So ‘Apropos’

for The Brooklyn Paper
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One of the delights of dining out is stumbling into a place and finding something unexpected and special on the menu. At Apropros Cafe in Park Slope, a wine bar and small plate eatery in the authentic style, that surprise was a stellar bread pudding.

I don’t know how the humblest of desserts made its way onto an Italian menu, but I’m grateful that it did. Chef Laurie Vanderwoude serves the pudding exactly as it should be: light, not terribly sweet, with a crisp top and a custardy center. She flavors the dessert with banana and a touch of chocolate, and to cut the sweetness, laces the bread with a strong shot of espresso. It’s a destination dish of the highest order.

Like that bread pudding, the unassuming cafe is a pleasant surprise. There are plenty of wine bars in Brooklyn that I admire, but I think the goal of Ali Kihanmahd, who opened Apropos in November, leans toward the old Greenwich Village, sip-and-nibble mode.

There’s a nonchalance about the cafe that begins with the sign: its name is written on a small chalkboard that sits in front of its large windows; no trumpet-blaring awning announces its place on busy Fifth Avenue. Inside, the 15-seat, brick-walled space, edged with a long, soft, red banquette, glimmers with candlelight. It’s an easy ambience that invites patrons to linger over tasty, carefully conceived, small plates and a well-priced wine list of mostly Italian and South American bottles.

The bruschetta here are a far cry from some of the banal, tomato-heaped versions found elsewhere. Order the tomato bruschetta and a slice of Italian bread arrives thin, fresh and crisp, smeared with tangy, creamy Montrachet cheese and topped with ripe tomatoes and basil. Another sets well-seasoned white bean puree over a licorice-tinged pesto with a crown of crunchy, salty pancetta. The best of the enticing lot pairs pieces of soft, warm figs that add their sweet earthiness to the salty funk of Gorgonzola.

The pizzas are also a step up from the usual. I’ve been disappointed by individual-sized pies before, so I was delighted by the thin, chewy crust of Apropos’ portobello pie and how well suited it was to its toppings. A generous amount of the roasted mushrooms are deepened by woodsy truffle puree and aromatic, fresh thyme. A puree of caramelized garlic and shallots lends a slight bite and sweetness, and pecorino cheese adds its distinctive salty edge. The pie is a balancing act of extremes that works. Other pizzas, like the clam pie made with a smear of the onion mix and Parmesan, are just as tempting.

The panini are thoroughly authentic, which may disappoint people used to over-stuffed sandwiches. The Italians make the sandwich with bread as the star and the filling a bit player.

The “Putanesca” panino, one of several offerings that include a lusty “Cuban” with roast pork and sweet pickles, begins with a crisp, chewy ciabatta roll, its center layered with a few thin slices of smoked ham, mortadella, soppressata and salami. The spicy meats are teamed with tangy, salty provolone cheese and moistened with a splash of herbed olive oil. I’ll take half the sandwich over another filled with a half-pound of dull meat any day.

Salads are another one of those hit-or-miss picks on most menus, usually because the dressing is timid. The two I tried when I visited — the arugula with buttery, roasted pear slices, and the beet — were tossed with dressings that made an impact. The spiced honey vinaigrette on the arugula, for instance, had a hint of sweetness that complemented the pears and dried cranberries while emphasizing the peppery greens and the salty edge of Gorgonzola. A mellow balsamic vinaigrette on the beet salad added tang to crisp, curly frisee and spicy arugula, while accentuating the sweetness of pickled red onion slices and bits of fresh, milky goat cheese.

Kihanmahd, who has years of front-of-the-house restaurant experience, brings just the right touch to his cafe. The wine is poured with a heavy hand and is easy on the wallet; and the kitchen has no big gastronomic goal. There are enjoyable options, all thoughtfully conceived and prepared. When you want to linger over a glass of wine and a plate of something enjoyable, what Apropos Cafe offers is perfectly apropos.

Apropos Cafe (186 Fifth Ave. between Sackett and Degraw streets in Park Slope) accepts American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Small plates: $3-$10.50. Lunch and dinner is available Tuesday through Sunday. Brunch is served on weekends, 11 am-3 pm. Closed Mondays. Subway: R to Union Street. For information, call (718) 230-7605 or visit

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