No longer just a borough, Brooklyn is now a brand, an ideology, a way of life. And Breuckelen, a new Cobble Hill eatery, certainly embraces what has become known as Kings County cuisine: local, seasonal, new American fare that champions the ideals of farm living within a decidedly urban environment. The menu changes often, though chef Andrew Karasz thankfully does not spout a holier-than-thou organic dogma or write out the name of farm, farmer, and pig that have provided your dinner. The restaurant, however, doesn’t execute food as deftly as some of its pioneering neighbors, such as Carroll Gardens’ Prime Meats or Williamsburg’s Marlow & Sons. Breuckelen is a decent local spot, but like most neighborhood joints, it falls short of being a destination—especially when entrées come tagged with Manhattan prices.
The storefront space overlooks a quaint, brownstone stretch of Clinton Street. The brick-walled interior is equally unassuming and inviting—the kind of place to spend a solo evening with a drink and a good book (like Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom or Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad) when the significant other is away. Stick with wine, though; cocktails such as the Aviation and the Brooklyn (both $12) are unbalanced and overly boozy.
Starters are salad-friendly. Opt for the beet, blood orange, and lolla rossa lettuce mélange ($12), a vision of reds on the plate with a robust hazelnut finish. Unless you enjoy feeling cheated, skip over the prosciutto ($14), since the arugula-to-meat ratio is about a thousand-to-one. The calamari ($14) lords above a bed of greens laced with hearts of palm; while the squid is mighty tender, the batter is far from crisp, suggesting that the rings sat out too long under the heat lamp after frying.
The menu lists starchy dishes in between appetizers and entrées, but these carb-heavy plates are large enough to be considered mains. The best of the bunch is the rigatoni ($16)—chunks of spicy sausage cuddle up with the pasta in a light tomato sauce. Hearty but not heavy, you could probably make it yourself, but on a blustery night, it’s nicer to have someone else do it for you. The risotto ($16) comes studded with mushrooms and enough cheese to make a vegetarian feel like he’s eaten a whole mooing cow. It won’t win awards for originality or most exciting dish, but it’s perfectly respectable—like the L.L. Bean of food. It’s definitely better than the gnocchi ($16), for sure. Those fat potato pillows swim in an overly buttery sauce and are little gutbombs.
Entrées display a bit more creativity and openness to exotic flavorings. A hefty duck breast ($27) sits atop a mixture of Chinese sausage, chestnuts, brussels sprouts, and spaetzle. It sounds like Austro-Asian fusion-confusion, but the flavors pair beautifully. It’s better than the butter-poached lobster, which gets lost amid its sauces and garnishes. Portions are huge—I returned home with a doggie bag after each visit. But I’d rather have left with more money in my wallet and no leftovers for lunch.
Brunch is served at Breuckelen on Friday and weekend afternoons. Go then and get the burger. Celebrity butcher Pat LaFrieda supplies the “gold label blend” meat—appropriately beefy and fired up with a crisp char around the edges. Cloaked by a thick layer of melting aged cheddar and a light smear of smoked cippolini onion confit, the juicy patty nestles inside a sesame seed bun. At $16, it’s no McDonald’s dollar menu item, but it comes with a mountain of crispy French fries and a guarantee you won’t have any mid-afternoon snack cravings. Meanwhile, prices are cheaper and the atmosphere more relaxed—the nice-but-unnecessary amuse bouche is abandoned, and toddlers drool while their mommies knock back glasses of wine. Locals gather at the bar, weekend papers to the side. Everyone’s happy. This is Brooklyn at its best. Breuckelen, too.