Hardly a month goes by that I’m not writing about yet another restaurant that specializes in seasonal ingredients, locally sourced from artisanal farms—what New York’s Adam Platt calls an “haute barnyard.” As Platt puts it, these restaurants are “country-themed, supplier-obsessed, [and] increasingly expensive.”
Few restaurants wear their organic souls on their sleeves as proudly as Applewood, which has been wowing diners in Park Slope since September 2004: “We use only hormone- and antibiotic-free meats and poultry. Our fishes are always wild and never farmed… Our produce is procured from biodynamic, organic and/or local farms.”
Applewood is on the ground floor of a Victorian townhouse, on one of the side streets just steps away from Seventh Avenue, one of the main drags in Park Slope. It seats about 45, in a cosy room that looks like it could be transplanted from the countryside, although the noise level quickly reminds you you’re the city. All the tables were occupied, although I had no trouble getting a 7:15 p.m. Saturday evening reservation just a few days in advance.
You quickly find out what Frank Bruni meant, when he wrote, “Sometimes the food at this restaurant reads better than it eats.” Out of four plates ordered between us, only my friend’s appetizer, Crispy Vermont Pork Belly ($11) really lived up to its promise. It was accompanied by caramelized apples and roasted hazelnuts, and a pepper jelly puréee provided an unexpected spicy kick.
I started with the Warm Vermont Ham Confit ($10, pictured below), served with pickled red onions and a parsley-jalapeño sauce. In this case, the expected flavor punch from the jalapeño sauce never materialized. Fresh (not smoked) ham can be a dull meat, and the accompaniments didn’t rescue it here.
For the main course, both of us had the Grilled Vermont Veal ($24, pictured below)—“free range,” we’re assured, which means the beasts have a bit of leisure before they’re slaughtered. It was served with caramelized brussels sprouts and turnips. An applewood smoked bacon sauce promised excitement, but it was pedestrian. The veal had a welcome crisp outer crust, and I enjoyed my portion, but my friend said hers wasn’t tender enough.
Even the wine list played along with the barnyard theme, with organically-grown wines specially pointed out. I found the list a tad over-priced, but we found a satisfactory (non-organic) shiraz at $45 to our liking. Two wonderful homemade breads came with a choice of three luscious spreads, but alas no butter knife.
Applewood tries earnestly to please, and I’m sure it’s possible to have a wonderful meal here. But we found ours merely adequate. With so many similar restaurants to choose from, we won’t be in a rush to go back.
Applewood (501 11th Street between 7th & 8th Avenues, Park Slope, Brooklyn)