Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Old Homestead...But With An Hour And A Half Wait

My parents are fascinated by Brooklyn. As much as they enjoy my little forced marches/tours through the sights of Manhattan, Brooklyn seems to hold some sort of mystique for them. Perhaps it is, for my history buff dad, the important Revolutionary War events that took place in Brooklyn Heights. For my mom, perhaps it is the fact that her father spent time at Floyd Bennett Field when he was a navy pilot during World War II. Who knows, but either way, I always try to squeeze a little BK time in on their trips here.

So when I saw a write-up by New York Magazine's Underground Gourmet on the new restaurant just north of DUMBO, Vinegar Hill House, I figured it was a must for this season's Kirschbaum Tour de Brooklyn. So I called the restaurant, asked whether early Sunday evenings were a good time to come from a waiting-time-for-a-table standpoint, and when I was told that it was one of the best times to come, immediately made plans with the family to trek out to the wild yonder this past Sunday night.

After a wonderful cab ride with the loveliest cabbie alive (how often do you hear that phrase uttered? Not too often would be my guess) over the idyllic Brooklyn Bridge (much excitement from the back seat when the route became evident), we arrived at what looked to be a totally residential block.

But, upon turning the knob of 72 Hudson Ave, we entered a convivial, candlelit space reminiscent of a farmhouse. Absolutely perfect on a frigid night when snow lays all around.

We were a tad shocked to be told that the wait was 45 minutes (apparently a few other people had read the write-up) but the bar looked cool, and we had brought a couple of bottles of wine with us (they are waiting on their liquor license, so in the meantime the place is BYOB), so we thought, what the hell, we'll hang out for a bit.

And we were especially unbothered by the proposition of waiting because we were right next to this:

The wood burning oven in the kitchen. Beautiful. As was the food coming out of it.

So the first forty-five minutes was fun. But then we began to get the sense that the wait would be significantly longer than forty-five minutes. And we were right. We ended up waiting for an hour and a half. And we seemed to be "next" for the last half hour or so. And we had to endure the indignity of waiting next to a totally empty table for six that was being held for a reservation that never came. I mean it was totally rude of the party not to show up (this table must have represented 20% of the restaurant's seats), but it was equally rude not to let us sit there after they hadn't shown up. But I chalk the whole thing up to the hostess, who was very pretty and sweet, being either untrained or inexperienced...or both, I suppose is the more likely option. Either way, this is an issue that needs to be addressed, because despite the utter charm of and wonderful smells coming out of this little restaurant, the whole getting a table episode nearly ruined the night.

But then, we finally sat. And we took a look at the menu. Total basic comfort food in the best way possible. And well edited. There were maybe four appetizers and probably five or six entrees. Everyone was happy (even my dear little vegan sister), everyone ordered something different and everyone liked it. Was the food transcendent? No, of course not. But it was quite good. It was competent, honest, American food. And the best part? It was competent, honest, American reasonably priced food. I think the most expensive thing was $16. How many places can you say all that about? So including entrees, a few coffees and a slice of their fantastic Guiness cake (this really is a must if you go here...chocolatey tasting but not too sweet, and with phenomenal cream cheese frosting) the whole dinner cost about $80 including tip. OK obviously the whole BYOB aspect contributed to the reasonable price tag, but still, $20 per person? So wonderful.

So overall, as long as they sort out the whole hostess situation (which really must be done post haste if they plan to make any money or retain my good feelings about the establishment) I am totally in favor of this place. Nice little road trip for Manhattanites, and a solid local option for the Brooklynites.

UPDATE:  Oh no!  Andrea Strong, of the New York food blog The Strong Buzz, did as I did and checked out Vinegar Hill House based on the New York Magazine review as well, and on a weekend night had a multi-hour wait and some not-so-great food.  Now since our food was good, I can only assume that this cute little place is a little overwhelmed by all of the attention.  Lets hope the early positive reviews don't crush it in its infancy!
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