A strip of Williamsburg’s Metropolitan Avenue—roughly between Roebling and Havemeyer streets—has slowly become home to a number of the city’s most exciting eateries. The stretch already boasts The Roebling Tea Room, Fette Sau and Saltie, not to mention The Commodore, Spuyten Duyvil and The Knitting Factory.
Now you can add The Old Rooster to the list of important eateries, a new, cozy, Polishtinged gastropub fashionably festooned with exposed brick walls, thick wood beams and archways that give the space the feel of an ancient European cellar. Aside from the décor, a friendly staff and impressive selection of booze makes Old Rooster an exciting prospect for the coming winter.
The first thing to know about The Old Rooster is that there are about a dozen taps ($6 for a half-liter or $12 for a full) featuring brews like the caramel-tinged Tröegs HopBack Amber and the mellow, lightly hopped Ommegang Rare Vos. If the bartender doesn’t force you to sample different beers (and I’m not complaining in the slightest that one did), you can always ask to taste something new or staples like Hoegaarden, Sixpoint Sweet Action or Coney Island Mermaid Pilsner.
With choices like Snap Dragon red ($7/$25) and Terrazas Alto Malbec ($7/$26), the wine list isn’t exceptional, but it’s definitely better than dive-bar options. If you don’t feel like beer, there’s also a handful of nice bourbons and whiskeys; one night I luxuriated in a glass of the über smoky Lagavulin Single Malt Scotch, which paired nicely with the grilled eggplant, prosciutto and mozzarella on a hunk of fresh bread ($9).
As far as other edible options, that is where things get tricky. For one, the menu is full of spelling mistakes, like the “mariner” veggie skewer and the “stake” and cheese sandwich (this would have been more amusing if the “last minute vampire steak” had the same typo). By the way, unless the menu option states what kind of cheese it is, it will be Brie—yes, Brie—on everything. Do try the lamb skewer ($7) and the beef jalapeño skewer ($8). The former is tender and sweet and, while the peppers on the latter were somehow left off, the sticky, smoky brown sauce on it made it easy to forgive.
Out in Ditmas Park is another snug new bar, though instead of being sandwiched between competing businesses, Ox Cart Tavern occupies the corner that used to house the French bistro Pomme de Terre. While The Old Rooster has the atmosphere of a wine cellar, Ox Cart Tavern has a country house feel, and on a rainy Thursday night, the Ditmas Park bar felt far away from New York. The low, Colonial-style lights, whitewashed walls and tall, thick curtained windows gave the sense of warmth, especially as the cold rain poured outside. The flicker of golden candlelight also added to this homey vibe, though the other flickering light coming from the televisions over the bar felt out of place.
Run by Jim Mamary, of Gowanus Yacht Club, Patois and Sweetwater, Ox Cart Tavern has embraced pub food with a rustic twist. I was mercilessly teased by the absence of a burger, which the waitress said is what they’re known for. So why the restaurant had run out (along with two of the three draft beers, the chicken special and duck pie) by 8 on a Thursday was baffling. Still, my companions and I comforted our bellies with the fresh, if bland, crab cake poppers ($9), with guacamole, bangle-sized and perfectly crispy chili dusted onion rings ($4) with a tangy lime emulsion, and the heavy spinach pies ($7), which came wrapped in butter-laden pastry and served with a dull chipotle sauce. Unfortunately, they lacked the promised bite of goat cheese we were so looking forward to. We fared best with the fresh baby lettuce salad ($6) served with vanilla poached apples, candied pecans and a crumble of mild blue cheese.
At this point, Ox Cart Tavern doesn’t offer more to drink then beer and wine, though it did just get a liquor license. The beers on tap are Gaffel Kolsch, Abita Amber Ale and Budweiser, and there are also a number of bottled offerings. Check out the wine list on the mirrored wall, but make sure to look at both sides since one has the normal vinos, and the other lists specials. On my last visit, I enjoyed a delightful bottle of the dry Montepulciano D’Abruzzo Friso, which was, like the rest of the wines, moderately priced at $7 for a glass and $26 for the bottle. At that time they were also offering Villa Fiore Pinot Grigio ($7, $26) and Lazaun Temprenillo ($9, $34).
Both Old Rooster and Ox Cart Tavern have something to offer their respective neighborhoods. For Williamsburg, it’s nice to have a cozy, laidback place with low prices, an amazing and private backyard and a staff that isn’t too busy looking bored to take your order. As for Ditmas Park, it deserves a comfortable bistro that, while it may not be on key quite yet, is a place you definitely want to go back to.
Old Rooster Bar & Grill, 221 N. 4th St. (at Metropolitan Ave.), Brooklyn, 718-302-1500.
Ox Cart Tavern, 301 Newkirk Ave. (at Argyle Rd.), Brooklyn, 718-284-0005