More than four years into its run on Smith Street, one of the most impressive things about Battersby (255 Smith Street, Brooklyn; 718-852-8321) remains its attention to detail. Servers present dishes and confidently list ingredients. The drinks list is thoughtful and intelligent, whether you’re considering a subtle twist on an old-fashioned or a glass of orange wine. Amuses hint at later courses, as they would in a four-star temple of fine dining. And all this from a restaurant roughly the size of a telephone booth, where the kitchen staff is forced to plate dishes on what looks like an Ikea island wedged between the galley and the bar, and directly across from the bathroom.
But if you were to choose a single item to represent the laser-like focus Joseph Ogrodnek and Walker Stern maintain in this restaurant, you’d point to the free bread, which arrives fairly unceremoniously just before the first course.
This is a rosemary flatbread, your server will say, and a little whipped ricotta. She will not elaborate. You will break into the crackling crust, brushed with a little good oil and salt, and steam will rise from a warm, pillowy center. The kitchen bakes this bread in house (and God knows where, since it seems impossible that an oven back there could be devoted to bread during service), and it is some of the best free bread you’ll encounter in a restaurant in this city, or probably any city. You’ll spread a little ricotta on it, and it will melt into the bread’s crannies, adding a round note of creamy sweetness to the sharp salt and piney rosemary threads that permeate the loaf. You and your dining companion will fight for the last bite, even if your New Year’s resolution was to go paleo or eat fewer carbs.
Bread sets the stage at Dover (412 Court Street, Brooklyn; 347-987-3545), the larger restaurant from Ogrodnek and Stern that opened at the end of 2013. Here, you’ll get fennel crackers alongside a loaf, and spreads like labneh to slick on each bite. And, as at Battersby, that bread is a good metaphor for what’s to come: a menu of thoughtful dishes that are a bit fancier than what’s being served at the flagship.
At each place, the bread is a disarming gesture, a welcoming simple pleasure that makes you feel as though you’re in good hands.