Overlooking the Brooklyn waterfront in
DUMBO is an 8,000-square-foot space that has been the home to
several short-lived restaurants. Its latest occupant is Bubby’s,
the second outpost of the country-style restaurant that has been
dishing out meatloaf and fixings to TriBeCa families since 1990.
That much glass-walled, high-ceilinged space doesn’t conjure up visions of a family restaurant, but Ron Silver, Bubby’s owner, was determined to give his year-old eatery a small-restaurant feel. As far as the ambience goes, he’s succeeded; however, the menu of classic American dishes, developed by Silver and chef Steven Rice, need fine-tuning.
The room is broken into three levels - a balcony with tables, a center dining area, and a narrow, lower dining space - which each have spectacular views of Manhattan’s skyline. The decor is farmhouse chic with mismatched vintage enamel tables and assorted chairs, pie safes topped with glass candy jars and big blackboards where the specials of the day are written.
A long, winding bar covered in wood is meant to resemble a picket fence. The "eat with the farmers" vibe has been around so long, diners recall other restaurants with similar conceits before they remember (if they remember) eating Grandma Annie’s apple pie with the kinfolk.
Speaking of kinfolk, expect to eat with a lot of children when you visit. One evening there was a birthday party winding down with a bunch of cranky, over-stimulated kids and mothers in overalls. At another table, a tired baby whined non-stop while her mom serenely gobbled pie, and adorable Max turned over a chair inches from my foot.
If you’re the parent of a young child, the hubbub won’t faze you. Diners without children, or parents who have tucked this particular nightmare away, may wonder if they’ve stumbled into kiddy hell. If you prefer an adult dining experience (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?), eat later in the evening when the under 10 demographic is fast asleep.
Silver and Rice offer dishes our Bubbys served. (Mine is represented by the matzo ball soup and potato salad, or "solid," my nana’s pronunciation, a fitting description of her cooking.) All the muffins, breads, jams and even mustard are house-made, as are their famous pies and ice cream. Some of the cooking is very good; other dishes are less so.
A constant problem - serving food at inappropriate temperatures - plagued the meal from start to finish.
A spring pea soup with mint and yogurt sounded lovely, but was served lukewarm when it should have been chilled. And it was watery. Avoid it.
Heavy buttermilk biscuits are served warm in a basket - always a treat.
An appetizer portion of St. Louis barbecued ribs with a mild dry rub were lusciously fatty and sides of smoky sauce, and another of vinegar, lent the meat sharp tang.
Moist buttermilk fried chicken with a crispy coating needed salt badly. Its plate-mates - macaroni and cheese served in a little ramekin with nicely browned crust and asparagus left tender and charred from their few moments on the grill - can’t be faulted. A big heap of moist, pulled pork left a vinegar-tinged tingle in the mouth. If your mama served collard greens, you’ll want to pass on Bubby’s limp, under-seasoned side dish.
The pies were a disappointment, a fact made especially ironic since that is what Bubby’s is known for. The fruit in my sour cherry pie was fine - firm and just sweet enough - but the top of its buttery crust rested limply over the filling and the bottom was clammy.
I doubt the apple pie was ever much to brag about. Too much flour lent the filling a chalky taste, and more cinnamon and a bit of lemon would have brightened its flavor. Warming both desserts as we requested, instead of barely warm, would have boosted their taste.
And, if you know something is terrible, like the cup of bitter, lukewarm decaf that the waiter set in front of me before saying, "Let me know if this is OK," then don’t bring it to the table.
There’s so much about Bubby’s to appreciate. The comfortable space offers local DUMBO families, and residents of nearby Brooklyn Heights, a refuge where they can eat comfortably. For Bubby’s to entice the childless though, the preparations need to be tweaked, the service fine-tuned and, for Pete’s sake, serve the coffee hot.
Bubby’s Brooklyn (1 Main St. between Water and Plymouth streets in DUMBO) accepts Diner’s Club, Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $8.95-$19.95. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner seven days a week; brunch is served Saturdays and Sundays from 10 am to 4 pm. Children under 8 eat free on Sunday evenings. For reservations, call (718) 222-0666.
On Sept. 12, Bubby’s and the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy will host the first annual Pie Social. Anyone with a rolling pin and a favorite recipe can enter. Show up at noon at Brooklyn Bridge Park (Main Street between Water and Plymouth streets) with two home baked pies - sweet or savory - cobblers or crisps that are ready to share. The entry fee is $10 (five tasting tickets are included). For non-bakers, the fee is $20 for five tickets, or the family special, $50 for 15 tickets. Applications can be picked up in person at Bubby’s or downloaded at www.brookl