Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to Gowanus Gardens (thankfully, not a new neighborhood name) for some solid bar food.
Despite a recent rezoning designed to add more street-level retail, the rapid residential development of Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn remains a bit of a disaster, urban-planning wise, as the six-lane thoroughfare caters to high-speed vehicular traffic more than it does bicycles or pedestrians. There are signs of improvement, though, especially at the northern end of things, and one of those is this newly-opened eating, drinking, and gathering place, Gowanus Gardens.
The owners here have all lived in the immediate area for decades. There's Kelly Hayes, a soon-to-be-retired teacher responsible for daily operations and the feel of the place; her son Liam O'Brien, the head chef who spent time working at Danny Meyer's Daily Provisions; and Gary Giddens behind the bar, who may have poured you a few in the past at High Dive or Commonwealth. Strong local ties means good worth-of-mouth, and with no hype the place was hopping on soft-opening weekend.
The highlight of the interior is actually outdoors, a charming, pastel-bordered backyard which seats about 50 under strings of lights. Inside there's a curving bar with comfortable, stay-awhile stools and a few tables at which to hang once winter kicks in. Other design touches that give the place character include a tunnel of plastic flowers over the well-curated jukebox in the back, overhead lamps, and random decoupaged tables.
The young O'Brien is a talented chef willing to mix things up, and though he plans on expanding the menu in the coming weeks and months, there are already a bunch of excellent bar-food dishes coming out of his kitchen. The six-pack of Buffalo Wings, for example, are packed with flavor and messy as hell, and worth a special trip for chicken wing aficionados.
The Fried Pickles are also top of the line, an especially notable achievement given that O'Brien doesn't play it safe with thin chip-like crisps, but rather deep-fries full sour spears until crackling under a heavy cornflour-based batter, served with a Russian-dressing dipping sauce. At first bite, you think "wow this is a lot," but you just keep crunching and before you know it the plate is empty. Same with the Pepperonci Bites, which come stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in bacon, and served with some more of that dip.
There's a meal-sized Pulled Pork Sandwich with a big pile of fries, and it's decent enough—the pickles, slaw, and Runner and Stone roll all make valuable contributions—though I'll probably try the Grilled Cheese next time. The unexpected Pernil Buns, a kind of Latin-Asian fusion snack, were a welcome addition to the table, but even better were the also-unexpected Musubi, a Hawaiian treat involving a chunk of fried Spam, teriyaki sauce, seasoned rice, and a seaweed wrap.
This is one of those bars at which all the food is much better than it needs to be, but make no mistake, Gowanus Gardens is also a good place to knock back one of the dozen beers on tap (or a cocktail, or wine).
Gowanus Gardens is located at 256 Fourth Avenue, between Carroll and President Streets. Food service started at 3 p.m. last Friday, and 6 p.m. on Saturday, so maybe call or DM them before going (347-799-2588; gowanusgardensbk.com)