Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to Brooklyn for Sam Talbot's new spot, featuring fantastic biscuits.
Pretty Southern, a fried-chicken spot that opened in January on the Williamsburg/Greenpoint border, is the product of Sam Talbot, a former Top Chef TV star who hails from Charlotte, North Carolina. His menu here revolves around the birds-sides-biscuit holy trinity, but Talbot is also a diabetic (he published a memoir/cookbook on the subject), so per his belief in "healthy eating," he offers several of his dishes here in gluten-free versions.
The place itself is currently somewhat of an addled affair. The lighting is extremely dim, so much so that the place looks closed from across the street, which is an odd choice for a restaurant hoping to lure pedestrians in to its prominent take-out counter. If you are dining in, the generous portion sizes—often with multiple sauces on the side—call out for group sharing, but all of the available seating is at alarmingly narrow counters and tiny tables.
The only art on the brick walls is a big photo collage of Jean-Michel Basquiat, and in the bathroom you'll find pineapple wallpaper. That bathroom, by the way, is accessible via a small back patio (which will help ease table waits a bit once it gets warm).
The service is friendly but distracted; upon entering the establishment you might stand in the middle of the room for a while wondering what to do. Three items on the short menu were already 86ed by 7 p.m. on a Saturday. The music is cranked up to party levels, and the mix delivers Chili Peppers, Nirvana, Moby, Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem.
As for the menu itself, it is a bit confusing, and I needed my server's help to navigate it.
Some early reports on the food here were unenthusiastic, but I really enjoyed just about everything I ate over two nights last week.
The core of the menu is Fried Chicken, sold by the piece, and I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the bird itself is expertly cooked, nice and gamey, and even the large breast was juicy all the way to the bone. On the other hand, the crackling skin had a bitterness to it that I associate with a tea-brine, and do not personally care for. I was excited to try Talbot's Blackened Fish sandwich on my second visit, but it was unavailable. The Egg and Sharp Cheddar sandwich, served on a huge, remarkably moist and buttery biscuit, turned out to be a decent substitute, especially with the addition of three thick, excellent strips of maple bacon.
The sides I tried were all terrific, led by a creamy, sticky Mac n' Cheese, served in a skillet and a model of textural balance and robust flavors. Talbot's Black Eyed Peas were the best I've eaten in a long time, the firm legumes evened out with creamy butter beans, with a whole mess of meat (mostly ham hock, but also strips of chicken) making this almost a meal in itself. The bright and lively Collard Greens might have been doused in too much vinegar, but the sweetness of the tasso ham and a surprising spiciness added depth and discovery to what is too often a one-note dish.
And whatever you order, also order a side of chewy, crispy biscuits, which are presented almost like slices of sheet cake and come with a trio of dipping sauces, including an amazing Coconut Cinnamon Honey.
If you can deal with the various discomforts inherent in the cramped, narrow, dark space, you can get a great Southern-style feast here. And if you live nearby, I imagine everything travels well, so maybe just pick up some take-out.
Pretty Southern is located at 14 Bedford Avenue between Lorimer and Manhattan, and is open for lunch (12 noon to 3:00 p.m.), brunch (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and dinner (5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.) six days a week. Closed Monday. (718-349-2967; prettysouthernbk.com)