You know that friend of a friend who’s traveled the world? The one with stories from Paris, Buenos Aires, and that summer in Tokyo? Let’s call this friend Sebastian. Why Sebastian? Because it’s a really cool name. Sebastian has done some sh*t. He’s trekked the Peruvian forests in search of cacao and base jumped off some impressive-sounding bridges you’ve never heard of. Sebastian has stories. Lots of very interesting stories. Unfortunately, the reality is that Sebastian also probably wears blazers with no undershirts and flies on private planes to Tiesto shows in Ibiza.
Imagine if Sebastian had all of those experiences, but was actually just a nice guy who wears jeans and likes The Black Keys. In that case, Camperdown Elm would be the restaurant version of Sebastian.
Camperdown Elm is an ordinary-looking spot on the Park Slope/Windsor Terrace border named after an old tree in Prospect Park. It has about 30 seats, plus a long bar with views of the kitchen. Upon first glance, it appears to be another small Brooklyn restaurant with plenty of exposed brick and distressed wood. One look at the menu, however, and you’ll quickly realize that Camperdown Elm has a lot more to it than it lets on.
Nearly every dish has an ingredient that will prompt you to type into your iPhone before the waiter returns. But don’t worry, because fortunately, much like our friend Sebastian, the waiters are happy to enlighten you without being condescending. Ours named the 12 types of Japanese mushrooms that accompany the scallops, but then simply said that the tartare is “off the chain.” While we debated ordering another round of fried muffins, he hummed along to the Black Keys.
The best dishes at Camperdown Elm might remind you of places like Wildair and Olmsted - restaurants serving phenomenal food in casual settings. The octopus alone would be a must-order, but the bed of blood sausage makes this an absurdly good appetizer. Camperdown Elm’s bites of fried chicken thigh served with Japanese mayo may be the best chicken nuggets we’ve ever had. The dry-aged ribeye is so intensely flavored that we initially dismissed the accompanying steak sauce like a lemon wedge after a shot of expensive tequila. (We did end up ordering those muffins, by the way, and used them to mop up the steak sauce.)
Despite these high points, Camperdown Elm also has its fair share of dishes that are more focused on being unique than tasting good - and that’s what keeps this place from being on the level of the Wildairs and Olmsteds of the world. You’ll be able to tell your friends that you ate squid crackers with king mackerel pate and suckling pig with clams, but you probably won’t need to come back for another order. Additionally, on most of our visits, the space was relatively empty, which made us feel like we were sitting in a restaurant after close, eating off-menu creations from the chef.
At the end of the day, you’ll be happy you spent time with Sebastian. Sure, some of his stories are better than others. A few may not even make sense. The good ones, though, you’ll remember. The same thing goes for Camperdown Elm - you’ll walk out of this neighborhood restaurant having tried things you’ve never tasted before. No private flight to Ibiza needed.
These are basically hush puppies with extra fluffy insides, served with creamy butter. Get a second order for sopping up the juices from your other dishes.
Three crackers made with squid ink topped with a pate of mackerel. This is one of the dishes where inventiveness trumps taste. But if you want to be able to tell people you ate squid crackers, then we’re not going to stop you.
This appetizer is only available on the bar menu. Boneless bits of fried chicken thigh are lightly fried, drizzled with lemon juice, and served with housemade mayo, and they’re so good you should consider standing up from your table and sitting at the bar for 10 minutes just to eat them. Or you could just eat at the bar. Then you could also get the double cheeseburger.
Octopus you could slice with a spoon. The Morcilla (blood sausage) is mixed with tomatillo and some wonderful mystery juices to create a dark sauce at the base of the dish. Individually, the components are fantastic. Together, this is one of the best appetizers around.
We may have enjoyed this dish more if the waiter didn’t describe it as “fishy AF.” We were expecting some funky flavors that’d require us to pick up Febreeze at the corner store before going out. We were disappointed when we basically just got a few slices of mackerel.
A plate of high-quality dry-aged beef. No gimmicks or accompaniments. This tartare is relatively mild in flavor, but we recommend ordering it, if for nothing else, because we’re not sure we’ve ever had tartare this delicate. It basically begins to melt as you pick it up.
One thick piece of roasted baby pig served over red peas and charred kale. There are also a couple clams on this plate. We couldn’t figure out why. The thick layer of crispy pork skin is nice, but go with the beef instead.
A couple slabs of rib eye that are truly worth traveling for. Dry-aged, sizable chunks of fat, and served with housemade steak sauce. They change up the side dish, but on one visit, we had roasted pumpkin that was incredible. It was filled with milk and a lot of spices, then cooked from the inside out. We have no idea how that works, but it was fantastic.
Served with oat ice cream, pecans, and coconut, this is sweet, salty, soft, and crunchy. Order it.