If stepping through the doors of The Heyward (258 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-384-1990) brings Charleston, South Carolina, to mind, you’ll have noticed exactly what owners Matthew Hechter and Chris Brandon wanted you to notice. A visit to the Holy City’s restaurants prompted the question, “Why can’t we have something like this where we live?” And then the Williamsburg residents, who are also partners at Hudson Clearwater in the West Village, teamed up with Che Stipanovich and began plotting a neighborhood joint with Charlestonian undertones.
The trio revitalized the old Zebulon music venue and worked to build a local gathering space. “First and foremost, we really built this as a neighborhood joint,” says Hechter. Because of its importance to Williamsburg’s identity, the team put a lot of thought and care into the design of the landmark. There’s an old-school payphone mounted on a back wall, and though the space isn’t huge, it feels as though there’s plenty of room. Two separate bars ensure that those looking to enjoy plates of oysters aren’t constantly being disrupted while someone grabs a drink from the bartender. Wooden tables, booths, and bar stools accommodate parties of all sizes, and the lighting and decor hovers gracefully between the lines of romantic and casual meeting spot.
But the food definitely channels the South. “We were particularly interested in what was going on in the South, and this revitalized idea of the South that was no longer just fried chicken and grits and soul food,” says Hechter. “The thing that stood out the most to me personally is that I love the idea of recipes being passed down from generation to generation. We were looking at cookbooks, and Edna Lewis’s The Taste of Country Cooking was a real inspiration for us. Obviously, we wanted to do our own version of it.”
The guys installed chef Derek Orrell in the kitchen, and he’s overseeing a raw bar, plus a menu full of Lowcountry cuisine staples like she-crab soup, pecan crusted squash, and shrimp and grits. You’ll also find some dishes from outside of the region, like grilled baby octopus and a New York strip steak.
Cocktails like the Porchside Smash and Palmetto Club also carry with them the theme of Southern hospitality, as does a curated beer and wine list.
“This space really is, literally, from the decor to the food to the drinks to the staff, just a real insight into the kind of places we want to go to,” says Brandon. “There are so many changes in this neighborhood. It’s just so fast. We’d rather be part of curating what comes in here.”
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