Mekelburg’s (293 Grand Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-399-2337) is a new subterranean grocery, restaurant, and bar in Clinton Hill that serves sublime, destination-worthy baked potatoes.
Assuming you’re still reading, allow me to elaborate.
The baked potatoes here deserve to join the pantheon of New York City’s classic dishes alongside Katz’s pastrami, Papaya King hot dogs, Momofuku’s pork buns, and the Cronut. Mekelburg’s baked potatoes are meals unto themselves and boost the simple pleasures of starch consumption in a way that’s both straightforward and blatantly unrestrained.
They arrive split lengthwise, their fork-tender innards enhanced by your choice of two aggressively flavored accoutrements.
One hides raclette at its core, molten beneath a hulking cube of pork belly whose pronounced smoke perfumes the plate. A gob of sour cream and a pinch of chopped pickled peppers complete the assemblage. Almost: The kitchen places the calorie bomb on top of a squiggly lattice doily of piped butter.
The second version is anchored by flaky and fleshy smoked sablefish, which peeks out from under a cloud of crème fraîche and a liberal quenelle of caviar. The play of texture and flavor is nothing short of magical — tender potato flesh against sturdy skin; earthy savor versus briny, smoky, fatty fish.
The pork-belly potato fetches $8, the seafaring spud $10. Given the preparation, both qualify as “cheap eats” — a rare find in this increasingly exclusionary city.
Not everything on the menu is as life-affirming as a Mekelburg’s tuber, but let us not damn with faint praise. Several items come close, and most contain pork, including crunchy shards of cracklings layered on toast with Gouda and fragrant pistachio cream, and an oddly satisfying mug of panzanella whose prosciutto cap conceals lard bread croutons soaked in pesto. Do not under any circumstances miss the porchetta, shaved thin so that each bite offers tastes of the crisp exterior and the blessed fatty tenderness within. You can order it piled high inside a Philadelphia-style sandwich heaped with broccoli rabe and parmesan, or as an add-on to a reasonably priced, DIY breakfast sandwich (serrano ham, speck, and chorizo are also choices). The regal Italian pork roast also reigns at brunch, coated in hollandaise for eggs Benedict and as part of a genius surf-and-turf egg crêpe that incorporates another of the main menu’s winning dishes: sambal butter-roasted oysters.
Charcuterie and cheese platters, masterminded by British-expat cheesemonger Chris George, showcase the grocery’s wide-ranging selection. Serving a baguette and a whole wheel of viscous, woodsy Harbison cheese with beer and wine might not require years of kitchen training, but splitting it between friends tastes no less satisfying. And that’s what the Mekelburgs understand. To call this place “unpretentious” is an understatement.
When you place your order at the long, wood-topped bar, a staffer will hand you a numbered flag so that when your food is ready, the kitchen crew can find you in the small, arch-ceilinged dining area or at one of the picnic tables in the courtyard out back. Consider the booze options while you’re up there. The cocktail operation, refreshingly, boasts no menu; bartenders simply shake or stir your standard of choice. The wine list is brief but generous (white, red, rosé, orange, and sherry), and sixteen suds are on tap. Brews rotate whenever a keg kicks. “We’ll always try to keep sour beers on line two,” a bartender confides, “because their assertiveness taints milder beers.” The assertiveness of an eight-ounce pour of the Loneliness of Distant Space, a mildly tart nectarine ale from Ridgewood’s Finback Brewery, paired brilliantly with the potatoes one Saturday night.
The Mekelburgs behind Mekelburg’s are husband and wife Daniel and Alicia, who for years ran a roving underground supper club out of their various apartments. This multifaceted gourmet haven, which they opened in June, expands upon those early hospitality-industry inklings. It’s not the first bougie bodega to open in Brooklyn, but it’s one of the friendliest and tastiest to come along, cultivating a gracious and approachable environment where everything’s prepared and, yes, curated with sincerity.
There are no desserts, unless you count the foie gras “Nutter Butter” cookie that accompanies an apple-rutabaga bisque. So why not do some tipsy shopping instead? That’s how we woke up delighted to find suitably soft chocolate babka in our bag. Mekelburg’s turns it into French toast, but I’m happy to report it tastes great ripped straight from the loaf at hangover-breakfast time.