It's Blighty Brooklyn at Dear Bushwick
Wilson Avenue is as gloomy as a London high street after hours, dotted here and there with frozen dog poo and candy-bar wrappers. A man walks home from the bodega with a carton of milk, a winter coat zipped over his pajamas. A woman tries hard but cannot light her cigarette. Dear Bushwick, the English restaurant that opened here in September, is a spot of warmth.
Inside the long, narrow dining room, couples talk quietly and a cyclist massages a cramp from his bare, tattooed calf. A small kitchen relays smells of meat and vegetables sizzling in duck fat, of hot oil meeting battered shrimp. Jessica Wilson is the chef. She used to run the kitchen at Goat Town, in the East Village. Here, she cooks English-inspired dishes with American ingredients: A grand pork chop ($20), the centerpiece of the menu, sits on shaved brussels sprouts in a bacon-y vinaigrette. The sprouts pack flavor without adding weight to the dish. This is the sort of simple, seasonal food that might change your mind about contemporary English cooking.
Tiny appetizers are ideal with the cocktails (all priced at $10) that make use of many gins and exciting tinctures. Fried potato peels ($4) are a tangle of see-through fairy wings, dusted with salt and vinegar. There's a fine duck-sausage roll ($6) with ginger-cranberry chutney, but it has a sad, soggy bottom of undercooked pastry (no, this does not make it more traditional). Halved, smoked eggs ($6) with creamy yolks and horseradish butter are squeaky and wonderfully messy.
As prices go up, so do portions. A slab of crisp-skinned pork belly on wilted beet leaves ($12) could make a light meal paired with dressed roasted carrots ($5) or a shaved vegetable salad ($9) studded with cheddar. Big, juicy oysters ($11) are hot under a blanket of bread crumbs, spooning with fennel stuffing. A blob of goose terrine ($12) tastes precisely of Christmas: racy game, pickled plums, and enough clove to numb the tongue—Wilson is not shy with spices. A mutton shoulder ($21), though cooked inconsistently, was terrific when it was served tender and pink in the middle.
Service is scatterbrained but caring. Twice, something my party ordered simply never arrived (on both occasions, apologies were genuine). Despite this, and the long waits that can draw out between dishes, it's easy to see why locals like to gather at Dear Bushwick: They can eat and drink well without much fuss. They can hear one another speak! And the dining room is a lovely place to settle in for the evening with its pressed-tin ceilings, hanging birdcages, and vintage knickknacks.
Portraits of heritage sheep and the people who ate them mark the walls, but the restaurant manages its theme gracefully in decor, and avoids clobbering diners too hard with an outdated definition of Englishness (white, male, mustachioed, atop horse). That said, the dance-band songs that sometimes play can lend dinner a dark, Singing Detective edge.
If there's a weak spot on the menu, it's the desserts, which recall an underfunded school cafeteria—lunch ladies doing the best they can with a sack of flour and a block of government-issued suet. The cobbler was a uniform paste of vaguely fruity gluten. The pear-ginger cake was dense but elastic and appeared to have been heated just before serving in a way that burned the top of the slice and dried out its sides.
There are many great traditions in the world of British baking. Let's hope Dear Bushwick finds success exploring them. On warmer days, when the back patio is open, it would be just the spot to sit down with a cold, brilliantly purple summer pudding.
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