Who is Maggie Brown? Is she the unsinkable
Molly, a.k.a. "Maggie," who stayed afloat after the
Titanic went down? If so, her inimitable spirit is present in
this Clinton Hill restaurant that bears her name.
If another Maggie played muse to this cafe’s creation, then I imagined a bawdy babe with a tattoo or two who would have donned a leather mini, and gotten free drinks just for looking good and being smart as hell.
If she had a hand in decorating the place, then the fireplace, huge crystal chandelier and the bordello-style gold and black velvet-flocked wallpaper were her idea. She would have insisted on the row of intimate booths, and a small bar for her friends to hang out.
And, oh, the music. Play "Jumping Jack Flash" just loud enough to get her foot tapping, and Maggie would put down her drink and groove.
And there’s nothing, not even ’70s rock, that’d make her happier than a plate of food - beautifully cooked, soul-satisfying food.
Chelsea Altman, who owns Maggie Brown along with chef Johannes Sanzin and her fiance, Sam Barron, set me straight. The real Maggie Brown is Altman’s 99-year-old grandmother, who wrote for "Silver Screen" magazine in her youth, and later opened a theatre with her husband in Oregon. (Altman is also the proprietor of Moe’s bar and the Mexican restaurant Pequena - both in Fort Greene .)
Maggie is among the other grandmothers immortalized on the menu and cocktail list. "Irene Palmer," the grandmother of Altman’s best friend, inspired the cocktail I sipped, a brain-numbing Mojito made with fresh ginger, while the "Beryl Evans," two fried eggs over corned beef hash, is named for the bartender’s granny.
The grandma theme continues with the menu of high-end international dishes and American low-country favorites, many with a southern accent, all of which Altman describes as "creative home cooking."
Which leads to the question, "What’s a nice German boy like chef Sanzin, whom you may remember from Park Slope’s Bistro St. Marks, and before that, Bouley, in Manhattan, doing in a place like this?" The answer is, he’s turning out the sort of slow-cooked, gratifying dishes you wish your grandma prepared.
I would have visited my nana more if she served meaty, tender white beans topped with a fresh tomato compote, brightened with parsley and given zing with a grating of sharp sheep’s milk cheese.
The restaurant offers several entrees in half portions, perfect for sharing as an appetizer. One to try is the thin ribbons of homemade pasta with Gorgonzola. It’s a robust blend of the cheese, given an earthy note with truffle oil and studded with mellow halves of sauteed mushrooms. The dish may sound heavy, but it’s ethereal.
Red wine-braised short ribs are so good you’ll forget all your troubles. The ribs are served off the bone, in velvety chunks of deeply flavored, wine-tinged meat atop red bliss potatoes that are a chunky, buttery delight. Tangy mustard greens make a feisty partner, as does a biscuit so light and crisp that it puts any I’ve tried down South to shame.
Three baby New Zealand lamb chops make up a half order and they’re plenty for one. Sanzin sears the meat until crisp and rare with a thin border of crisp fat. He serves the little chops over the bliss potatoes, and partners them with a cool, black olive and tomato tapenade - it’s oily, sea-like brininess emphasizing the sweetness of the meat.
Hope & Union, a bakery in Williamsburg, supplies the country-style desserts. The light, crumbly apple pie could come from grandma’s recipe box, and the airy, dramatically sweet peanut butter pie, served atop a smudge of chocolate sauce, isn’t too high falutin’ to be served at a church picnic.
Since Maggie Brown opened in October, the restaurant has attracted Pratt students, diehard Fort Greene renters who can’t believe a place like this exists on Myrtle Avenue, and anyone else who craves a good meal at grandma’s table.
Maggie Brown (455 Myrtle Ave. between Washington and Waverly avenues in Clinton Hill) accepts cash only. Entrees: $6-$18. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Brunch is offered Saturdays and Sundays, from 10 am to 4:40 pm. Delivery is available in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. For more information, call (718) 643-7001.
©2005 Community News Group
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