Swallow Some Nettles at Parish Hall!
When Williamsburg's Egg cracked open seven years ago, it was at an auspicious time. The local and sustainable movement was in full swing, comfort food as a dining ideal loomed large, and the immediate neighborhood had nothing like a conventional diner where you could get an eggs-and-bacon breakfast—mandates the new restaurant handily fulfilled. Formerly considered low-end, eggs (like hamburgers, hot dogs, and pizza) were ripe for glamorization. Science chefs were turning them into wiggly blobs, and news had recently arrived that the free-range product was virtually salmonella-free and lower in cholesterol. Egg couldn't lose.
The place started out sharing space with a hot doggery and served morning breakfasts with a Southern bent highlighting stone-ground grits, country ham, homemade sausages, and baking-powder biscuits in addition to ova. It eventually went all-day. Later, Egg added a lunch menu featuring fried chicken, hamburgers, pimento cheese toasts, and fried-oyster sandwiches.
Inevitably, a more ambitious additional restaurant was called for, and it arrived recently in the form of Parish Hall, located a few blocks southwest of Egg on North 3rd Street. As befits its somber moniker, the space is whitewashed stark white like a country chapel, outfitted with raised tables and backless stools. As with pews, the seating keeps you wide awake and sitting upright. A bar in back dispenses invented cocktails, some with Brooklyn themes. Named after the bay where the Brooklyn Navy Yard now sits, the Wallabout ($11) features Perry's Tot Navy Strength Gin, Bittermens Commonwealth Tonic Liqueur, lime, soda, and a dash of celery salt. Like most Parish Hall cocktails, it's blessedly unsweet. The short wine list is generally pricey, but there's a nice red Côtes du Rhône at $30, and a good selection of borough beers, including Sixpoint Resin and Brooklyn Brewery's Sorachi Ace.
Continuing the gastronomic principles of Egg, the ingredients at Parish Hall are mainly local and seasonal. In fact, many are sourced at owner George Weld's Greene County farm in the Catskills. The menu has a mountain theme, too, as seen in the Alpine breakfast (originally called the Slide Mountain breakfast, name-checking the highest peak in the Catskills): slow-cooked egg, charcuterie, cheese, Anarchy in a Jar jam, and raw vegetables. Like many a mountain slope, the menu seethes with nettles, the weed used to torment Christ. Don't worry, when cooked, the sting is neutralized, and the noxious leaf turns into a nice, mild pesto. In an early bar menu, it was smeared on toast with crushed broccoli rabe. The same pesto more recently appeared modified with flaxseed in a duo of grilled lamb rack and shoulder. The reformulated pesto now has the texture of hand cream. Nifty!
This being spring, fast-growing radishes and other root vegetables, pickles, and mushrooms remain important parts of the chef's arsenal. Underground salad ($11) is a colorful moraine of parsnips, red butter radishes, carrots, beets, and nuts in a mild dressing that accentuates the earthiness of the fixin's. Over the first weeks of the restaurant's existence, recipes have been flexible: At first, appetizer strips of barely seared Long Island fluke ($14) were accompanied by sunchoke puree and pickled onions, later by kohlrabi and beet chips. Indeed, Parish Hall's small-plate options overwhelm the four or five entrées ($21 to $24) usually available, which include skin-on sliced chicken with shallots and nettles, tilefish in green garlic broth, and an especially tasty duck breast with braised leeks.
Egg's original imperative hasn't been foresaken. The dinner menu at Parish Hall boasts several interesting preparations—including a soft-boiled egg with ham crumbs in a smoked-parsnip slurry—but the eatery really comes into its eggy own at brunch. At that meal, a pair of over-easies with brilliant orange yolks burst upon a wonderful "red flannel" hash of baby fingerlings, cubed beets, and corned lamb, while a sandwich of soft-scrambled eggs boasts three slices of lamb bacon so smoky, you'll think there's a fire in the building next door. The brunch bill of fare also offers dense corn flapjacks with Empire State maple syrup and oatmeal with roasted root vegetables. Can you think of anything healthier?
There have been a few things that didn't work. A so-called Connecticut oyster chowder ($10) overwhelmed its creamy base and bivalves with obtrusive pickled vegetables, and a starter called "bread and butters" presented itself as three nearly indistinguishable whitish blobs of cheese and butter half-melted on a rough piece of roofing slate.
But these are minor cavils. Much of the food at Parish Hall is brilliant. And who doesn't like to subversively scarf eggs around dinnertime in a temple of locavorism while scrambling your brain on strong cocktails?
For more restaurant coverage, check out our food blog, Fork in the Road, at voicefoodblog.com. Follow us on Twitter @ForkintheRoadVV.
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