Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to Bushwick Ave for a nice Grilled Churrasco.
There's the over-developed, over-boutiqued, nightlife playground littered with hotel rooftop bars Williamsburg; and then there's the one that feels like it's been home to lots of people for many years. Claudia's, a new Guatemalan Cafe on Bushwick Avenue, belongs squarely in the latter version of this neighborhood.
This is a reboot of sorts, or maybe more like a broadening of ambitions. What was once C.Lo Cafe, a breakfast- and lunch-only spot (with a sister location in Ridgewood), has been renamed and refurnished, and is now also serving a full dinner menu. Claudia's, like C.Lo, is named after Claudia Lopez, who owns the restaurant with her brother Mario, who's also the executive chef. The press release touts their new spot as "one of the few Guatemalan eateries in New York City."
The duo is also collaborating with the team from Midnights, a popular party spot near the Bedford Avenue L and, as such, have also amped up the cocktail program for this new iteration.
The dining room can seat about 30 at tables by the window and below a colorful new mural opposite the wide, marble bar. There's a giant flat screen amid the bottles of booze, but the sound was off both times I was there over the weekend, so it's easy to ignore if you want. Homey touches such as plants and curtains add warmth, and dimmed-down Edison bulbs keep the room feeling moody. Service was friendly and eager to help, and, as my late-brunching table neighbors said, "it's just a very chill scene here."
The best thing I ate over two large dinners here was the Pollo Campero, a basic but crisp and juicy fried chicken thigh and leg. The accompanying Macaroni Salad (which they also sell as a side for $4) was your basic grocery-store bulk brand, as was the Pickled Cabbage (a.k.a. coleslaw). The Fries were good though.
Another solid chicken dish was the Pepian de Gallina, whose thick, complex sauce of chiles, pumpkin seeds, and tomato overcame the fact the bird itself was a bit scrawny. There was also the stale, overly bready bun that marred the otherwise decent Claudia's Burger—but this seems like a fixable situation. The Casaba Salmon plate featured a perfectly cooked slab of medium-rare fish, the skin adding just a bit of crunch, though the gummy mashed yucca, like the dry yucca fries that I ordered with my burger, were borderline inedible.
Grilled Churrasco, or skirt steak, arrived tender and nicely seasoned, served with properly crunchy white rice, soupy black beans, and a pair of lively sauces, the classic Guatemalan salsa known as Chirmol, and a Jalapeño Cream. This is a very good under-twenty-bucks steak. You'll probably be tempted by the Churro Ice Cream Sandwich for dessert, but know that ice cream is just vanilla Häagen Dazs.
Claudia's is, indeed, a very chill scene, a good local place to get a decent meal for not a lot of money, where you can linger and converse without screaming. And because the best parts of my meals were the ones that required the most actual cooking—the steak, the fried chicken, the salmon, the burger patty—I feel like if they put some more love into the ancillary ingredients, the food could easily reach another level.
Claudia's is located at 39 Bushwick Avenue, between Devoe and Ainslie Streets, and is open for breakfast, lunch, brunch, and, now, dinner, which starts service at 5 p.m. daily (347-987-3402); www.claudiasbk.com