Beast
638 Bergen St.
(at Vanderbilt Ave.)
Prospect Heights
(718) 399-6855

 

 

In Brooklyn, we treat brunch as if it were a high holiday. In other parts of the country (even other parts of the city) brunch is kind of a novelty — maybe something to do on Mother’s Day or a pre- or post-birthday party. But here in America’s fourth-largest city it’s a birthright.

The basic tenets of the meal are just — sleep late, eat a big meal, maybe get a little tipsy, certainly work up a good caffeine buzz, read the paper slowly, talk loudly. It’s an elaborate and secular way to worship something we highly value: our day of rest.

But the execution of the meal fails often, probably because of the overkill. Though they shall remain nameless here, I’ve been burned by bad Brooklyn bruncheries who rush you along, skimp on the coffee, over-poach the eggs to the point where they fall off the plate and bounce, and generally treat the food like a no frills Restaurant Week version of their regular offerings.

This is all why I’m so attracted to Beast on the weekends. Not only do they offer up great food during brunch but they understand why we like brunch to begin with.

The food at Beast is top-flight, with a sense of creativity, attention to detail, and market-driven freshness usually found in more lauded Manhattan destination spots. In fact, this really is a Manhattan destination spot in the guise of a Brooklyn neighborhood hangout. Both aspects are essential to the Beast experience — you can enjoy some of the best culinary surprises your jaded New York palate is likely to find in a place where folks meet up to watch the playoffs or play a game of Scrabble or coo at each other’s babies.

I’ve heard some call this a tapas bar though I’m not sure why. The portions may be on the small side but each dish is just about right for dinner, especially if you tack on some grilled flat bread and hummus or what have you. It is true that, given an empty stomach and a good amount of room on your credit card, one could order an overwhelming tasting menu here and be on cloud nine for a few solid days, especially if you throw in some of their excellent selections of port. The menu is divided into “Earth,” “Land,” and “Ocean” sections. This may seem cliché but it draws attention to the simplicity of the food and the little touches that make it sublime. We are eating of the earth, after all, so let’s take a moment to respect the fact by noticing it. These selections are meant to recall rustic pub food in a centuries-old farming town, but each has its distinctly modern flair.

I, for one, tend to stick with the hamburger. I don’t bestow superlatives lightly here, but I will hereby officially declare that Beast serves the Best Hamburger In the City. And yes, that means you should venture away from the comfort of BLT Burger this week — just once is all I ask. In my initial visits I was distracted by their roasted chicken, the citrus-marinated skirt steak, and the potatoes baked with mozzarella, parmesan, and breadcrumbs. With all of that why would I order something I can make at home while I watch TV? But that’s why this burger wins the gold — it’s prepared exactly how anyone would at home. It’s seasoned intentionally but simply, topped with good cheese, soft lettuce, and tangy housemade ketchup all on a fresh crusty dinner roll. I mean, it’s a hamburger — must we always ruin such glory with fried eggs and chili and pineapples?

The best part is that they offer this treasure at brunch (you thought I forgot about brunch, didn’t you?), though it’s hard to pass up the unique daytime menu. It’s especially hard for me to resist their chorizo hash — mashed up sausage and potatoes in a spicy, sticky redness, topped with perfect poached eggs (no matter how busy it is) all bound together with a not-too-heavy hollandaise. And if you’re lucky enough to come on a day when they are inspired, order the specials. The reuben benedict kind of blew my mind, with the sauerkraut, pastrami, poached eggs, and stone-ground mustard hollandaise. Geez.

Eating here puts the brunch phenomenon into perspective — Brooklynites thrive on brunch because we thrive on the neighborliness of our neighborhoods. We celebrate where we live with this restful ritual so often that we have come to anticipate it. It can’t be sullied with food snobbery or miserly rip-offs. It has to be here, with the tin ceilings, the dark wood, and the stained glass, where they make the food with humble exuberance and bring it over with a refill on the coffee and a welcoming smile, perfect every time.

 

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