junky bar food to know how ordinary these chicken fingers were. But if bar food tasted this good—which it doesn't—I would eat it all the time. Another friend, seeking a chicken armistice, summed it up definitively: "This is the kind of thing you'd get at Applebee's, and it would make you say, 'Fuck, I love Applebee's!'"
But you won't find anything like the fried, cornmeal-crusted trout at Applebee's. The fillet is enveloped in a thin crust that crunches into moist, white flesh. My only complaint: It was undersalted, as was the side of fresh-tasting corn-and-black-bean salad.
The Cajun and Creole options, however, are more uneven. Barbecue shrimp is a beloved New Orleans invention that, mysteriously, has nothing to do with barbecue—it's simply shrimp bathed in a peppery butter sauce. At Peaches, the barbecue shrimp are plump and lacquered with a glaze that seems to be more reduced balsamic than butter, but it works. The shrimp come with tasty pineapple-coconut rice.
Roasted half-chicken has lemony, crisp skin and moist flesh, and it's accompanied by maque choux, a Louisiana staple that's supposed to be a rich sautée of corn with onion, bell pepper, and sometimes tomato, enriched with cream or the milk from the corn cob (or both). Peaches' anemic maque choux features cannellini beans, an unorthodox touch that dilutes the corn flavor.
Red beans and rice comes with a nice mound of pulled pork, but our beans and rice harbored only one small round of the promised andouille sausage. The crawfish-and-andouille gumbo, on the other hand, had plenty of the sausage bobbing in it as well as the deep, toasty savor of a stew made with proper roux, but the crawfish was completely missing.
Similarly, shrimp Creole came on a mound of lush, rich grits, cooked with cream and cheddar, but the shrimp itself was not actually Creole: There was no bell pepper or discernible seasoning, just a jumble of crustaceans in a toss of stewed tomatoes and (bizarrely) lemon zest.
Doing Cajun and Creole food—and, especially, doing it right—is much more ambitious than it sounds. The staples—red beans and rice; gumbo—seem countrified, but they're actually as complicated and technique-driven as classic French food. It's possible that the kitchen just needs more time to nail the dishes.
But as you'd expect from the guys behind Smoke Joint, the meat at Peaches is high-quality. The beef short ribs are particularly glorious, blackened on the outside, with coarsely grained, luscious meat. They're served with craggy, roasted crushed potatoes, sprinkled with Cajun seasoning.
Of the side dishes, skip the too-sweet cornbread and order the garlicky sautéed kale, the fries, the crushed potatoes, or the cheesy grits. It's fun to go with a group, BYOB (for now), and get a bunch of sides to share with your main dishes. The generously portioned desserts run from the awful (a peach cobbler that's more like peach soup) to the pleasing (bread pudding with lemon cream, or pound cake with berries and whipped cream).
Despite its flaws, Peaches is a restaurant that knows its way around a fryer and a hunk of meat, and dishes it up for about the cost of a mediocre midtown salad.
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