21 Greenpoint Avenue, Greenpoint, website: riverstyxny.com
Via the Times
Disco globes and vintage car pulleys dangling from the ceiling. A fire-engine-red wood-burning oven capped by a wooden, wagon-wheel-like formation. Handcrafted tables that form a heart shape when pushed together. It’s clear from these quirky design details what River Styx — the newest restaurant from the team behind Brooklyn’s Roebling Tea Room, which opened last night on a quiet, riverside street in Greenpoint — is not: another neighborhood eatery that takes itself too seriously.
“I just want people to have fun at dinner. Really, it’s all I care about,” the chef Dennis Spina explains of his inventive menu, which is categorized simply by small plates and entrees. While Spina’s cooking is graced by unconventional twists, everything somehow remains comforting and satisfying. The Big Chef, a small plate that’s one of Spina’s favorite creations, is composed of slivers of capicola, an Italian pork cold cut, and creamy béchamel, wrapped in fresh pizza dough and baked in the oven. The result is warm, chewy, salty and gooey. In the Squid Suave — which got its eccentric name after a menu typo changed “sauce” to “suave” and customers praised the dish — tender pieces of flash-fried squid get a punch of lip-smacking heat from a special blend of Clamato, Frank’s RedHot sauce and butter. A flat bread, which Spina refers to as his “house naan,” is supple and pleasantly oily, getting a tangy and nutty boost from buttermilk and spelt. Paired with puréed fava beans, curried cream and raw honey, it just might be the restaurant’s aesthetic plate, with sherbetlike colors and delicate flavors that make it soothing on the eyes and the palate. Even the house chicken surprises. After marinating in a juice of house-made pickled jalapeños, the chicken quarters are fired in the oven and generously slathered with burro rosso, a boldly colored red sauce of butter, paprika and tomato paste. The meat is tender, the skin airy and crisp, and the sauce subtle enough that you’ll chase every last bit of it.
Staying true to the house philosophy, the cocktails are also deceptively simple and balanced. Developed by Dmitri Bartlett, the drink menu is filled with unexpected surprises. The Sinking Body is made of just four ingredients — vodka, grapefruit, cinnamon and simple syrup — but tastes far more complicated. While tequila is the key spirit in the Discipline, its unlikely pairing with amaretto and serrano peppers slices that are lit on fire — you blow them out — makes the cocktail nutty and spicy. “In the end, it’s about having a good time,” Spina says. “We’re all having fun.”