Sweetwater Bar & Grill's chef Tom Kearney serves up pan-roasted cod with roasted bell pepper sauce, garlic mash potatoes and sauteed okra.
The Brooklyn Papers / Jori Klein

On one of the hippest streets in uber-hip
Williamsburg, a bar and bistro has opened with little in the
way of pretension. The place is Sweetwater, named for the space’s
former resident, Sweetwater Tavern, a dive nicknamed "the
smoky cave" by its punk clientele.

Like Schnack and Old Pioneer, two other restaurants Sweetwater
owner Jim Mamary operates with his partners Paul Mamary and Alan
Harding, Sweetwater’s decor is a bit of a set piece. Here it’s
an Old World bar and grill, the kind of place where sailors and
their bobbed-hair girlfriends could drink copiously and eat cheaply.

Mamary gutted the former tavern, revealing a pressed tin ceiling
and walls that were hidden beneath layers of paint; laid down
a gorgeous tiled floor; and lit the room with candles and milky
glass sconces. On the ochre-colored walls hang sepia-toned photos
of the seamen and their dates. With the bistro’s dark, moody
ambience, the mixture of Sinatra and rock piped in and cozy,
burgundy leather booths, the setting invites lingering. So does
the small backyard area where 25 diners can sit at candle lit,
cloth-covered tables and pretend they’re relaxing in a country
inn, not an eatery just beyond the restless streets of Williamsburg.

Chef Tom Kearney, formerly of Blue Hill and Jean-Georges in Manhattan,
offers a menu of carefully prepared, bistro-style dishes that
satisfy an urge for an excellent burger as well as for more innovative,
French-influenced fare.

He begins by offering diners a small paper bag filled with straight-from-the-oven,
deliciously oily strips of lightly-salted focaccia. The house-baked
bread pairs well with either a bottle of lowbrow Pabst Blue Ribbon
or a glass of decent pinot grigio from the well-chosen wine list.
(Nothing on the selection of international bottles tops $32,
with some unusual choices from vineyards in South Africa, France
and California in the $17-$23 range.)

Kearney puts an upscale spin on the fish cake, offering it as
a mostly codfish, ample-sized, loosely knit disc. He serves the
crust-edged patty with a side of sweet corn relish dotted with
sautéed red pepper and a little ramekin of house-made
tartar sauce.

I loved the idea of string bean salad with buttermilk dressing
and goat cheese fritters, and I admired the earthy taste of the
beans. But the dressing needed salt and the leaves of bib lettuce
that the beans were tossed with were slightly gritty. "Fritters"
are a more appealing way of saying fried cheese balls, yet that
is what they are: delicious, crisp, gooey and fluffy. I could
pass on the salad and eat 40 of them.

Do not miss the succulent salmon no matter how tired you are
of this fish. The large filet with its brittle, well-seasoned
skin, was remarkably moist and perfumed from the grill. Beside
it sat a small mound of warm red bliss potatoes, capers and pickled
onion tossed with tart mustard dressing that complemented the
sweet richness of the fish. Perfection.

I was just as impressed with a nicely charred hanger steak and
the deep, winy garlic jus that moistened it. Admirably crisp
onion rings topped the steak and soaked up the meaty juices.
A light meal it’s not, but if you’re looking for a red meat fix,
this is the way to go.

The desserts – simple creations such as apple crumble, puddings
and chocolate cake – are the kind of homey sweets diners crave.
There’s a creamy, mouth-puckering lemon tart on a crisp graham
cracker crust that is everything that tart should be. Rich butterscotch
pudding with a puff of freshly whipped cream had the mellow flavor
of dark brown sugar and cream.

Yes, Sweetwater attracts a hipster clientele; tiny pigtails and
tattoos on the female – as well as male – patrons are commonplace.

But, unlike so many of the restaurant’s neighbors in the area
that offer a scene without good food to match, Sweetwater gives
diners a relaxed atmosphere to kick back in and a meal that really


Sweetwater Bar & Grill (105 North
Sixth St. between Berry Street and Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg)
accepts cash only. Entrees: $8-$15. The restaurant serves dinner
daily and brunch on Sundays from noon to 5 pm. For more information
call (718) 963-0608.

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