When you walk into Bernie’s, it’ll look strangely familiar. You might even think you’ve been here before. You’ll see the checkered tablecloths, the red vinyl booths, the fake-stained-glass light fixtures, and the servers in embroidered polos holding trays of frosted beer mugs and sauce-covered baby back ribs. And then it’ll dawn on you: you’re inside a Brooklyn parody of Cheers. Or maybe TGI Fridays.
But just take a seat in one of those booths. Maybe it’ll be once you start chatting with your friendly server, or maybe it’ll be when you order a martini and it comes out perfectly cold, or maybe it’ll be once you’re halfway through your mozzarella sticks - but inevitably, you’ll figure out that this isn’t some irony-laced theme restaurant that’s here to provide a photo opportunity. Bernie’s is here to give you a genuinely good time.
Bernie’s is from the same team behind Frankel’s, another Greenpoint spot that serves both food and nostalgia. In Bernie’s case, it’s nostalgia for the kind of American restaurant with uncomplicated food and no pretension. Places you went to after soccer practice when you were a kid, or see bad commercials for on TV and think to yourself, “huh, that actually looks kinda good.” Places where a wedge salad counts as a vegetable, where the hardest question you’ll face is whether you’re getting the steak or the burger, and where you’re absolutely getting the sundae for dessert.
To be clear, Bernie’s has much better food (and much less corporate despair) than any restaurant that advertises on TV. But it’s the smaller details here that make Bernie’s a place where you want to hang out. It’s the crayons and butcher paper on every table so you can play hangman (which turns out to be more fun with alcohol), and the little silver bowl of crushed ice that makes the shrimp cocktail feel even more festive than your average shrimp cocktail. It’s the garden gnome-sized brownie sundae that might be made with grocery store ice cream, but is also covered with at least six inches of whipped cream. And it’s the frozen mugs, which will make you wonder why we don’t drink all beer out of frozen mugs.
So while Bernie’s might seem like the set for a TV show about a restaurant in 1983, that’s not what’s important here. What’s important is that groups are ordering repeat rounds of martinis and mozzarella sticks, regulars are posted up watching sports at the bar, and friendly staff are acting like they already know everyone’s name. None of those elements are unique on their own, but together they form a restaurant unlike many others in the city. Although, full disclosure, we haven’t been to the Times Square TGI Fridays.
If you’re going to buy bread in a restaurant, it should always be warm, and it should always come with garlic butter.
There are no descriptions on the menu, so spoiler alert: this is pimento cheese dip and ruffles. You don’t need it, but you probably want it.
Everyone has strategies for improving their mood. Some might take a bath, others might do yoga. We order the shrimp cocktail. And that’s exactly what you should do here.
A little clam, a lot of breadcrumbs. Get the shrimp cocktail for yourself and the baked clams for the table.
If, for some reason, you’ve limited yourself to one breaded appetizer, it should be the mozzarella sticks. But you already knew that.
The world is full of bad wedge salads. This, on the other hand, is an excellent one.
Cold leaves, not too much dressing, and a sh*t ton of cheese. In other words, our ideal caesar.
Tender, saucy, and infinitely better than any versions currently on the menu at Chili’s. This is one of our favorite dishes here.
For $26, you get a very good steak, and a very giant pile of fries. They tend to run out of this, so either go early or don’t get emotionally attached.
If you’re craving a burger, this will absolutely do the job. But the other entrees at Bernie’s are stronger choices.
Either a half or full bird, marinated and roasted in vinegar sauce. Simple and satisfying.
The kind of thing that makes you feel like you’re at your 10th birthday party, right after ice skating and right before Elliott S. threw up from eating too much pizza. There’s nothing fancy about this - just an enormous pile of brownie, ice cream, whipped cream, and fudge. Let Elliot S. be a warning. Or not.