Chef Brian Leth is king of the Hill.
Hired six months into the opening of Vinegar Hill House — widely considered to be one of the best restaurants in Brooklyn — Leth has been wooing palates and winning acolytes ever since with his fuss-free, season-specific fare.
“Basically, we try to keep it simple and execute well,” Leth said. “The flavors here tend to be pretty big, partially out of necessity — there’s only three people cooking here, so it’s really to our advantage to do bold flavors that people can really appreciate.”
Although it’s the storied Cast-Iron Chicken and Red Wattle Pork Chop (both created by owner Jean Adamson) that garner the lion’s share of Vinegar Hill House’s press, Leth’s own creations are nothing to sneeze at.
“People will come here because they’ve heard of those dishes, yes, but hopefully they’ll wind up trying other things,” Leth said. “The menu is constantly changing and evolving — it’s nice to have people return just because they appreciate the way you cook.”
Leth’s dishes are uncomplicated yet whimsical, like a dish of papardelle with garden snails, watercress, walnuts and pears (“it started as a little nod to the fact that when you buy fresh watercress, it often has a bunch of little snails clinging to it. I thought it would be interesting to actually eat them together,”) and a classic Caesar salad, topped with croutons bathed in every Jewish grandma’s secret ingredient — chicken schmaltz.
“I wanted to turn one of the oldest dishes into something interesting and delicious,” said Leth. “It was also conceived as a way to get a Caesar salad on the menu, so we can eat it in the kitchen as often as possible!”
Can’t score a back-stage pass to Leth’s kitchen — or for that matter, a notoriously hard-to-come-by seat for dinner? Luckily, no reservations are required to whip up this creamy, crunchy salad in the comfort of your own home.
Vinegar Hill House’s Caesar salad with schmaltz croutons
Courtesy of executive chef Brian Leth
6 heads romaine lettuce
1 egg yolk
10 anchovies in salt, rinsed and filleted
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbs Lemon juice
1 cup canola oil
2 tbls olive oil
Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup schmaltz (rendered chicken fat)
generous handful parsley, finely chopped
Stale crusty white bread, such as Sullivan Street pan de commune or similar
Add egg yolk in a blender with three cloves of chopped garlic, the anchovies, lemon juice and a little water. Turn it on and let it run for 20 seconds. Start slowly emulsifying in the canola oil, then finish with the olive oil and a sprinkle of parmesan.
Melt the schmaltz in a pan with the two remaining cloves of chopped garlic and the parsley. Add 1-inch cubes of crusty bread and gently fry until they are delicious, schmaltzy croutons.
Cut the romaine into ribbons, using only the light green pieces. Toss in a bowl with a generous amount of the dressing and croutons. Garnish with more grated parmesan and black pepper.
Vinegar Hill House [72 Hudson Ave. between Water and Front streets in Vinegar Hill, (718) 522-1018].