The seasonal eatery Gristmill is easily missed; it’s just one more nondescript door among many on Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue. But if you do step inside, you’ll be rewarded with a gracious welcome, a wood-fired oven, and a mustard- and dove-toned interior that promises a relaxed evening.
Gristmill’s menu is a neat fifteen-item list without appetizer or entrée categories. Hungry visitors can begin with garlic knots: a salty, seedy “everything” or a mild “cacioe pepe.” These knots are enormous, generously coated in their respective toppings, and surrounded by an olive oil moat. Beets & Their Greens, a lighter starter that visually evokes both dirt and jewels, made a beet-eater out of me (I’ve never liked them). Seasoned with zaatar, crisped with vegetable-ash breadcrumbs, and decorated with gemlike edible flowers, the dish is both whimsical and substantial.
The tatemado is another playful selection: A loaf of cornbread hides inside a cornhusk, the dry bread softened by a spicy salsa verde. It’s a reimagining of a chips-and-salsa appetizer in which slices of cornbread act as thick, sweet chips; they’re more porous than tortillas, so the salsa can bleed into them. It’s an effective variation, but I wouldn’t feel the need to order it again.
Despite its unappealing name, the rightest dish on chef Jake Novick-Finder’s menu is the Curds ‘n’ Whey. Skillfully undercooked noodles soak up a briny, peppery parmesan broth and come topped with ricotta and seasonal extras (on one visit I got lemony tomatoes, on another smoky eggplant). It’s rich, chewy, creamy, earthy, and smooth — the kind of dish you lean over as you eat, praising its virtues aloud between bites.
The Gristmill team built a custom oven for its pizzas, and the restaurant’s small but shareable pies are an appealing main course. It’s rare that a pizza feels so healthy: The Potato & Kale, for instance, arrives heaped with so many greens it looks like a hillside, though it’s hot enough and cheesy enough to keep it from resembling a salad. (Make sure to order the single poached egg on the side for dipping your crusts.) And as voluminous and hearty as these pies are, their spelt and red-wheat crusts are wholesome and easy to digest — there’s no refined-flour sugar crash at the end of the night.
Strong, deep-colored cocktails keep the meal flowing: The Rosita and the Berlin à la Louisiane are dark red drinks that balance booziness with delicate flavor; the Damson Gin Fizz will please anyone who likes an egg white drink; and the Bourbon Smash is minty and bright.
For dessert, the more adventuresome should turn to the Adult Milkshake portion of the menu, where ice cream flavors such as olive oil fennel and corn are blended with spirits like absinthe and mezcal. (I wasn’t able to finish one — they’re incredibly alcoholic, and some of the flavors are aggressively unusual.) On the simpler side, a slice of fruit pie — blueberry, peach, or whatever the winter brings — arrives without fanfare, sweet and surprisingly savory.
Kind service, nourishing food, and potent drinks make Gristmill a surefire favorite and set it apart from many a forgettable Fifth Avenue newcomer. It’s doing what too many young restaurants forget to: keeping its visitors happy, full, and warm.
289 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn