Though Lodge qualifies as a theme restaurant, I’m not quite sure what the theme is. The business card pictures a red Adirondack lodge, while the split-level interior is more Frank Lloyd Wright, furnished with irregular limestone pillars and moody dark woods. Giant windows flung open to BQE breezes display happy diners tossing back cocktails, as drivers cruise by searching hopelessly for the Williamsburg Bridge. A nautical rope shields sidewalk tables that might have been swiped from a cruise ship, and of the antler light fixtures, one of the Pratt kids noted: “I just saw those in I.D. magazine.” Meanwhile, the perky waitresses—their hair piled high on their heads—strut around in pastel frocks pillaged from Judy Jetson’s closet, or flaunt tattoos so extensive they constitute a diverting costume in themselves.
Lodge follows the current Williamsburg predilection for cheap food and expensive drinks, and many diners begin with one of the strong cocktails—including a killer mojito ($8) served in a jar. Well, it almost killed me. It left me reeling, even before the first appetizer arrived. Some starters are distinguished, including a trio of miniature crab cakes with a roasted-corn salad that makes you wonder how they can be so generous for $10. The Pratt kids—a group of design and writing students from Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute I frequently dine with—loved the apple-cheddar fritters ($6), furnished with a sweet, dark dipping sauce, though they admitted that the four doughy thumbs didn’t taste a hell of a lot like either apple or cheddar. Tiger shrimp ($10) fared better, a pile of large shrimp with a crunchy, bumpy crust. Though the giant plate of outsize onion rings looks great as the waitress whisks it by, the beer-batter coating resembles a head-to-toe rubber fetishist’s outfit.
If this is comfort food, it’s been tweaked by cooking-school sensibilities. A $10 chicken-and-dumpling dinner drew me in one evening, even after I’d eaten a bowl of weird-but-good vegetarian pozole just down the block at Taco Chulo. I was hoping for the kind of chicken and dumplings served family-style at Stamm House in Middleton, Wisconsin—pieces of boiled chicken in a livid yellow gravy, with dumplings like small loaves of white bread, soaking up all the gravy if you don’t eat them fast enough. At Lodge, by contrast, a brown-roasted half-bird is deposited in an herbal broth, with grated lemon peel decorating the skin in little artistic heaps. Shaped like French quenelles, the dumplings that cower beneath the poultry are way too small to be a threat to South Beach dieters. The biggest problem, though, is the serving vessel: a steep-walled bowl that makes picking the chicken apart in the semi-darkness a problem that only you and your dry cleaner will be able to solve. Someone at Lodge evidently agreed with me, because, as of press time, the dish has been yanked.
Here’s what the Pratt kids liked: turkey meat loaf, the juicy hamburger, Yukon gold fries served with three dipping sauces, and grilled brook trout. Here’s what they didn’t: damp and uncrisp fried chicken, underdressed chicory salad, and the Cobb salad, which bears virtually no resemblance to the real thing. There are a couple of decent desserts too, including a flourless chocolate cake and a dense carrot cake with more cream cheese frosting than it needs. Anyway, the food will recede in importance as you drink the cocktails: Lodge wants you to get plowed.