Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to retro resto Bernie's on the Williamsburg-Greenpoint border.
Two years ago Zach and Alex Frankel opened their eponymous, old-school-looking Jewish deli on the Williamsburg/Greenpoint border, and it's been packed ever since, with locals eagerly paying premium prices for bagel sandwiches. Now Zach Frankel has expanded the retro-restaurant brand with Bernie's, a new place just down the block, impeccably styled as a classic American joint.
There's an impressively bulky wooden bar taking up the whole left side of the room, and faux-Tiffany hanging lamps over the spacious red leatherish banquettes on the right. The tablecloths are red-checkered, of course, with a sheet of butcher paper upon which you can color with the Crayons if you feel inspired. For this and many other reasons, but especially the determinedly safe, comfort-food menu, Bernie's seems primed to be a neighborhood family place during the early part of the night.
There's no attitude among the staff, and Frankel himself greets you with warmth and plays the part of host with gracious, casual charm. The music is predominately radio hits from the 1980s and early '90s, like Kenny Loggins and that Go West gem, "King of Wishful Thinking." It's a comfortable place eat to a meal, or sit and drink for a bit, or both. And the name is an homage to the Frankels' and, as it so happens, chef Ashley Berman's, grandfathers.
The Bernie's menu is filled with things you want to order. Some of them, though, you may not want to order again. Most of the dishes I ate over two enormous two-course dinners seemed to suffer, at times, from lesser-quality ingredients and other issues. Take the Cheesburger Deluxe, a gorgeous-looking double-patty sandwich with melted American and all the toppings you'd expect—it somehow tasted almost entirely of burnt toast. The hefty pile of first-rate, well-salted fries saved the day, but come on, you can't screw up a menu anchor like this by using flavorless beef and stale bread.
Meanwhile, the Wedge Salad was appropriately juicy, and that thick slab of bacon a dramatic, welcome addition, but the crumbled blue cheese was bitter rather than sharp, and I quickly started to dread my next bite. This, at least, seems like an easy fix.
I also got a plate of Baked Clams—I hadn't ordered this dish anywhere in forever, and this soggy, overly breaded rendition inspired me to launch a new streak of not ordering them.
The best dish I had was the Baby Back Ribs, a decadently portioned platter of fatty and tender pig. The slathered-on sauce was too sweet for my tastes, but the meat was cooked perfectly, a true falling-off-the-bone situation. Pick them up with your hands and make a mess of yourself for a wholly satisfying rib-eating experience.
(Scott Lynch / Gothamist)
If you live around here you'll probably wind up going to Bernie's at some point, because the appeal—the style, the menu's promise of no-fuss food—is undeniable. I just hope you have a better experience with the actual eating part than I've had so far.
Bernie's is located at 332 Driggs Avenue at the corner of Lorimer Street, and is open every day from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. (347-529-6400; berniesnyc.com)