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NOSHERS KNIT UP

The Brooklyn Paper
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I was being an optimist when I peered through the huge windows at Lodge and assumed that the diners inside wore heavy sweaters and knit hats to match the ski-themed decor. I quickly realized that the woolens were as much a style choice as a necessity. Lodge, a corner spot on Grand Street in Williamsburg, is sided with floor-to-ceiling glass panes that try - but don’t entirely succeed - in keeping out winter’s chill.

The eatery, which opened in June, resembles a ski chalet by way of Williamsburg. Reindeer inspired the enormous, antler-like ceramic chandeliers; some walls are paneled; others feature stacked slabs of gray slate. In the two-level space, tables are crammed together, which makes the ambience intimate and occasionally unnerving. Although being jostled by other diners is okay if it happens once or twice, being bumped throughout an entire dinner becomes tiring.

What the setting lacks to complete the resort fantasy is a good-looking, wind-burned guy with his leg in a cast and a fireplace. If there was ever a room that cried out for a warm hearth, it’s this one.

The cuisine, says manager Peter Cornell is casual.

"It’s not comfort food exactly," Cornell told GO Brooklyn. "It’s something more elegant than that, with all the bread - even the ketchup - made here."

I didn’t taste the bread, because a basket of it never made it to our table, but diners’ enthusiasm for the stuff is one reason Lodge’s owner, Dan Cipriani, is creating the Lodge General Store adjacent to the restaurant. The General Store, which joins Lodge and Cipriani’s Tainted Lady, a bar one door down, is scheduled to open on April 15 and will offer house-made loaves as well as sandwiches and baked goods.

Sean Hammond, formerly of Black Betty, a popular Williamsburg bar and cafe, is the executive chef. Hammond’s dishes may not be comfort food exactly, but with French fries and onion rings served as appetizers and entrees of turkey meatloaf with stuffing, chicken potpie and burgers, most of the dishes come close. There are a few sophisticated choices - shrimp and endive salad and a nicely grilled whole brook trout for example - but in this laid-back setting, and for the prices charged (most entrees are $10-$12 with one, a pan-seared salmon, topping out at $14), more-ambitious fare would be over-reaching.

A generous serving of fresh mussels can’t help but satisfy on a cold evening. The shellfish were surrounded by a winy, garlic-laced broth that would be helped considerably by a lighter hand with the salt-shaker. Dinner salads are served in generous portions and employ top-grade ingredients. The avocado salad was heaped with an interesting mix of lettuces and ripe halved cherry tomatoes, but slices of the under-ripened fruit and too much not-tart-enough dressing marred the dish.

At a table where 10 inebriated diners sipped martinis from comically large glasses, I counted six forking up slices of turkey meatloaf dinner. Hammond’s version is moist with little filler and arrives topped with a tangy, diner-like brown gravy. Stuffing - especially one made with cubed challah and caramelized onions - makes a novel side, but I couldn’t detect any seasoning. I did enjoy the sauteed cherry tomatoes and watercress, but I needed to hold a candle to the plate to see what I was eating; those antler lamps might be fetching, but they don’t throw off much light.

There was no mistaking the clean, sweet flavor of fresh brook trout beneath a nicely charred skin. A bit of simple tomato sauce complements its delicate flesh, and a few stalks of thin, grilled asparagus made a welcome touch of spring on the frigid night.

The dessert roundup is straight up, mostly American fare. There were two pedestrian choices on the evening I dined there: A brownie sundae and carrot cake with ice cream. The others were gelato or sorbet, which aren’t appetizing in a drafty room, especially without a dish partner. The sundae was sold out, which left a better than expected, buttery, spicy carrot cake with a fluffy cream cheese icing and a scoop of luscious maple walnut ice cream. The coffee is brewed to order and on the weak side.

You can get a reasonably good, fairly priced dinner at Lodge. Come warmer spring temperatures, when the windows are rolled back and diners swap sweaters for tank tops, reasonably good should be good enough.

Lodge (318 Grand St. at Havemeyer Street in Williamsburg) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $10-$14. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner daily. Brunch is also available from 11 am to 5 pm every day. For information, call (718) 486-9400.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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