The push to gentrify Bedford- Stuyvesant has been a long process, and with the arrival of popular restaurants like Saraghina and Peaches HotHouse, it appears this neighborhood has finally made it on the culinary map. With hopes to add to the area’s new dining repertoire, Black Swan, the hood’s first gastropub, has also hit the scene.
Owned by husband-and-wife team Ornella and Sureshan Pather, first time players in the restaurant game, Black Swan sprang from the gutted remnants of a long-closed auto body repair shop. For more than a year, the owners worked on creating a sleek, wood-lined, dark and airy space for their restaurant and bar. And after convincing the now defunct Brown Betty Café’s chef, Cynthia Walker, to helm the kitchen, the Pathers opened in late April.
Some things they got right, like Walker’s Caribbean and soul style menu, with options like chicken wings with a spicy jerk seasoning ($8) or the juicy burger with caramelized onions ($12). The restaurant also turns out a decently priced beer selection with rotating cask ale and 16 brews on tap ($5-9 a pint), including pub staples like Allagash White, Left Hand Milk Stout and Boddingtons. There is also a hefty liquor line-up, including a strong bourbon and scotch list ($8-$12). As a Bed-Stuy resident, the moment I stepped into Black Swan I thought it could be the fairy tale bar those of us in the neighborhood had been pining for. Unfortunately, despite the positive points, this bird has yet to take off.
The biggest problem? Getting served. From opening day, the bartenders proved slow and distracted, and months of practice haven’t changed that. On one occasion I waited and waited and waited at an almost empty bar, just to get a pint of the citrusy Speakeasy Pale Ale. The beer was great, but the delay left a sour taste in my mouth. Still, I chocked it up to newness and hoped the scenario would improve as they worked out the kinks. Unfortunately, I was wrong, and on subsequent visits, the inept service remained the same. I still feel like I need to wave my arms to get noticed at the bar or to obtain silverware for food— and that’s on a slow night.
Heading to the back dining room isn’t a better bet. Once I had to get up to beg for another glass of wine after a full one tottered off the edge of an uneven table and spilled. On an up note, Black Swan does serve one of the best weekend brunch deals around: $14 for coffee or tea, a cocktail, fruit or a muffin and an entrée. I recently tried some sweet-and-sticky rum raisin French toast with tasty applewood smoked bacon and a fluffy lemon waffle with heavy fried chicken. Off the bar and dinner menus, skip the clumpy mac and cheese ($8) and the oily fried oysters ($6), and instead go for the large portioned, crisp-skinned roasted island chicken ($15). It comes with hard mashed plantains that would have done better whole, but the salty, sautéed collards are worth trying.
This isn’t the end of the story for Black Swan, but happily ever after has yet to be reached. Lucky for the Pathers, they were smart and opened in a neighborhood desperate for an oasis. So far, it gets the job done—until something better comes along.
1048 Bedford Ave. (at Lafayette Ave.)