If there were a single wish Brooklyn diners
would make, they’d want an eatery in their neighborhood where
they truly enjoyed hanging out. It would be a place where they
felt comfortable sitting at the bar alone and ordering a cocktail;
where they could suggest a few friends meet and know that they’ll
share a pleasant meal; and, if they were in the mood, perhaps
shoot a game of pool. Most important though, would be the hours.
If they staggered home from the office at midnight, the kitchen
would still be open for business.
I’ve just described Apartment 138 on Smith Street, a bar and restaurant which was opened in 2005 by Tedd Mann (Cebu Bistro in Bay Ridge; Bar 4 in Park Slope; and Matchless in Greenpoint) and Alfred DiScipio, Mann’s partner in this venture and the Boerum Hill bar, Camp.
Out of a former duplex - hence the name - the duo fashioned a space that meets several needs: The ground floor houses a bar area that is warm and a little funky without an iota of kitsch; beyond the bar is an inviting dining room with wooden tables, white chairs, a photomural of bamboo trees and a long communal table. Patrons sitting at the table can see the goings on in the lovely back patio below where 35 diners eat beneath umbrella-topped tables. On a recent Sunday evening, an active foosball game was in progress and a couple shot pool in the brightly lit game room.
The ambience speaks more to what the owners don’t want than what they do: They’re not trying to create a chic bar setting or add another ambitious bistro to the area. (There are enough of those along the avenue already.) With the setting and menu, they offer familiarity with a twist: A bartender who knows how to make a cocktail that isn’t too sweet; a kitchen that can blend a black and white milkshake like the best old school soda jerk; and, if you missed breakfast, you can still have your Frosted Flakes at 2 am. (The morning meal is served until closing.)
Chef Simon Lange (formerly of Cocotte in Park Slope), who started in February, understands what diners want from a neighborhood place and offers a few specials each night that could distract them from their glass of wine.
You’ll be happy if you order the pressed sandwiches. Ingredients like portobello and wild mushrooms with prosciutto and shaved Parmesan, or an upscale cheesesteak made with rare beef, cheddar cheese, sauteed onions and garlic mayonnaise transcends ordinary bar food. Both sandwiches are ideal with a beer. (There are 12 bottled varieties and six on draft.) There are several large, juicy burgers as well as salads and a few hearty pasta dishes.
I’d avoid the gazpacho that, like most soups of this kind, tasted like a bowl of salsa.
But Lange does a beautiful job with an appetizer of grilled shrimp. A skewer held several large crustaceans, cooked until just tender with a delightful bite of black pepper. A pineapple salsa added a touch of sweetness.
However, his sweet tooth can trip him up. A spinach salad with pear slices and roasted chunks of the fruit topped with bleu cheese could have used the tartness of lemony vinaigrette to set off the sweet fruit. Instead the greens were tossed with a honey-balsamic dressing that wasn’t bad, but crisp, toasted walnuts with a candy coating toppled the mix into too-sweet-territory.
I found a similar flaw in a more ambitious entree of seared tuna. The slices were meaty and rare; and they were served with bok choy sauteed until tender, its slight bitterness complementing the rich fish. Asian spicy mustard - one of two sauces drizzled over the fish - was cloying. The other topping, a wasabi glaze, had just the right heat to brighten the dish.
I liked Lange’s grilled sea scallops over field greens tossed with citrus vinaigrette and paired with pieces of grapefruit. The tart fruit and dressing emphasized the delicate sweetness of the fish, but slices of plum tomatoes only added a touch of color to the ingredients.
Lange does a credible job with a dish that isn’t easy to come by in the borough: good ribs. The fall-off-the-bone, barbequed baby backs were brushed with a tangy sauce that enhances the rich meat. He wisely accompanies the rack with a moist chunk of grilled corn and a small dish of coleslaw.
Neither the creme brulee or toasted pound cake slices sandwiching vanilla, chocolate and pistachio ice cream - two of about eight desserts that include mini pressed ice cream sandwiches, cheesecake and a warm pecan pie with vanilla ice cream - did much for me. The first had a heavy sugar coating and loose creme beneath; the other was simply dull.
There may be a few flaws in the kitchen, but Apartment 138 isn’t aiming to climb great culinary summits. The cooks do a credible job, and besides, where else are you going to get Rice Krispies and a martini at 1 am?
Apartment 138 (138 Smith St. between Bergen and Dean streets in Boerum Hill) accepts American Express, Diners Club, Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $12-$18. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner daily. Brunch is available on weekends, from 11 am to 4 pm. For more information, call (718) 858-0556.