The dual-personality neighborhood spot—coffee-fueled cafe by day, full-service restaurant by night—has become so pervasive amongst newcomers these days that it's almost a cliche, but the trend is certainly a welcome one.
The latest entry into this crowded field is Apollonia, located on a busy corner in East Williamsburg from a team with a lot of experience making people happy. The owners are Danny Minch and Dylan Dodd, whose Walter Foods in Williamsburg, and Walter's in Fort Greene, have been packing them in for years. And in the kitchen is chef Jordan Heissenberger (Faun, Vinegar Hill House, Buvette), who was working out west when he got the call to come back home and run things here.
Apollonia is a bright, instantly appealing place with lots of Cesca chairs and green plants. The dining area seats more than 50—there's a communal table, a modestly cushioned banquette, some stools before the bar, and what will likely be the most coveted spot: a nook beneath the archway.
In a bold move, half of the prime windowed frontage on Manhattan Avenue is given over to what will be a rotating series of artist's projects and retail outlets for local small businesses. Right now the corner area, accessible only from the street but peek-able from inside the dining room, is a cozy hangout called The Reading Room, designed by Staci Dover.
The Reading Room. (Scott Lynch / Gothamist)
Most important though, the food at Apollonia is terrific, and Heissenberger isn't afraid to take chances all over his menu of Mediterranean-inspired dishes. We were treated to a press preview last week during the afternoon, starting with a bowl of Whipped Feta—a funky, salty concoction with some added intensity thanks to chilis and smoked paprika; it comes with ample puffy pita slices. The White Anchovies plate offers a lighter snack option, with lovely little fish arranged in a star, poured over with olive oil and given a bit of heat from dabs of harissa sauce.
The sleeper hit here is the Fried Cauliflower, which may have been my favorite dish of the afternoon. Heissenberger coats and cooks these florets to an absolutely perfect texture, and the excellent vadouvan aioli dipping sauce satisfies a flavor-craving you didn't realize you had. Under the "Medium" heading we had a light, well-composed salad of Little Gem Lettuce, barely dressed with green goddess, and then a decadent plate of Lamb Ribs, all the beautiful fat left intact, the skin crackling with coriander, the meat tender and rich. Dredge these through the puddle of yogurt for some tang.
As is custom these days, everything is meant for sharing, including the entree-sized offerings, which include two pastas (the Clam Spaghetti sounds particularly good), a Whole Branzino, a 32-oz Ribeye for the high rollers among you, and the heavily-spiced Cast Iron Greek Chicken, available as a whole or half. There are also three desserts, but the dense Pistachio Semi Freddo, topped by a hefty dollop of panna with a gooey amarena cherry hiding inside, is the one you'll be hearing about.
A full lunch and brunch menu is coming soon (as is sidewalk seating) but in the meantime you can gorge on insanely buttery and delicious pastries—croissants of all sorts, as well as cookies and danishes—from the excellent, totally under-hyped Nick & Sons Bakery, located just a couple of blocks away.
Apollonia is located at 128 Meserole Street, at the corner of Manhattan Avenue, and is open daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., with dinner service starting at 5:30 p.m. Closed Mondays in June, but open every day thereafter. (347-689-3600; apolloniabk.com)