Anthony Theocaropoulos grew up in Greek diners — “I remember going into [my father’s] diners and living that skit from Saturday Night Live,” he says. “You know, the John Belushi ‘cheeburger, cheeburger’ line. It really was like that.” His love of restaurants might be rooted there, but after culinary school in south Florida, he fell in love with Italian food, and he spent years working in Mario Batali’s empire before opening Ai Fiori with Michael White.
He now brings that résumé to Brooklyn, where he just debuted Cooklyn (659 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn; 347-915-0721) in Prospect Heights.
Here, he says, “I have a pedestal to do my type of food. I have full carte blanche for what I want to do. I couldn’t ask for a better team.”
And what he wants to do is a menu of food that pulls from the European canon but adds some Asian touches. “I play with sea urchin, yuzu, and chorizo,” he says. “I try not to conform to one certain style.” And he’s continuing to experiment now that the doors are open, acknowledging that he’s still coming into his style.
On the menu, that translates into what Theocaropoulos calls a Greek take on the Asian pork bun, made with braised lamb, feta, mint, yogurt sauce, and pickled radish. He’s doing an octopus and pork belly dish supplemented with smoked potatoes and watercress. And he’s turning out a sea urchin and lump crab capellini. “I literally get hugs for it,” he says of that last item.
The chef hopes this represents a bit of a divergence from the rest of the restaurants in the neighborhood. “I think the area is ready for a different type of cuisine,” he says. “There are a lot of bistro-type places, so hopefully this will be a great addition.”
Theocaropoulos is working with another Ai Fiori alum, pastry chef Brian Sullivan, who’s consulting on the dessert menu. “He’s one of the most talented people I’ve had the pleasure of working with,” says Theocaropoulos. Sullivan created a few custom sundaes, including one with black sesame ice cream, lychee foam, and toasted coconut.
The wine list is built around small producers that make natural, low- or no-intervention wines from all over the globe, and the restaurant is pouring about 30 of the selections on its list by the glass. The team worked to keep the list affordable; it’s being supplemented by local and international craft beers on tap.
The narrow space has been outfitted with reclaimed-wood details, a marble-topped bar, and blond wood tables, and a whitewashed brick wall will feature local artwork.
The restaurant opened yesterday, and it’ll be open for dinner every night but Monday. Theocaropoulos says he plans to add brunch soon.