Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to Prospect Heights for Po-Boys.
John Verlander, whose job titles at Lowerline currently include Head Chef and Sole Proprietor, had never spent a day in his life working in a restaurant before opening this Prospect Heights spot last winter. But since the menu here is stacked with Creole classics, the more relevant bona-fides are this: the man grew up in Louisiana, in the Ouachita Parish seat of Monroe, and spent his formative years in New Orleans, eating his way through the city's oyster bars and gumbo joints while at Tulane.
Verlander moved to Brooklyn in 2005, but he couldn't shake his roots. So after a few years spent as a consultant, plus a stint in Brazil, he completely changed the course of his life to give his Prospect Heights neighbors a taste of Crescent City. Judging by the crowds flocking to Lowerline since February, the locals have fully embraced its comforting, addictive delights.
Lowerline is one of those NYC restaurants that seem impossibly small and narrow, but Verlander makes the space feel welcoming and comfortable. There's room for eight up front at a series of tables (grab the window seat if you can) and five stools nearly abutting the brick wall at the bar. The minimal decor—black & white photos; a hand-painted sign declaring "My Dreams of Red Beans"—is charming and evocative, and the geometric tile brightens the place considerably. The soundtrack is deep-cut '80s, and Verlander and his crew couldn't be more professional and friendly.
The Lowerline menu is focused and appealing throughout. There are four Po-Boys, helpfully available as either a half or a whole, depending on how much other stuff you want to try. The three I ate were all deeply satisfying sandwiches, especially the Muffaletta, which may not be rigorously authentic (there's prosciutto in the mix, for example, and Verlander uses thick flakes of parmesan rather than the usual provolone), but oh man is it delicious. The Fried Oyster is fat with the lightly-breaded bivalves, the pickles and mayo applied with care, and the Roast Beef with debris gravy is wonderfully sloppy and rich. All of these are served on a crusty sesame roll from Brooklyn's own Caputo's.
The best thing I've had at Lowerline so far is probably the Crawfish Etouffee, an abundance of small, sweet, shelled crustacean tails smothered in a robust shellfish gravy, served with rice to sop up every drop. Verlander nails the Seafood and Okra Gumbo as well, the densely-flavored stew thick with crab, shrimp, oysters and the onion-peppers-celery "holy trinity." Don't be shy about dumping on the Crystal hot sauce, either.
Verlander will shuck as many oysters for you as you want (there have been three choices each time I've been), and there's a Ham Bone Red Beans and Rice dish I'm eager to eat next time I'm in the neighborhood. For dessert, everyone gets a complimentary shot glass of Coffee and Chicory Panna Cotta, which really hits the spot.
Great casual Creole in an inviting environment with a kind and decent dude at the helm. Prospect Heights gets a big winner with Lowerline.
Lowerline is located at 794 Washington Place between St. Johns and Sterling Places, and is open Tuesday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., on Friday until 11, on Saturday from noon to 11, and on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Closed Mondays. (347-533-7110; lowerlinebk.com)