You know the feeling you get when you walk
into an apartment and you know you’re going to rent it? Or you
meet someone and after a few minutes you’re friends?
That’s how I felt in City Lighting, a bar and restaurant on Flatbush Avenue. I’m not a bar person, and City Lighting is a bar - one with pretty good food - but, still, a bar. It’s only nine months old and already has some of the flavor of those seedy bars on the Lower East Side where people start drinking at 11 am. (Not the fashionably seedy, the really seedy ones.)
And, yes, the look is intentional. The owners, Scott Fredrick and Andrew Benedict, who designed the space in the former City Lighting store, got the inebriated, "let’s hang out and drink more than we should" ambience down pat.
The food, described by the restaurant’s chef, Kevin Walker, as "pan-American" or American with Caribbean influence, is light years ahead of the swill found in the sort of bar-restaurant I’ve described. It may be the one thing that makes City Lighting inauthentic.
I doubt there’s a dish on the menu that someone hasn’t tried as a child and now craves. Walker piles plates church-supper-style with delicious ribs, great potato salad and hefty sandwiches. Here and there you’ll find an upscale touch like salads composed of interesting mesclun greens, and chipotle sauce on his crab cakes instead of tartar - additions that are commonplace in other eateries but noticeable with such simple fare.
Take his tomato soup with mini grilled cheese sandwiches appetizer. Humble? Yes. But, if your boyfriend dumped you or you lost your job, a bowl of Walker’s garlicky bisque with its cheddar-on-white side sandwich will sooth you like a warm embrace. His overly bready crab cakes have a nice crab flavor, and the chipotle mayonnaise adds rich smokiness.
Good American-style ribs aren’t easy to come by in Brooklyn, which makes Walker’s thick, man-sized ribs such a pleasure. These are ribs with plenty of fat. He cuts the meat himself, and will slice them lean if that’s what you request, but if you’re ordering ribs, why not admit that you want fat and just go for it? The ribs are marinated in a light tomato, Worcestershire and mustard sauce that could be a little spicier, but has a pleasant sting from vinegar. The ribs sit near a big mound of perfectly seasoned potato salad with the crunch of onions and the sweet crispness of apples. It’s a hearty plate of food that I barely made a dent in, but liked just as much reheated the next night.
For his catfish entree, Walker hits the Fulton Fish Market at 2 am to handpick the fish. His blackened catfish are moist and lightly seared with the peppery, Cajun seasoning adding a subtle spice. The fish lies atop a pillow of organic spinach sauteed with lots of garlic and hand-cut sweet potato fries that are crisp and just salty enough.
The dessert roundup is an ode to Brooklyn and Walker’s sweet tooth. Dense Junior’s cheesecake is an option, as are a spicy carrot cake and chocolate mud pie. Each evening he offers a seasonal cobbler. The apple is too sweet, as is the whipped cream, but the simple dessert’s crumbly topping is lusciously buttery.
Because there’s nothing better with beer than a burger, Walker has dreamed up a few between-the-bun novelties for fall. His Jamaican jerk chicken burger gets a gussied up topping of pineapple relish and mango ketchup, and for fish lovers there are salmon and red snapper versions. All are sided with Walker’s crisp, hand-cut, sweet potato fries.
What’s de rigueur attire at City Lighting? Jeans and a T-shirt, but I doubt anyone would notice if you wore a flannel nightgown and Mickey Mouse ears. Friends gather around the tables eating and drinking, or singles absorbed in a good book enjoy a drink alone or at the bar.
That’s the kind of scene you’ll find at City Lighting. That and very good ribs.
City Lighting Restaurant & Bar (307 Flatbush Ave. between Prospect Place and Park Place in Prospect Heights) accepts Visa and MasterCard. Entrees: $7-$14. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner Monday through Friday; brunch is served Saturdays and Sundays, from 11 am to 4 pm. For information, call (718) 230-3321.