A Timeless Bar on Calyer Street

Shaved veal tongue with tomatillo salsa, crema fresca, pickled mustard seeds. Photo by Benjamin Lozovsky

”We have pig ears,” the chalkboard sign outside of Calyer bar cheerfully announces. Pig ears—who can resist that? Not me. I made a mental note to come back during the weekend.

Calyer, which opened this past summer, is part of a Williamsburg / Greenpoint mini restaurant-empire. It’s brought to you by the folks who own Anella, Jimmy’s Diner, and St. Vitus Bar. Located on the corner of Calyer and Franklin streets, Calyer is small and understated. It reminds me of the bars of yesteryear: quiet, casual, comfortable, and not overly thematic. Just a good old, timeless kind of bar with a mix of antiques and old office furniture. The food, however, is a much more ambitious affair. There are Scotched eggs, skirt steaks, slow cooked oxtail, fried pig ears, pork belly, chicharrones, veal tongue, and grilled chicken liver, all served tapas style and priced from $5 to $15.

It’s remarkable that these ingredients, once associated with impoverished immigrants, are now hotter than Lady Gaga. It wasn’t that long ago that, in order to sample tongue, lungs, and blood, you had to take the 7, 4, or A trains to the outer boroughs. Most Americans consider organ meat, tongue, and feet to be “slave” food, or Third World-country food, not “worthy.” It took a Brit (it always takes a Brit) to elevate this stuff to haute cuisine status. The whole nose-to-tail movement in New York probably started with April Bloomfield, a young British chef who opened Spotted Pig in Greenwich Village in 2004. It was backed by culinary heavyweights like Mario Batali, Jon Bastianich, and Ken Friedman. Bloomfield made chicken liver and veal kidney and sung the praises of pig trotters. The place got rave reviews, making it respectable for everyone to enjoy pig’s foot. A hundred young chefs followed suit. Not only is it fashionable today to consume every inch of an animal, but noble, too (no waste!).

I make fun, but it’s all good. It’s about time we expanded our culinary horizons, whether it’s organ meat or exotic grains from Africa or magical berries from the Rain Forest. In Williamsburg, nose-to-tail eating has been going on for a few years now. One of Fette Sau’s bestsellers is pork cheek, and at Fatty Cue they roast a whole pig on the weekends and proudly display it in front of the bar window. At Betto they roast goats from time to time. And now you can find this kind of serious eating at the edge of Greenpoint and Williamsburg.

The presentation at Calyer is nouvelle cuisine. Every element is carefully and elegantly placed. The cooking style is gastropub, and the flavor profile is Puerto Rico, reflecting the heritage of Chef Gabriel Moya, who grew up there. I liked the boneless oxtail best, shreds of silky meat topped with a mess of thinly sliced fresh leeks and white onions, and flanked by two perfectly cooked broccoli flowers. The meat is very tender and lightly seasoned with an elegant, well-balanced barbecue sauce. The Scotched egg with baccala mousse was perfectly timed, with the yolk oozing out to sauce the small cubes of potatoes.

The pig ears, deep fried, reminded me of fried calamari, but they’re tougher and not nearly as succulent. In most cases, pig ears are best when marinated and braised; it tastes more gelatinous and tender that way, more like pig ears. For dessert I had the guava cake, which was very plain and homey and didn’t quite live up to the creativity of the rest of the menu.

Calyer is for adventurous eaters, yet there are familiar dishes like skirt steak with chimchimi sauce and scallop ceviche to placate the squeamish. The best way to dine here is to bring a small group of foodie friends, order everything on the menu, and wash it all down with the bar’s well-priced Spanish and Portuguese wines, beer, and inventive cocktails, like the Pisco Sour (pisco, lime, and egg white) or the Fall of Man (Reyka vodka with hints of fig, apple cider, and anise).

The menu changes often, so I can’t guarantee they’ll have pig ears or veal tongue when you visit, but you can check their website (calyerbrooklyn.com) to see what’s cooking. Brunch is served on the weekends.

92 Calyer Street (at Franklin)
(347) 889-6323
Open every day except Tuesday