Hipster Haunts: South Williamsburg's "Diner"

June 20, 2012 5:08 PM EDT | By Anthony Smith
Williamsburg
Just over the Williamsburg Bridge lies the best darn restaurant I've eaten at in so long. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Reviewing the food at Diner, a restaurant whose inauspicious crimson facade recedes from the busy South Williamsburg section of Broadway and Berry, is as exciting a task as it is, perhaps, irrelevant: no dish, save the perfectly executed Grass-Fed Burger with Fries and the flawless-then-overwhelming Flourless Chocolate Cake hold permanent residency on the restaurant's menu. And while that menu holds some of the boldest, most beautiful food options at a fraction of what you'd pay elsewhere for the same calibre of comestible, its delivery can be unapologetically gimmicky.

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That's the one chink in this restaurants armor: warm servers (my favorite in the city, let's note here) do their best to make the process of writing a menu on your tablecloth in pencil seem homespun and quaint, but it often falls flat-- especially if, as was the case during my last visit to the restaurant, the waiter says the homemade egg fettucine, crafted with equal parts finesse and charm, comes with fresh lobster and pesto. I don't usually order pasta at restaurants, owing in no small part to my gluten allergy, but the idea of all of that together made perfect, delectable sense. Imagine my disappointment when the waitress brought out a plate of egg fettucine with clams, not pasta, in a dish that never really came together, in spite of the quality of each of its parts.

I want to get my one bad experience at this restaurant out of the way in the service of being as objective as possible. Here's my third-paragraph full disclosure: I am a regular at Diner, and have been going at least once a week for about a year now. This mistake, though a big one, had never happened to me before. Every other time I'd been, I had a flawless eating experience. How forgiving I am with this unfortunate exception really proves the rule: this is one of the best restaurants in the city, and one of the closest to my heart. And best of all: it's comparatively cheap.

Like the very big, very delicious aforementioned burger and fries, a minuscule $13.50, that are a whole meal in-and-of-themselves. Savvy diners go that route and spend the money they would have saved on drinks, in particular the strong, brown Black Manhattan-- a boozier take on a boozy favorite.

As their menu is constantly changing, I can't really give you specific dishes to watch out for. But I'll say this: their winsome fish dishes are all quite big and will surpass all of your expectations for plating, flavor, and inventiveness. Barring that, order anything with their famous marrow butter-- especially if it's their mussels.

And, without exception, always order dessert. Have the flourless chocolate cake the first time you go, as they're famous for it, and it's delicious. It can and should be split with someone, because by bite three, you've had about as much of its perfection as you can stomach for one night. Other than that, I've never seen the same dessert on the menu twice. But their lemon verbena cheesecake was the best cheesecake I've ever had in my entire life, and their basil creme caramel was a bold, herbal take on a bittersweet classic. Their best? A lemon-olive oil cake with poppy-seed whipped cream and candied kumquat.

Oh yeah. They go there. And they win 99% of the time. So take the JMZ to Marcy Avenue, come by, and see what they do. And if you're lucky, you just might run into a celebrity or two.



 

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