Residents of Brooklyn Heights, I am about
to divulge your best-kept secret.
I know that I should leave well enough alone. Let you keep this
restaurant to yourself, and since I’ve dined there, keep this
treasure for myself, too. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and
I’ve decided that it would be selfish, unforgivable really, not
to let people in on the secret.
The restaurant I refer to is Alicia’s Cafe and Eatery. Alicia’s
is the kind of comfortable place that every neighborhood wants,
but few are lucky enough to have. Owner Wayne Anderson opened
his cafe last October on Columbia Street at Joralemon Street
with the intention of serving "the kind of food the neighborhood
With Alicia’s (pronounced Ah-lee-see-ah, named for Anderson’s
youngest sister), Anderson has tapped into the dining needs of
the neighborhood. By serving dishes that provide the culinary
comfort diners crave, in a casual setting, with prices that max
out at $10 (that is not a misprint) – he has concocted a formula
that satisfies all the needs of his community.
The area surrounding Alicia’s is mostly residential. Trees shade
quaint turn-of-the-century homes, their porches adorned with
flower boxes spilling petunias or grander brownstones with high
ceilings and ornate marble fireplaces. As I walked along the
narrow streets toward Alicia’s, I was reminded of Georgetown
in Washington, D.C., or some of the blocks that seem untouched
in the far-west West Village.
Anderson has found a soul mate with the one-named chef Sijbe
(See-ba). Sijbe’s cooking reflects the ethnic diversity and appreciation
for fresh flavors that can be attributed to many years manning
the kitchen in San Francisco’s better restaurants. Described
by Anderson as "American eclectic," Sijba’s dishes
reflect that region’s ethnic diversity and appreciation for fresh,
clean flavors, yet it satisfies a New Yorker’s craving for savory,
Working out of a kitchen no larger then the smallest New York
City studio apartment, Sijbe wisely chooses to focus on a limited
number of dishes – quality over quantity. There are just five
appetizers and seven entrees. Two desserts are offered, which
change from night to night.
An appetizer of large, grilled shrimp artfully arranged over
crisp, grilled slices of bread blasts the palette with smoky
and sharp tastes. Five tender shrimp that retain that hot-off-the
grill taste, were enhanced by the freshness of lime. Topped with
a light wine and parsley sauce, the shrimp gave our mouths a
sensory wake-up call. Less exciting were timidly flavored, tiny
mussels served in a light tomato and wine sauce that had a bad
case of the blahs.
Anything but blah were two entrees: the grilled salmon and the
two-fisted, pan-seared pork chop. You’ve had salmon before and
grilled, poached, steamed or sauteed it’s become a dining cliche.
But Sijbe’s rendition features the fish showered with crunchy
slivers of fried potatoes. The salmon is seared to a brittle
crust on the outside, rare on the inside. Served over garlic
mashed potatoes, not so pungent that they overpower the fish,
and drizzled with a mellow balsamic-laced sauce, the dish had
everything a diner could ask for: crunch, creaminess and just
enough sharpness to give the dish a little kick.
The chop, lightly seasoned then pan-seared, arrived with two
sides: jasmine rice that absorbed the mushroom and wine sauce,
and bok choy sauteed in garlic and wine. The chop was juicy and
that bok choy – meltingly soft and mellowed with sweet garlic
– a shameless scene-stealer.
Don’t be a baby and wimp out on dessert. One that I tried was
as close to baby food as you’ll want to get – delicious, sophisticated,
sweetly scented baby food that is. A bowl of soupy rice pudding,
heavily flavored with cardamom, came topped with a dollop of
pineapple custard, and a squiggle of loosely whipped cream that
melted slowly over the pudding. It was a bowl of pure joy. An
apple cobbler – a little heavy on the cobbler topping – was redeemed
by cinnamon-scented apples and a luscious house-made vanilla
bean ice cream.
Different house-made ice creams are served each evening. The
strawberry Zinfandel and chocolate with sour cherries sound like
winners. I’ll be there when Sijbe makes his brownie Napoleon
with chocolate mint ice cream.
Lunch is served daily with a similar, simple, well-priced menu.
Plenty of rich coffee and such luscious indulgences as shrimp
and grits and oatmeal topped with fruit and a rum-butter sauce
are all part of Alicia’s laid-back brunch.
It seems like a high-risk endeavor. Open a cafe far from any
other restaurant in the area, on a residential street, and hope
that good word of mouth will fill your tables. The risk has paid
off for Anderson. People who find the cafe become regulars. So
Alicia’s Cafe and Eatery (10 Columbia
Place between Joralemon and State streets in Brooklyn Heights)
accepts Visa, MasterCard and Discover. Entrees are priced $7-$10.
For reservations, call (718) 532-0069.