Sonny's side up: Sonny's Bar and Grill chef Merlin Tlapa prepares familiar dishes - at inexpensive prices - that keep local families coming back for more.
The Brooklyn Papers / Gregory

Smith Street doesn’t need another restaurant.
The block already has more bistros than one can find in a small
city. However, a restaurant that functions as a comfortable,
attractive room with an upscale diner menu is a novelty on this

Sonny’s Bar & Grill opened in March in a former antique store
location. The eatery is an antidote to all the overwrought, fusion-smal
plate-hyper stylish-bistros along the street.

Chef Merlin Tlapa, who spent seven years as the chef de cuisine
at Pino Luongo’s tony Manhattan eatery Coco Pazzo, is the man
behind the stove. His cooking is a far cry from the truffles
and linguini served in his former establishment. At Sonny’s,
Tlapa’s fare answers the craving for simple, familiar dishes.

That the food is served in a sophisticated, Mission-style room
that invites diners to linger over their meals, adds to this
unpretentious eatery’s appeal.

The room’s huge windows, simple stained-glass light fixtures
and leather booths create a relaxed ambience that invites families
to linger over their meal. In front of the restaurant, a graceful
wrought iron fence circles an ample outdoor patio. The fence’s
post allows diners some privacy with enough of a view to enable
people watching.

As you’ve probably deduced, Sonny’s isn’t the place for innovative
cooking. You visit when you’ve got a burger jones, want a good
salad or tasty, meat-and-potatoes entrees with few surprises.

A half-order of fried calamari with sea salt and lemon was crisp
and light and plenty for two people. Two dips – a fresh but pallid
chunky tomato and a tangy tartar sauce – didn’t do as much for
the dish as a squeeze of fresh lemon.

One of the more sophisticated items is a wild mushroom bisque
subtly flavored with smoky red pepper. Tlapa uses a mix of cremini,
shitake and silver bottom mushrooms in his dark, dense chunky

As a lover of meatloaf of all persuasions, I found this beef
and veal rendition nearly perfect. The meat is rolled around
sauteed spinach with a hard-boiled egg in the center. Once cut,
the three hearty, spiral slices are as pretty as they are tasty.
Tlapa moistens the meat with winy pan gravy, and serves it with
buttery mashed potatoes and crisp, sauteed string beans and squash.
On an evening when the world is hard to bear, this dish will
soothe you.

The grilled, sesame-crusted tuna won’t work the same magic. Served
rare, as it was ordered, it was strangely tough and lacked the
beefy flavor that good tuna possesses. Although the fish was
a disappointment, I liked it paired with the cold cubes of Yukon
Gold potatoes tossed in a tangy caper mayonnaise and a little
pile of crisp string beans. The cold salad lent the dish a summery,
"let’s cook a meal on the patio" appeal.

Some of the desserts, like cheesecake and warm chocolate cake,
are traditional; others are more experimental. The lime cheesecake
is a small round of creamy cake topped with lime-flavored whipped
cream. The cake and topping would be fine on their own, but on
the plate is a swirl of lime syrup hardened into pale green sugar
crystals – an addition that serves only to distract from the

A cup of Sonny’s coffee may be the best conclusion to your meal.
Lately I’ve been served either thin, tasteless coffee or brews
so potent my hands shake after a couple of sips. Sonny’s blend
is properly strong and velvety rich. It’s worth visiting the
restaurant for a cup.

There are plenty of interesting places on Smith Street to celebrate
your birthday or have a romantic dinner for two. To hang out
with friends over a burger and great coffee, Sonny’s is the place.


Sonny’s Bar & Grill (305 Smith St.
at Union Street in Carroll Gardens) accepts American Express,
MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $7.50-$19. Sonny’s serves breakfast,
lunch and dinner daily. Brunch is served from 9:30 am to 4 pm
on Saturdays and Sundays. Kids’ menu is available. For more information
call (718) 643-3293.

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