photo credit: Teddy Wolfe
Red Hook Tavern
You have a big brain. It weighs about three pounds, and it’s powerful enough to help you differentiate between your real friends and the people who only talk to you because you occasionally have gum. Still, it’s sometimes best not to overthink things. When we tell you there’s a place from the people behind Hometown Bar-B-Que that was inspired by old-school bars and steakhouses, for example, you should immediately conclude that A) it’s worth checking out, and B) it’s somewhere you should be eating meat.
Hometown makes most other barbecue taste like marinated baseball gloves, so it makes sense that Red Hook Tavern also excels at cooking meat. But this isn’t a barbecue spot. It’s a restaurant on a quiet corner in Red Hook that looks like if Corner Bistro studied interior design, had a few kids, and started spending time at the Film Forum. It’s a long, dark space with muted floral wallpaper and exposed brick walls lined with empty wine bottles, and you’ll want to treat it as your personal clubhouse where you ignore vegetables and eat burgers that taste like the distillation of the concept of beef.
Think of the burger here as a distant cousin of the one at Peter Luger. It’s a minimalist sandwich with one big patty and some salty melted cheese, and when you bite into it, the tender meat crumbles like it has had a long day and is eternally grateful to be at home in your mouth. Order two, and place one in a time capsule to show future generations what quality beef should taste like.
As for the rest of the roughly 20-item menu, it’s important that you exercise a little skepticism, especially when it comes to dishes that don’t involve meat. Do you really need a bowl of perfectly fine corn with a side of radicchio cups for making wraps? No - and, honestly, it’s weird that these DIY corn tacos are even an option at a place that feels like a cross between Cheers and a steakhouse. The raw radishes with butter also seem like they wound up on the menu due to some clerical error, although this classic French snack is by no means bad. Like most of the vegetables here, these radishes just seem unnecessary and confusing in the context of a place that feels like an otherwise straightforward homage to vintage taverns.
The best place to sit is at the long bar - which is reserved for walk-ins - but there are also some tables along the wall where you’ll typically see some dates and small groups having candlelit dinners with copious amounts of wine. That’s another strong suit of Red Hook Tavern, especially if you nerd out over wine that’s French and natural. And if you look closely, you’ll notice something else on most tables. It has two syllables and starts with a “b” - and if you need another clue, it’s the main reason why you come here. You shouldn’t need your brain for this one.
Red Hook Tavern Burger
This right here is a truly wonderful meat sandwich that should be a part of your life. We like how the thick patty wears its thin layer of melted cheese like a cardigan on the first day of fall, and we like the clean, simple beefiness of the burger. The only thing we don’t enjoy are those wedge fries on the side. They are, objectively, the worst type of fry, and seeing them alongside this burger is like seeing your nemesis date your best friend.
New York Strip Steak
A quality bone-in steak that’s the perfect size for splitting with one other person when you don’t want to feel like garbage after your meal. We prefer the burger by a hair, but this slightly-charred piece of meat is immaculate, and it comes with a side of creamed spinach that tastes surprisingly fresh and even somewhat healthy. We strongly approve.
Little Neck Clams
If you don’t eat red meat, this bowl of clams is your best option. Your server will probably warn you that broth is intensely garlicky, and they won’t be wrong. But as long as you don’t derive most of your self-esteem from your minty-fresh breath, you’ll be fine. Dip the toasted bread in the broth, and become one with the garlic.
This chicken pulls off the miraculous feat of looking crispy without being the least bit crispy. Impressive as that is, we’d prefer if it were crispy. We still like it just fine, and we enjoy the chunky mashed potatoes, but it’s far from our top choice at Red Hook Tavern.
Romaine Wedge Salad
Our favorite non-meat item at Red Hook Tavern, this salad is fresh and well-dressed with plenty of blue cheese, and the thick-cut bacon is some of the finest in NYC. Start your meal with this.
Easter Egg Radish
Oh god, why are there so many radishes on this plate? Half the radishes would do. Or even just a quarter. You don’t need all these radishes, and you’ll realize this after you eat a single (fine) raw radish dipped in the excessive amount of butter on the side.
Another confusing dish, this right here is a bowl of grilled corn with spreadable sausage and radicchio for making wraps. Is it bad? Not at all. We just have no clue why it exists at this old-school tavern, and there’s no scenario in which you’ll regret skipping it.
Creamy on the inside, crunchy on the outside, we’d eat a bucket of these ham croquettes without even thinking about it. The only thing holding them back is the dijon sauce on the bottom. It’s a delicious sauce, but there’s just way too much of it, and it gets in the way of everything else.