Miss school lunch? Were you one of those kids who sat in morning math class dreaming of steam tables longer than the Queen Mary, behind which stood women clad in white waving giant spoons? Do you prefer your veggies on the mushy side? When you go to Vegas, do you only pretend to gamble, then run off to the buffets? If you can answer “Yes” to any of these questions, then Peter’s is your place.
Located on the quintessential block of Bedford just above the first stop on the L, Peter’s Since 1969 is the restaurant’s proper name, emblazoned across the front in large block letters. It refers, somewhat mournfully, to a butcher shop named Peter’s that flourished on this spot for 38 years, which the new restaurant has usurped. The old Peter’s was one of two competing butcher shops on the block—one Ukrainian, one Polish—that epitomized the old Williamsburg. For hipsters who started arriving here as refugees from the East Village in the late ’80s, Peter’s was one of the few places you could get some semblance of groceries and also grab an excellent ham sandwich—though you had to stand in the street and make the sandwich yourself. The other butcher, Quality Meats, still exists, but for how long? In spite of modern anti-pollution ordinances, both places had a variance grandfathered in to allow them to smoke their own hams on the premises—a variance rapidly disappearing from north Brooklyn.
Gleaming white tiles and hooks that once suspended kielbasas like giant curving phalluses are the only vestiges of the original shop. Peter himself hung up his apron late last year: According to a friend who’s a longtime resident of the block, he
decided to take the $8,000 per month he’d been offered as rent and retire to Long Island. His picture smiles down benevolently from a frame by the front counter, one of the neighborhood’s secular saints. Behind that counter, one now sees a giant rotisserie churning behind a smeary pane of glass.
The chickens are the best part of the new Peter’s—big, shambling creatures rubbed with herbs and sloughing moist flesh. You won’t need a knife, or even a fork. The price is right, too—one quarter bird plus two sides and “corn bread” is $8.95. A half-chicken is only a dollar more. Peter’s calls them French-rotisserie chickens, but there’s really nothing French about them except the word “rotisserie.”
The supposed Frenchness is only one of the culinary mysteries of Peter’s Since 1969, which should really be called Peter’s Since 2007. Jumbled on the counter, a collection of pretty red Le Creuset casseroles holds the restaurant’s other offerings, constituting a steam table in disguise. As the multiply pierced clerk raises the lids in succession, you’ll discover decent mashed potatoes and mashed sweet potatoes, leathery sautéed corn, green beans and broccoli oddly cooked together, chopped spinach en casserole, pallid mac and cheese, yellowish stewed okra, and bread-crumbed cauliflower. The selection varies, but most of the sides are united by two qualities, overcooking and underseasoning—perfect pap for invalids and hungry schoolchildren.
The menu lists only three main courses besides the chicken. Served with two sides, beef stew ($10.95) is a river of dark brown gravy bobbing with carrots. It not only tastes canned, but it’s unbelievably salty, especially given the lack of salt in nearly everything else. You might be suspicious of chicken marsala ($10.95) in a rotisserie-chicken joint, and you’d be right—the bland entrée tastes like a poultry-recycling exercise. The kielbasa, however, is wonderful. Served with mild kraut, it provides a tenuous connection with the previous tenant. It’s not really Peter’s, though, as the menu claims—it comes from a butcher shop in Greenpoint.
Now for the “corn bread,” which is actually a cousin of focaccia, and quite decent despite a total lack of corn. (A friend suspects that it’s made with pizza dough.) “Corn” was generic English for any kind of grain before maize arrived in the 1500s, and Peter’s nomenclature seems to reflect that ancient usage. But why? There’s also a sweet sauce of fresh green chiles to dip your chicken in that tastes positively Middle Eastern. The restaurant doesn’t serve a green salad, which is tres étrange. Isn’t a fresh green salad to be expected in a place like this? And there’s no coffee or dessert, either.
Ultimately, you have to ask yourself if the restaurateurs are being super-canny, serving mainly things that are easy to prepare and don’t go bad? Or are they just lazy?