It was just after our order had been taken that the water in my glass slowly started to ripple, like that scene in Jurassic Park. But instead of being on an island in the middle of nowhere with a large dinosaur lurching about, I was in Bushwick, about to enjoy the most soulful Middle Eastern food in the city, and a band in the studio space next door had just started “practicing.” But by the time my halloumi sandwich was gone (more on that later), the rumbling bass was the last thing on my mind.
Situated on an industrial, slightly out-of-the-way block just a short walk from the Montrose L train, Newtown (55 Waterbury Street, Brooklyn; 347-984-6215) is exactly what this part of Brooklyn strives to be: authentic, funky, and truly wonderful without trying too hard. It’s run by two former roommates: Omer Shemesh (35) is a trained pianist from Israel; Alexandra Costin (23) is a beauty from southern Sweden who came to NYC to attend culinary school. They’ve been the owners and head chefs of the hole-in-the-wall space, named after the nearby Newtown Creek, for over three years. The restaurant was formerly known as Yummus Hummus — arguably both the worst and best name in history — until they took ownership and completely changed the menu, creating one of the most delicious (and coolest) spaces around.
The food at Newtown is really amazing. It’s also all vegetarian. Start with hummus, which is made simply, with cooked chickpeas, garlic, and tahini, and then move on to that exceptional halloumi sandwich — pan-fried halloumi cheese (a semi-hard cheese from Cyprus), roasted portobellos, and herbed cream cheese served on a twice-risen, twice-kneaded focaccia.
The space seats about fifteen people around homemade wooden tables that sit a few inches too low. Eclectic Middle Eastern music that sounds like it could have come from a Wes Anderson soundtrack plays overhead. Neighborhood regulars take advantage of the BYOB policy, sometimes bringing nice bottles of Bordeaux.
This is a makeshift operation. “We cook with camping equipment and the oven my mom gave us,” says the smiling and bearded Shemesh. Just behind the small counter, where locals stop in for coffee, you’ll see the owners making all food to order with portable stoves and a small oven. “It’s actually less than what most people have in their homes,” says Shemesh.
But out of that small kitchen come full flavors, like the egg sandwich with melted cheddar cheese, tomato herb spread, and greens on ridiculously good black-salt rosemary focaccia. Salty and nicely textured, it may supplant your deli egg sandwich if you’re lucky enough to live in the neighborhood. Pair it to the simple pickle plate of cauliflower and cabbage and cucumbers, all brightness and crunch.
As a bonus, prices are more akin to Omaha than Brooklyn — two people can get in and out for less than $30.
It’s a good excuse to pick up a bottle of wine and enjoy Brooklyn the way it should be enjoyed.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 24, 2015