"This is definitely not a place for a romantic date," said co-owner Colin Barnhart as he looked into the swelling dining room at his restaurant . "Well, maybe a fun date, maybe the second date or an anniversary."
Sitting in one of two booths that bookend the front entrance, joined by a friend who'd graciously plodded through the rain to meet me, I had to agree: had just kicked in to the chorus of "Blitzkrieg Bop."
But that is not to say it isn't cozy too. Beneath a pulsing soundtrack of old-school punk songs and indie-rock mainstays, eating at Arthur on Smith is like sitting in your grandfather's kitchen: the tables are formica, the plates are an eclectic mix of porcelain and Chinatown finds, family photos line the walls, creating a gallery of mid-century memories. So what if grandpa liked Death Cab for Cutie? He's allowed—he's earned it.
So have the team behind Arthur on Smith. Co-owners Colin Barnhart, Bruce Buschel and chef Joe Isidori are the minds behind Southampton's successful locavore dining hall Southfork Kitchen. They've brought their sustainable sensibility to Arthur on Smith, sourcing ingredients from a range of nearby farms and dairies. The difference here is, as with everything in Brooklyn, it's a lot less snobby.
Thick slices of country bread from Il Forno Bakery in the Bronx arrives on the table alongside generous slabs of butter from Battenkill Valley Creamery upstate that's been drizzled with a light, floral honey—and two gigantic slices of pickle. Wine on tap, from Long Island vintners such as Channing Daughters, is served inside quirky science beakers given a second life as carafes.
Individual touches like these extend to the menu, where Italian fare is infused with a hit of Thai chile here and a sprinkling of duck fat popcorn there. The chef is having fun and his excitement translates both visually and on your palate.
Focus on the flavors of a crispy fried octopus perched atop a spicy red pepper emulsion and pulverized black olive dust, and you'll find a gentle but consistent heat livening your mouth. Pillowy homemade gnocchi in mangalitsa pork ragout elevates a modest pasta dish to culinary execution with its beautifully contrasting textures and expertly seasoned gravy.
The dishes are meant to be shared, which means you may be tempted to over order. No matter, generous portions lend themselves to second-day lunchtime reverie. But whatever you do, save room for dessert. The Brooklyn Roastery Affogato is a single scoop of deliriously good dulce di leche ice cream given an impromptu bath of espresso, with two amaretti cookies taking the place of a cherry on top. Trust us, you won't regret the calories.
Arthur on Smith is located at 276 Smith Street at Degraw Street and currently open Wednesday through Sunday for dinner.