Cititour: The New York Guide to Events, Restaurants, Music, and Nightlife

Buttermilk Channel

Buttermilk Channel

Cuisine: New American

Chef: Ryan Angulo

Cititour Review:

When I think about Brooklyn restaurants that have opened lately, not many come to mind that I haven’t heartily enjoyed. Most of these restaurants are reasonably priced and offer some form of innovative and approachable American fare, packaged in simple comfortable settings. They are the labors of love of young solo chefs (Mathieu Palombino at Motorino, Nick Morgenstern at The General Greene), dynamic duos (Sean Josephs and Michael Tsampas of Char No. 4), or entrepreneurial married couples, like Doug Crowell and his wife Laura, who opened Buttermilk Channel, a convivial neighborhood bistro in Carroll Gardens named for the narrow waterway that separates the Brooklyn waterfront from Governors Island.

Crowell, a former GM of Blue Water Grill, lives
in nearby Fort Greene with his wife and daughter, and is mindful of the families living nearby. So if you stumble in early in the evening, you’ll find the softly lit wood-washed room filled with kids and their parents (a kid’s menu offers pasta, mini cheeseburgers, grilled cheese, organic hot dogs and the restaurant’s signature buttermilk fried chicken).

Come by later in the evening, and you’ll have to weave your way through the crowds, assembled two deep at the 12-seat butcher block bar, to make your way to a table for two by a tall framed window, with a bowl of apples or a candle-lit lantern on its sill. The vibe here is super friendly, from the staff that serves you to the crowds of snuggling local couples and happy groups of friends bundled up in layers to ward off the cold seated around a communal table crafted from beams reclaimed from a demolished Red Hook shipping warehouse by local furniture-maker Ralph Gorham.  The “where-everybody-knows-your-name” atmosphere is a direct result of your host, Doug, who offers the kind of genuine earnest hospitality that makes you feel as though you’ve known him forever, even if you’ve just met at the door. It seems as though he thinks he’s running a restaurant on Main Street in Star Hollow or something.

The chef, Ryan Angulo (ex Stanton Social, who also worked in Providence at Al Forno), is on the same page as Crowell. His aim is to serve the sort of food that you might crave after a long day at the office (or moving out of your office), and to offer enough variety that you might come with your four-year old one night, your parents another, and on a date night with your spouse a third. Craig and I have been a few times now, and the menu shoulders enough variety (including daily blue plate specials) that we’ve always had a different meal, but not so much so that we’ve been totally overwhelmed by choice. It’s a fine line, but one they’ve struck nicely.

For instance, you might just spend the night at the bar with a glass of red wine (There’s a Brooklyn Merlot that’s pretty good actually), and a blistered Schaller & Webber bratwurst with warm sauerkraut and spicy mustard on a toasted roll ($10) and a skewer of Caputo’s wildly creamy handmade mozzarella balls (are they custard or are they cheese?) threaded with warm basil oil-soaked Italian bread, and drizzled with a warm anchovy vinaigrette ($5). Or you might stop in one night when you’re craving a burger and a cold pint (the bar offers about a half dozen brews on tap) and people-watch while pulling hand-cut fries from a crisp tangle on your plate, nestled next to your juicy burger, served on a soft roll, topped with grilled onions, house-made pickles and a layer of NY State cheddar ($11). Or maybe you’ll have a fresh juice cocktail, like the Fair Harbor, made with rum, ginger beer, lime and pomegranate and a platter of oysters, a board of Greenmarket cheeses with roasted grapes, local honey and country bread (3 for $10), or sample their charcuterie selection that includes and chicken liver mouse, grilled bacon or head cheese, all served under the charcuterie menu ($7-8 each). In any case, you’ll be content and well-cared for.

Or you’ll come in for dinner with a friend and order the soon-to-be-famous buttermilk fried chicken ($18)—moist white and dark meat pieces, wrapped in a crust of supreme golden crunch, served over cheddar waffles with a cool winter vegetable slaw. Craig and I shared the chicken a few weeks ago (finger-licking is sort of required), along with the bacon-wrapped brook trout ($19), a terrific pairing of this subtle, sweet fish with the more powerful flavor of salty smoky meat, served with a delicious set of silver dollar sized Johnnycakes. (The chef cooked in Rhode Island after all. He knows how to make Johnnycakes.)

In addition to the fried chicken, most folks (Craig and I included), are also going to have a vintage candy dish on their table filled up not with grandma’s sticky old candies but (blessedly) with maple-roasted almonds tossed with hunks of bacon ($4). These are essential, especially since the restaurant’s bread service is rather unclear. One night we were served a duo of overdone popovers and another night, nothing at all. But truthfully, bread is not really necessary in the face of maple-roasted almonds with bacon. Though, I have to say, the absence of buttermilk biscuits on this menu does still trouble me.

While most of what the kitchen turns out is good, someone back there has a heavy hand with salt, which was an issue with the impressively tender lamb kebabs (hunks of lamb, rather than ground lamb, $5), and a generous salad of a curious combination of endive and kale topped with a soft-boiled egg (that was more like medium-boiled) and anchovy dressing ($8).

Salt was not an issue with the delicate squash tart, but sweetness was. While the tart was definitely something that appealed to me on a cold winter night, the sweetness of the natural caramelization of the squash coupled with the brown butter sauce had me looking for a contrasting flavor—some form of spice or heat or perhaps some bitter greens? But the hake need not make a single apology. From seasoning to texture and presentation, this dish is a winner. Crusted in herbs, a silken filet of hake so moist it’s practically plumped, rests in a stew of cranberry beans, kale and linguica sausage (well, if I’m going to be honest, maybe the kitchen could spare a few extra hunks of sausage). Whiskers of fresh dill adorn the fish and perfumed the broth.

Desserts (all $7) are fun crowd pleasers, made to put a smile on the faces of kids and adults alike. We’ve not been able to resist Doug’s Pecan Pie Sundae, a diet-busting sundae glass filled to the rim with sliced up chunks of pecan pie with Blue Marble ice cream and freshly whipped cream (someone in that kitchen must have a sore forearm from all that whipping). Warm freshly fried apple cider cake donuts are also hard to resist. Those who prefer to end a meal with cheese can do so as the chef offers a plate of local cheeses ($10 for three).

There’s an appeal to Buttermilk Channel that’s inviting and endearing if not exactly unique—it’s a derivative of other similar gastro-bistro haunts like the Redhead, JoeDoe, Resto, even the Spotted Pig to a certain extent, but it’s a simple and honest formula that works perfectly for a Brooklyn neighborhood, if not your own. When you visit, be sure to check out St. Mary Star of the Sea Church (467 Court Street; established 1855), where Al Capone was married in 1918. He and his wife were entrepreneurs of a different sort, but the spirit clearly remains.

Review By: Andrea Strong

Neighborhood: Carroll Gardens

Buttermilk Channel
524 Court St (Huntington St)
Brooklyn, NY
(718) 852-8490