Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Brunch Bets: Diner
Over the course of last year, Diner has quietly become my de facto brunch destination. Maybe it's the fact that it's conveniently located in Brooklyn - albeit Williamsburg - or maybe it's the restaurant's ever-changing menu of excellent food that keeps pulling myself, and many others, back for more. Suffice to say, Diner is a most worthy brunch destination, serving up anything but the typical fare you'd expect to find at your garden variety greasy spoon.
Along with Marlow & Sons and Roman's, Diner is another restaurant from Mark Firth and Andrew Tarlow, and is my favorite amongst the three. Located just down the street from the venerable Peter Luger, Diner sits in a dilapidated building, and aside from the fact that they both serve incredible food, couldn't be further apart from each other. Plan on arriving early on a weekend or be prepared to wait. In fact, the awkward wait inside the restaurant's cramped quarters seems almost as much a rite of passage as it is a testament to the throngs of hipsters willing to brave the light of day just for a taste of chef Sean Rembold's food. Come in, put your name down and go outside, or better yet, stand patiently away from the hustling waitresses and busers, and swoop in on any available stool at the bar where you can order a solid Bloody Mary or sip your Stumptown Coffee while you wait for your table.
Once seated, a waitress - no less a caricature of an American Apparel model - will stop by to explain the menu, scribbling the day's specials on the table's disposable white paper tablecloth. Unlike most restaurants, an explanation of the menu is actually needed here. Instead of a slew of heart-stopping breakfast combos a la Denny's Grand Slam, Diner's menu consists only of a handful of brunch staples that change frequently and is supplemented with a few specials.
Almost without fail, we make it a point to start with one of the restaurant's scones. The type of scone, and its accoutrements change frequently, but are consistently worth ordering. One trip may yield a Black Currant Scone with Devonshire Cream and Lemon Curd, or perhaps a Lemon Poppy Seed Scone with Devonshire Cream and Orange Marmalade. On our most recent visit, the restaurant featured a Lemon Poppy Seed Scone with Devonshire Cream and Tangelo Curd. Whatever the weeks variety may be, the scones are always buttery and light, accompanied by the rich Devonshire cream and sweet curds or marmalade.
Feeling something more savory? No problem, consider the Smoked Whitefish Salad with Roasted Beets, Pickled Red Onions, Dill Crème Fraîche and Toasted Pumpernickle. A fat quenelle of smokey whitefish salad sits adjacent to a smear of dill crème fraîche, practically begging to be dug into and spread over pieces of crunchy pumpernickle. The pickled onions provide a nice bit of acid to the smokey salad and is further complemented by the the sweetness from the roasted beets.
Another savory option is the market salad, which always seems to change, but has always been a strength of the restaurant. One particularly memorable Market Salad contained Mustard Greens, Duck Confit, Roasted Parsnips, Pickled Red Onions and a Sunny Side Up Egg. The bitter greens, combined with the luscious duck confit, sweet parsnips and tart onions, all mixed together with the runny yolk, resulting in a massive explosion of flavor, relegating most other salads all but boring in comparison.
Like almost everything else at Diner, the pancakes preparation is in a constant state of flux. Not a bad thing if you like variety, and certainly not when its Buttermilk Pancakes with Cranberries and Whipped Cream. Three light and fluffy pancakes covered with a tart cranberry sauce and a dollop of sweet whipped cream is sure to satisfy even the most ardent brunch traditionalists.
The Root Vegetable Hash with Sweet Potatoes, Fennel Sausage, Leeks and a Sunny Side Up Egg is an oft-featured special and is a nice departure from the traditional corned beef hash. The addition of root vegetables lent the hash a certain sweetness unusually unassociated with a more traditional hash but was balanced by chunks of savory sausage, redolent of fennel, and a perfectly cooked sunny side up egg.
Diner occasionally features a Hangtown Fry as a special - an Open-Faced Omelet, with Deep Fried Olde Salt Oysters, Spicy Housemade Mayonnaise, Mustard Greens and Pickled Watermelon Rind. Similar to the version I had at Marc Forgione, the Olde Salt oysters were perfectly fried and their briny flavor combined flawlessly with the fluffy omelet, spicy mayo and bitter greens.
Recently, the restaurant offered a Smoked Pork Loin with Black Eyed Peas, a Poached Egg and Apples. The pork loin was cut thin like strips of bacon, then grilled, reinforcing its smokey flavor, which was a wonderful match with the creamy black eyed peas, runny egg and crisp apple.
Another recent special was a Smoked Chipotle Sausage with Grilled Country Bread, Swiss Chard, Onion, Cranberry Beans, Cilantro and a Sunny Side Up Egg. Here Chef Rembold employed the same combination of smokey meat with creamy beans and runny egg to produce another hearty plate of food. The piece of grilled bread was perfect for mopping up any remaining yolk on the plate, which helped render it clean.
Another favorite is the Country Breakfast. Always some combination of two Scrambled Eggs, a biscuit, meat and a vegetable, its usually so tempting that we have no choice but to order it. On one visit it contained a Biscuit with Pumpkin Jam, Bacon and Collard Greens, another time it was a Biscuit with Sausage Gravy, a Fried Green Tomato and a Grilled Peach, and most recently, it featured a Biscuit with Sausage Gravy and Braised Collard Greens. A plate best described as having "something for everyone," the scrambled eggs are always cooked soft, the biscuit are always fluffy and the vegetable changes with the season.
For those who prefer their brunch leaning more towards lunch than breakfast, Diner appeases, featuring a variety of sandwiches. The Canadian Bacon Sandwich on Brioche with Cheddar, an Over Easy Egg, Mustard Greens, Pickled Swiss Chard and a Jalapeño Lime Aïoli, served with Homemade Salt and Vinegar Chips was a refined version of the traditional bacon, egg and cheese on a roll. Still delicious, only with much better ingredients.
The Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich on Homemade Focaccia, with Pickled Onion, Pickled Daikon, and Jalapeño Aïoli, served with Homemade Sweet Potato Chips was amazing. The incredibly crisp and moist fried chicken on chewy focaccia was cut by the acid from the onions and daikon and had a nice kick from the aïoli.
Finally, all good diners have a great burger, and Diner is no exception. Like all the steaks the restaurant serves, their Burger is Grass-Fed and comes with Cheddar and a side of French Fries. Cooked a beautiful medium-rare, the juicy burger was bursting with flavor and didn't need any ketchup or mustard. The french fries were thick cut, with fluffy innards and a crunch exterior, perfect when dipped in the mayonnaise served on the side.
From its dated appearance and scruffy clientele, one might overlook the seriously good food being served at Diner, mistaking it instead for another run-of-the-mill hipster hangout in Williamsburg. But it appears that others have finally caught on to what many have already known, and like its sister-restaurant, Marlow & Sons, Diner was finally awarded a Bib Gourmand by Michelin in 2011. Don't let the crowds of the tragically hip scare you away from what promises to be a delicious brunch, instead, go early, go often and most importantly, go hungry.
Brooklyn, NY 11211
To see all the pictures from these meals, click HERE.