Dean Street, a little gastropub on the corner of its namesake and Underhill Avenue in Prospect Heights, isn’t the kind of place to garner attention right away. But it did. After all, at its inception the restaurant had the backing of Nate Smith, a popular chef and Spotted Pig alum, who reportedly created the menu and helped owners John Longo and Rob Gelardi open up.
But after a month, Smith was gone and Longo and Gelardi were left with a hypedup name and a lot of questions about their celebrity chef’s disappearance. Thus far a definitive answer hasn’t been offered, and the effect of Smith’s absence isn’t so much seen in the dining room, which has remained packed, as it is in the execution of the food.
On one visit, I was excited about the hoppy Kelso IPA ($6), but bored by my perfectly cooked yet bland burger ($12). The bright pink patty looked pretty enough, but the illusion vanished as each bite was overwhelmed by the brioche bun and thick slab of unasked-for white cheddar cheese ($1 extra). The giant pile of fries was good and crisp, though I would have liked to switch them out for a salad or something green, which isn’t an option at Dean Street. Instead, I ordered a hearty side of broccoli rabe ($6) that came out tender and cooked to the perfect shade of bright green. My date ordered the hanger steak special ($21), which also came with a pile of broccoli rabe and little else. For that price, I would have expected a handful of fries, but hey, there were more than enough on my plate. Unfortunately, his meat, also cooked to a medium-rare perfection, was just as under-seasoned as my burger, allowing the super garlicky vegetables to trump the meat as our favorite part of the meal.
I fared better on another night with a bass special ($21); the fish was super fresh and the herby butter sauce light and complementary. This dish had a savory combination of potatoes and Brussels sprouts hidden underneath, which balanced the meal nicely. I paired that with an uncomplicated glass of the Viognier ($8), and its mild bubbles and light, sweet notes swam nicely with the fish. The short ribs ($20) had the same problem as the rest of the beef I tried, but the grainy polenta it came with was cheesy and lovely.
Dessert, like a warm apple bread pudding with bourbon-caramel sauce ($6), was tasty if not revelatory. Dessert cocktails, however—say, a rye Manhattan, up—were superb. I ordered seconds.
Despite some uninspired meals, I did find a diamond in the rough on one visit with the crunchy homemade dill pickles ($5) and the silky chicken liver toast ($5). The combination of the browned farmer’s bread, peppery pté and a dash of housepickled onions had me wishing I got two orders rather than the one. It was while eating this that I discovered how enjoyable it is to eat at the wide, friendly bar rather than the high tables. The former gets you a knowledgeable bartender who can tell you what you are eating while effortlessly passing another beer your way, while the latter is cramped and awkward and you have to battle with people passing by so closely it’s claustrophobic.
The last time I visited Dean Street, as my group sipped drinks and chatted, the neighborhood scene unfolded around us in a homey manner, making it more comfortable to linger and order another round. While, without Nate Smith, Dean Street is less notable for its food, the space fits into its neighborhood well. (And just last week Dean Street announced Mike Franzetti, who was the executive chef at Stuzzicheria, as its new chef. With a resumé including Chestnut, Lupa and Washington Park, he may just turn the menu around for the greater good.) Sure, Smith could have made this a destination restaurant for Manhattanites, but Longo and Gelardi have turned it into a place that’s instead a draw for its neighbors, and there’s nothing bad about that.
775 Dean St. (at Underhill Ave.), Brooklyn,