Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to Brooklyn for doughnuts and fried chicken.
The list of TV-famous and/or regionally-loved chefs coming to New York and not quite getting it right is long and sad, but Gillian Clark seems poised to be one of the ones who makes it. Clark, along with longtime partner Robin Smith, developed a devoted following for her fried chicken in the DC area, most notably at her Silver Spring spot General Store. The buzzed-about bird landed her on a few Food Network programs, but her rise was not without some backlash, after she and Clark were caught on video mocking customers. Clark was also criticized for her "strict restaurant rules," and when asked about it in 2011, said, "I have the unmitigated gall to ask them to put their gum in a tissue. That's horrible. I'm Hitler's sister." So, now you know all of that going in...
Last week Clark opened her first restaurant here in NYC, a counter-service fried chicken and doughnut spot in East Williamsburg named Bagock, and on two visits over the weekend I found everyone—Clark, Clark's daughter, and Smith—to be totally professional and even... welcoming. The name, which is pronounced like the sound a chicken makes, is either very fun or slightly embarrassing to say, depending on your proclivity for finding joy in annoying your friends and loved ones (for the record I am pro-Bagock, spoken with exaggerated inflection and authority).
There is a minimum of fuss to the proceedings here. The menu is short, the prices reasonable, the seating a collection of beat-up wooden tables and stumpy chairs. The signage outside is a canvas banner strung over the old Brooklyn Mac sign and the only decor inside is another, framed version of the Bagock chicken. That casualness can have its downsides though, lack of hot sauce being the most egregious (Smith said it was "on order," though with all the bodegas around here it seems like they could spring for a few bottles of Trappey's Red Devil in the interim). Also it's cash only, and the ATM by the counter hits you with a $2.75 fee.
The most important thing to know about Bagock is that the fried chicken rules. Destination worthy, even. Partially it's about the seasoning, which is ample—salt, pepper, a hint of garlic—but not overwhelming, and the bird's buttermilk bath prior to frying, which enhances the meat's tenderness. The addition of butter to the frying oil also adds flavor, and there's an incredible burst of juiciness waiting for you just beneath the crackling skin. Dark meat is, as always, the superior choice, but if you order a half chicken as I did, know that the whole thing is going to be delicious.
The other half of Bagock's core are Clark's Doughnuts, and while you wouldn't travel too far to get these on their own they do make for an able complement to whatever meal you might be having. These mini pastries are served plain when paired with the chicken—they function as, say, cornbread, and they do the job well—or during breakfast can be ordered buried in powdered sugar, or dipped in a (disappointingly bland) chocolate sauce. The best one here is the one with honey and nuts. Getting a basket of three is like ordering pancakes for the table, a practice I can't recommend highly enough.
Also at breakfast (served weekends only for now) is the Egg Sandwich, a chewy ciabatta roll stuffed with fluffy scrambled eggs, a greasy hash-brown patty, grilled onions, and, as an option to which you should say yes, a fat, juicy bird breast. It needs hot sauce, so hopefully the shipment has arrived by the time you get here, but otherwise this makes for a credible alternative to the classic BEC. There are a handful of side dishes available at dinner, and the two that I ate, a thick and creamy Mac & Cheese, and Collard Greens studded with big chunks of smoky bacon, were both good.
Bagock makes for a great, no-frills neighborhood spot, and NYC fried chicken completists will want to make whatever trek needed to try Clark's buttermilk bird. Everybody wins!
Bagock is located at 173 Montrose Avenue, between Humboldt and Graham, and is currently open on Monday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., on Friday until 10 p.m., on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. (347-529-4596; bagockny.com)