Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to a fancy diner in Greenpoint.

THE VIBE
There's an excellent restaurant to be found within the ambitious new Hail Mary: Greenpoint's Finest Diner, but I worry.

I worry because, despite its heavily-trafficked location toward the end of Greenpoint Avenue, it's hard to stumble upon this place. There's no sign out front—a neon "68," the building's address, does all the work—and with the tagged-up doors closed, set back from the sidewalk, and up a few stairs, there's little to lure in the unaware. On Sunday evening the usual 90-minute wait greeted guests at Paulie Gee's just a couple of doors down, but Hail Mary sat almost entirely empty, getting no spillover.

The dominant aesthetic is kind of neo-diner—it's retro and homey, with industrial touches—which is fun and friendly but signals a very different sort of meal, and pricing strategy, than what you'll find. There's an entire ice cream fountain setup in the front room, for example, and the staff sports those crisp soda jerk hats or red headbands tied up 1950s-style. The place is wall-papered and upholstered to the hilt, with bold patterns and oddball decor touches (the cake-mix-box nook with the Tiffany lamp is a personal favorite), and it's bright and welcoming throughout thanks to dual skylights in the back rooms.

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(Photo by Scott Lynch/Gothamist)

Then the menu arrives and cow tongue, duck hearts, and blood sausage are all granted prime spots, and the straight-up plate of fried chicken, which I hear is terrific, felt too expensive at $28 for me to even try.

So I worry about Hail Mary because it's an ambitious, almost special-occasion restaurant wrapped inside a burger-and-shake joint. These sorts of hybrids have successful precedents, of course, but it's not the easiest trick to pull off.

THE BITES
Fortunately, given the potential for sticker shock, your affable proprietors Ham and Sohla Eli-Waylly are both accomplished chefs, who have trained under the likes of Alex Stupac and at Del Posto and Atera, respectively. Hail Mary is the first restaurant they've opened on their own, and it's both admirable and heartwarming to see the amount of love, energy, and creativity that's gone into the place.

I ate three meals at Hail Mary last week, and really loved a lot of the food. Those Duck Hearts are served grilled and tender, with small, smoky mounds of South American farofa and spicy, oily chimichurri bringing a full range of textures and flavors to the dish. That's where the kitchen really excels, it seems, in coming up with the exact right ingredients that elevate the restaurant's best offerings into unique and exciting wholes.

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(Photo by Scott Lynch/Gothamist)

The Short Rib Stroganoff, for example, trades traditional noodles for buttered rice, which seems foolhardy in the extreme until you realize how the chewy grains, combined with crisp and salty potato sticks, might even work better with the big chunks of rare beef. The meat itself is a bit stringy, but it packs so much flavor I honestly didn't mind the extra chewing. The Charred Greens "salad" was another big winner, the burnt, bitter escarole and asparagus mellowed by creamy buttermilk, crunchy anchovy crumbs, and sweet-n-tart plum molasses.

There are more traditional diner-esque dishes here as well. You can safely skip the routine Bolivian-style hot dog (called Porky's Panchito and featuring a corn salsa inside), but the Cheeseburger, "our daily grind," is excellent, with super-thick house American cheese hiding mustard seeds and pickles, a fiery ketchup on the side perking up the proceedings considerably. The accompanying fries could have been cooked a little longer (and, frankly, the beef patty a little less), but they'll fix that I'm sure.

Mom's Spicy Drummette's, glazed with a tamarind and ginger sauce, tasted good, but I could have easily eaten triple what they gave me, especially for $12. The Spaghetti with uni butter and breadcrumbs was fantastic--rich, spicy, salty, equal parts crunch and chew--but again, the serving seemed stingy, and I was done with my entree in about a half dozen bites.

Dessert plays a big part in Hail Mary's overall identity, so I broke with my usual money-saving strategy of saying "no thanks, just the check please" and ate something large and sweet each night. As is the case in the world at large, pie beats cake here by a considerable margin. You will be tempted by Eli-Waylly's festive Funfetti layered concoction, but get her Chocolate and Peanut Butter pie instead, which is dark and decadent and delicious.

THE VERDICT
Hail Mary has some fantastic dishes, exciting and exploding with bold flavors, but you need to understand that this isn't diner food, gussied up a bit for just a couple of bucks more. This is a serious restaurant in an unusual setting, one that's evolving almost nightly in the early going--even prices changed over the course of the week--and it'll be interesting to see where it all ends up.

Hail Mary is located at 68 Greenpoint Avenue between Franklin and West Streets, and is open at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday through Friday, and at 11:00 a.m. on the weekends for brunch and dinner. Closed Monday and Tuesday for now. Liquor, beer, and wine license coming soon. (347-222-0645; hailmarybk.com)