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SEEING DOUBLE

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The many regular clients of Dizzy’s in Park Slope might not recognize Dizzy’s Kitchen as being by the same owners.

Situated on the corner of Ninth Street and Eighth Avenue, Dizzy’s is a quintessential diner, with everything that contributes to that down-home, all-American feel - black-and-white checkered linoleum floor, red vinyl banquettes, bar with fixed metal stools covered in the same red vinyl, exposed ducts and a blackboard with the daily menu scrawled in chalk.

Dizzy’s Kitchen, Ben Hoen and Matt Pisciotta’s contribution to the Seventh Avenue culinary scene, is an upscale deli and catering operation off St. John’s Place with a touch of class and haute quality that hints at the elegant occasions to which it caters.

 

Dizzy’s

After only three years, Dizzy’s has become something of a neighborhood institution (Hoen, Pisciotta and their staff will be celebrating the restaurant’s third birthday this week and will be redecorating in honor of the occasion).

"This place was a much beloved diner when we bought it," said Pisciotta. "There was some resistance to it changing hands, but the Parktown Coffee Shop’s customers soon came to realize how community oriented we are. Now they come in every day and drink coffee."

The restaurant is clearly very community-based with a lot of customer interaction and a sense of fun. Every month, for instance, a different neighborhood artist displays their work.

"We accept all kinds of art. It’s great for us and for them," said Pisciotta. The names of regular customers are used for favorite sandwiches and, as part of the birthday celebration, the menus will be redesigned to feature their photographs.

Dizzy’s offers all the basic dishes one expects from a diner and more - breakfast (cereals, pastries, juices and smoothies, sides and a substantial selection of coffees and teas), lunch (soups and snacks, salads, combination plates, burgers and sandwiches), and a dinner menu that combines both basic comfort food, (nachos with cheddar and guacamole), entrees (catch of the day, meatloaf) and daily specials.

Most notable of the standard diner dishes was the macaroni and cheese, made with five cheeses, three colors of pasta, and Rice Krispies topping - just enough like standard fare to keep finicky kids on board but interesting enough to serve as dinner to a more sophisticated palate. The melding of the cheeses gives the dish added depth, and the crispness of the topping lends an interesting texture.

The meatloaf, wrapped in smoked bacon and served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and sauteed green beans, was what comfort food should be - satisfyingly dense and moist. The meatloaf was beautifully complemented by delectably garlicky mashed potatoes that were smooth but not cloying, and fresh beans steamed to perfection. I could see myself on a cold winter’s eve with this meal and a full-bodied glass of red wine.

Also worth mentioning was the gumbo from the "specials" list. Made with salmon, tuna, shrimp and basmati rice, this gumbo was heavy on the fish flavors, lighter on meat and vegetables, but a good melding of tastes and textures.

"Our Kalifa [Dizzy’s chef] is definitely the gumbo guy," Pisciotta said enthusiastically. "He’s simply the best."

One dessert stood out as the crowning jewel of the evening - affogato, made with a shot of top-quality espresso, a scoop of vanilla ice cream and topped with a dollop of whipped cream. Better than any coffee ice cream or fancy coffee drinks this took the essence of coffee flavor and integrated it with the rich sensations of ice cream and fresh whipped cream and the added flavor of vanilla.

 

Dizzy’s Kitchen

The food at Dizzy’s Kitchen is quite different from that at Dizzy’s, the diner.

"It’s like comparing apples and oranges," said Hoen. "We make gourmet prepared food for special occasions, and upscale deli fare to carry out." The array of carryout selections, displayed in a large counter along the back wall, is large and diverse as well as being extremely fresh.

From the pastry section, I sampled the buttery, light croissants, just out of the oven (both chocolate and regular), and was impressed with the flakiness of the pastry and the quality of the dark chocolate.

Also among the pastries are particularly dense, dark brownies, moist blondies (with white chocolate and cherries - yum), and the first real English scones I’ve been able to find in Brooklyn. The scones were biscuit-like and moist (these had a hint of apricot), unlike the heavy, dry fare so often passed off as scones in other establishments.

Salads were all interesting in the new American-fusion style of cooking - excellent udon noodles with spicy peanut sauce and scallions; farfalle with roasted garlic, broccoli, sundried tomatoes, pesto and chevre cheese; and orzo with calamata olives, capers, oregano, extra virgin olive oil and tomato filets.

The menu also includes more standard fare: curried chicken salad with apples, raisins and cashews (a favorite among DK’s clientele); quiche to your own taste; guacamole; and hummus with pita.

Dizzy’s Kitchen sandwiches include imaginative wraps (avocado, lettuce and tomato with roasted shallot aioli, grilled veggies with roasted red pepper, saffron and goat cheese ); artisanal (handmade) bread sandwiches (smoked turkey breast, brie, arugula and apricot mustard on fresh-baked whole wheat, and three selections served on focaccia, including the classic fresh mozzarella, garden tomatoes and basil with balsamic vinaigrette).

Pisciotta brought me what has become a house favorite, a tuna and hardboiled egg sandwich on baguette, reminding me of the pan bagna I used to eat in the French city, Aix-en-Provence, during my junior year of college there.

While the carryout business is doing remarkably well considering that Dizzy’s Kitchen has only been open since April, the real backbone of the business is catering and special events.

"This is what we do best, and it’s a booming business here in Brooklyn," said Hoen. "We’ve done several weddings and other events. We have a reception for 1,000 coming up at the Brooklyn Museum."

The special events menu is divided into four sections of passed hors d’oeuvres - land, sea, earth and sky - again in the innovative American nouvelle style. While I didn’t taste these, Hoen said that the most popular tend to be gorgonzola, polenta and sage stuffed mushroom caps (earth); Thai roasted salmon summer rolls with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce (sea); Moroccan lamb with caramelized figs skewered with a cool mint yogurt sauce (land); and glazed duck with apricot strudel and chevre cream sauce (sky) - an impressively sophisticated melange of influences and flavors.

"While we can always guide people with menus and suggestions, what we most love to do is to push clients in the direction of innovation," said Hoen. "Weddings don’t have to be straight out of the wedding books and magazines. We do a beautiful tiered table of wedding pies in lieu of a wedding cake. We like that and try to help clients follow their own instincts more, uninhibited by standard traditions."

With the energy, enthusiasm, and hard work these bright young foodies bring to the Park Slope scene, I envisage some mighty fun parties and a new direction for what might have been run-of-the-mill cocktail events.

"Fun, funky, frumpy, rumplesheets comfort," is how Pisciotta described the rules of the road for Dizzy’s. That also might be applied to the new Dizzy’s Kitchen.

 

Dizzy’s, at 511 Ninth St., does not accept credit cards. For more information call (718) 499-1966. Dinner entrees: $9.95-$16.95.

Dizzy’s Kitchen is located at 52 Seventh Ave. Carryout prices range from $4 to $11, and accepts Visa and MasterCard. For more information, call (718) 230-8900.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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