I am constantly on the search for solid southern cuisine in the city. I love it here, but I really do miss my roots and probably more often than most people realize. Without an accent and with a degree from a small northern liberal arts college, I am often overlooked as a transplanted Virginian. I really do miss my family and my home friends, but it's just so easy to keep up with everyone these days - talking on the phone, emailing, facebooking, or most recently tweeting! Yes, it's true. I am all about Twitter and loving it. But, what I truly miss about home is my mother's cooking and great southern food. And I can promise you those are not nearly as easy to come by up here. Although, I have been known to trek through all parts of the city for a meal that will take me to the South, even if only for the evening. Heading to Char No. 4 in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn last week was the quickest and most affordable trip home that I have taken in awhile.
The minute you walk into this packed restaurant, you are greeted with the warmth of the South. Diners and drinkers are just happy to be there - enjoying themselves in every possible way. The largest part of the restaurant is actually the front portion which is devoted to the bar - a legitimate whiskey bar. This definitely explains the jovial atmosphere while also reflecting what I love most about the south. Even if you aren't a whiskey drinker, the dozens of bottles lining the wall will entice you - tempting you to kick back more than usual and experience the life of a good ole boy. And, while you are at it, eat like one too.
Since they do not take reservations, you might find yourself settling for a meal at the bar. Wherever you end up, the food will surely be worth the wait - especially if you start with the lamb pastrami. This was one of the best things I have eaten in awhile. It is served with coriander aioli, pickled onions, and rye toast. Lamb is one of my favorite meats and served in this manner, it is out of this world. We also started with the cauliflower gratin with almonds. This was a wonderful heartier vegetable dish that actually complimented the lighter meat starter.
I was a little hesitant to order the chopped pork sandwich since I actually prefer pork when it is pulled. But, since I am usually disappointed by pulled pork in New York, I figured chopped might actually do the trick. And it did! The sandwich was served with pickled onions, pickled peppers, and a side of baked beans. The flavors of the seasoned meat were amazing - a true testament to southern cuisine. I was also a big fan of the house made sage pork sausage with beer-braised cabbage, onions, and roasted apples. This happily reminded me of the cooked apples my mother used to serve with pork chops. All of the flavors and ingredients came together extremely well in this dish. We also ordered a grilled hangar steak served with crispy garlic potatoes and homemade bbq sauce. I could do without this dish - but, then again, there was nothing overly southern about it, so it just didn't seem to fit in with the rest. When in southern mode, I have a one-track mind. I was ready to stay the night in Brooklyn and go for brunch the next day. Although quite full, I was already craving authentic grits and biscuits. And, I have no doubt that Char No. 4 pulls it off every Saturday and Sunday.
My evening in Brooklyn made me extremely happy. While I was there with some of my few southern friends who actually live up here, I felt like we were surrounded by a great energy. There is just something about the South, and that had reached the air in Char No. 4. A few deep breaths and we were home. I have realized that as long as I live in New York, I will just have to settle for pockets of the south here and there. Even though it may take me a subway ride or two to get there, they actually do still exist. And, as long as lamb pastrami, pork, and whiskey are involved, I should be just fine.
Char No. 4
196 Smith St
Brooklyn, NY 11201
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):