Potlikker: Royal Spin on Comfort Food

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Chef Liza Queen presides in her kitchen at Potlikker.
PHOTOS BY TODD BARNDOLLAR

Potlikker
338 Bedford Ave.
(718) 388-9808
potlikkerbrooklyn.com

Sangria.

Sangria.

By Mary Yeung

The name of the restaurant says it all. It is the name of the liquid left over from greens you boiled. The broth tastes different every time, depending on what you throw in the pot. The term comes from the South, and so the food at Potlikker has Southern roots. But this is Southern food seen through the prism of new Brooklyn, where farm raised heritage pork and fresh local ingredients are prized. In other words, Potlikker serves haute comfort food, with prices to match.

As a young chef who cooked in Greenpoint back in 2005, Liza Queen was one of the pioneers who helped North Brooklyn develop into a culinary destination. Back then, she had a scrappy little restaurant way up on the north end on Franklin Street, with an unforgettable regal name. She served whimsical American comfort food and garnered a lot of media attention. A Southern food eatery on a desolated street on the edge of industrial Greenpoint. Really? I was one of those foodies who made the pilgrimage to Queen’s Hideaway. Back then, I thought the food was uneven, some dishes worked and some didn’t, but I was impressed with her inventiveness.

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Brick chicken.

Boiled peanuts as freebie starters, all kinds of interesting root vegetables as sides, an unexpected poached egg here, a little crispy oyster there, and home pickled vegetables, too. Eating at the Queen’s Hideaway was always an adventure. People rhapsodized about their experiences on their blogs; blueberry pies cooling on the window ledge, a clunky smoker in the backyard, mason jars filled with backyard weeds on communal tables, and those haunting blue walls. You have to remember, back in 2005, before the term “Brooklyn rustic” was thrown around like confetti at a Wall Street parade, New Yorkers were excited about such things.

But in 2008, the Queen abruptly shut her doors. Rumor has it that the rent skyrocketed. By attracting all those foodies to Greenpoint, she made Franklin Street hip and priced herself out of a restaurant. The minute she closed her doors, a high-end restaurant (Anelle) took her place.

Queen took a cooking gig in Vietnam with some old friends. She spent the next two years cooking American food for ex-pats and locals there who craved a taste of American food: hamburgers and pizza, mainly. But she survived and thrived on the local fare of dumplings, BBQ pork, and papaya salads.

Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 10.40.06 AMNow the Queen is back and she’s not hiding anymore. She opened Potlikker on bustling Bedford Avenue last spring. She’s doing her own thing again, frying oysters, puffing up Dutch pancakes, pressing brick chicken, and serving beer and wine. We noticed some Asian ingredients have crept into her dishes. There are ginger and black sesame seeds in a refreshing salad composed of Asian pear, cucumber, and radish. The Brick Chicken is paired with a generous serving of sticky rice. But the taste profile of her menu is still unmistakably American: peaches roasted in duck fat, fried oysters, and brined pork chops.

Start your meal with a pillowy Dutch pancake; it’s so light and fluffy it makes everything on it taste great. We had it with fried oysters, sour and hot peppers, goat cheese, and bacon. Then move on to the fresh shelled chick peas with escarole and pasta sheets in a cacciota broth with a breaded, deepfried poached egg. The fresh beans are tender and don’t taste caky like the dried variety. The pasta sheets were a bit on the grainy side, but that means it’s healthy, right? The broth is very light and tasted of salt and herbs. I’m crazy about the fried egg on top with the crispy panko crust. Deep frying a soft poached egg to perfection, now that’s hard to do. I could eat a dozen of these. My dining companion ordered the house-made bratwurst and declared it outstanding. He hails from Chicago and knows his sausage. This one was fresh and juicy and beautifully seasoned. It came with a roasted pineapple, some kind of soggy pretzel pastry, and shards of amber hard candy for contrasting texture. The sweetness of the pineapple played up the saltiness of the pork. According to our server, the secret to its savoriness is the pork. The pig was raised and lightly smoked in Tennessee before it was made into sausages at the restaurant.

Panna cotta with strawberries.

 

For the main, we chose the Brick Chicken ($24), one of their signature dishes. Two pieces of chicken, lightly crusted and very tender and moist on the inside. It was served with sticky rice, asparagus, and a dill avgolemono sauce. This famous Greek sauce was silky and lemony with an intense chicken flavor. It elevated every element on the plate. If you have a bad day at the office, this dish will hug and cuddle you for the rest of the night.

For dessert, I loved the vanilla pot au creme with huckleberry coulis and lemon peel cookie. It was a lot of milky goodness for $8. The tart berry coulis beautifully livens up the luscious vanilla cream. The chocolate tart, made with Mast Brothers chocolate, is rich and decadent, and the salty pretzel streusel and boozy, bourbon caramel sauce make it even more titillating. Because these desserts weren’t very sweet, I didn’t feel heavy and guilty afterward.

For lunch, there is a fried oyster sandwich for $13, and a Reuben sandwich made of corned beef tongue and gruyere on a sourdough Pullman bread for $14. Buttermilk biscuits and lemon curd and more Dutch pancakes with Earl Grey dulce de leche for $6, plus an array of egg dishes available
for weekend brunch.

The interior at Potlikker, like the cooking, is much more polished than the Queen’s old Greenpoint haunt. The lines are clean and modern. The walls are professionally painted, but bare. There are lamps with white fabric shades and a curvy eating bar where you can watch the cooks prepare your food in a wide open kitchen. The only hint of Southern country flair is in the chairs and tables; they’re patio green. Of course, the focus here is not the decor or the rock music, but the food, which is inventive and intriguing. Liza Queen is a gutsy chef. You will want to eat what she feels like cooking on any given day.

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