I shan’t be sheepish about making the following admission: I love lamb. Whether a garlic-laced leg brought smoking hot from the oven; a twirling doner kebab carved into a soft pita; ribs from Owensboro, Kentucky’s famous mutton pits; a chile-smeared barbacoa taco oozing grease; or grilled chops laid across my plate like so many Tarot cards—all augur a happy dining fate.
You can thus imagine my delight at stumbling on the lamb sandwich at Sheep Station, an Australian restaurant just down the slope from the Slope. “Sheep station” is the term for an outback ranching operation, in which vast amounts of land—often measured in thousands of square kilometers—are required to sustain herds on parched and rocky red land. The view out of Sheep Station’s windows offers Brooklyn’s equivalent of the outback: a windblown and fallow stretch of Fourth Avenue near the Gowanus Canal, featuring a gas station so big and garish it would do Vegas proud, and an ancient Puerto Rican funeral parlor, whose doors gape open in a Six Feet Under sort of way.
The sandwich ($13) is unremarkable in structure. Thick slices of lamb layer a crusty roll, which is also adorned with arugula, tomato, and lettuce, and dressed with garlic cream—a runnier, more assertive cousin of mayo. The bitter bite of arugula, which the Aussies call “rocket,” using a term of Shakespearean vintage, is a welcome foil to the richness of the lamb. The tomato exudes helpful moisture. Most wonderful of all is the meat itself, which tastes luxuriantly of the barnyard. “Where’d you get that amazing lamb?” I asked the cook one evening, through the window that allows patrons sitting at the bar to kibitz the kitchen staff. Delivered with a shrug, “New Zealand” was his deadpan reply. Australian lamb isn’t good enough?
As an added bonus, the voluminous sandwich comes with a haystack of french fries which have been cut like two-by-fours, and thus given a superior crunch-to-squish ratio compared to conventional squarish ones. But the sandwich is not the only lamb on the menu. You can also order a quartet of tender lamb chops ($19), thicker than usual, served with mashed potatoes and a hailstorm of minted peas. Mixed with plenty of fresh mint, the peas are actually good
There are several tap beers available in 10-ounce (“pot”), 15-ounce “(schooner”), and 20-ounce (“pint”) portions, the latter representing an Australian imperial pint guaranteed to confer a substantial buzz. I particularly like Kelso’s Nut Brown Lager, brewed right in Greenpoint. Its crisp, malty flavor marries particularly well with lamb.
The menu at Sheep Station is agreeably short—the bare-bones joint was conceived mainly as a bar. The raw-oyster service offers one choice each from the east and west coasts of the U.S. The sole accompaniment is a dour mignonette, and sometimes the oysters taste tired. But the mussels ($12) are sublime, steamed in white wine with a ton of garlic and served with the aforementioned fries. There’s also a rocket salad, topped with sheep’s milk cheese; an insignificant meat pie, mainly for drinkers who see eating as a responsibility rather than an opportunity; and an exemplary fish and chips. But don’t bother with the jumbo burger: The patty comes topped with can-ned pineapple and pickled beets. Yuck!
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 6, 2007