Admit it. You’ve never heard of a "gastropub."
Neither had I until September when Spike Hill, an English pub
in Williamsburg, opened. Couple the word with a menu of food
from the United Kingdom, and you’ll understand why it took six
months for me to visit. Had I known that the place was an unpretentious
bar and grill with chef Brett Ackerman in the kitchen, I’d have
stopped in sooner.
So what is a gastropub? If you ask Ackerman, formerly of Williamsburg’s
Diner, he’ll tell you that the term originates in London, where
"pub owners hired chefs who could do more than fry fish
When the word is applied to Spike Hill (named for the family
property in Ireland belonging to owner-cousins Tom Kenney and
Tom Schmitz) it describes an unpretentious, comfortably noisy
bar with deep wooden booths that invite a long night of boozing
To say the place focuses on booze is an understatement: There
are 15 house cocktails; a full page of bottled beers listed by
country; and another page for whiskey, with descriptions for
aficionados and neophytes alike. (Sample: Highland, a single-malt
scotch has a "rounded, firm, dry character with some peatiness.")
While good booze is important at Spike Hill, Ackerman takes the
pub’s fare just as seriously. He can fry up more than fish, but
you shouldn’t miss his upscale version of this "takeaway"
classic. Atop a deep pile of handcut "chips" are three
moist filets of black cod dusted with Japanese panko crumbs and
fried to a light, brittle crust. They’re great splashed with
malt vinegar or dipped into HP, a vinegary steak sauce.
Before you head for the main attraction, it’s worth lingering
over two pleasant starters: a cheese plate, garnished with cornichons
and a well-dressed green salad, and curry-dusted fries with red
lentil dip. The cheeses are a firm goat cheese aged in red wine
with a nutty taste and a too-mild creamy goat cheese. The curry
fries are an amusing take on England’s Indian restaurants and
their chips. Good luck trying to stop dipping those spicy fries
into the little pitcher of lightly spiced lentil sauce.
It may be better to order the Irish fry-up for lunch or brunch
when you have the whole day to digest it. For dinner, it’s heavy
going. It’s a huge platter of ketchupy baked beans crowned with
every imaginable Irish pork product. There’s a black pudding
(blood sausage) that, to me, tasted like clay. There’s a white
pudding (sausage) with the soft texture of bread, thick slices
of bacon, and an Irish sausage that tasted and resembled a frankfurter
crisscrossed with Guinness-soaked toast and a firm poached egg.
It’s not a dish for the faint of heart.
It’s been awhile since I’ve had a chicken stew as satisfying
as Ackerman’s. Moist roast chicken pieces are served with flavorful
caramelized onions, sweet carrots and large caps of meaty shitake
mushrooms in a buttery, brothy wine sauce. Lovely.
So is the warm brownie with chocolate whipped cream that sounds
like cocoa overkill, but is everything a brownie should be. The
whipped cream is barely sweetened and that brownie is just sweet
enough with a slightly bitter edge, a gooey center and crisp,
crackled top. (On this evening the other dessert that was offered
was a caramelized apple cobbler.)
Many Williamsburg restaurants are long on style and short on
simple, good food. Spike Hill is the exception. Whether you call
it a saloon, bar and grill or gastropub, you’ll have plenty of
booze to chose from and enjoy a good meal, too.
Spike Hill (184 Bedford Ave. at North
Seventh Street in Williamsburg) accepts American Express, MasterCard
and Visa. Entrees: $9-$15. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner
daily. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm.
For information, call (718) 218-9737.