Every new restaurant in Brooklyn makes claims to authenticity and originality in one form or another. But Bed-Stuy’s newest newcomer, Do or Dine, really is quite strange. And all the better for it.
The location isn’t out of the ordinary: Do or Dine is located on Bedford Avenue between Lexington and Quincy, a mere stone’s throw from other Bed-Stuy newcomers Sud, SCRATCHbread and Black Swan.
What makes Do or Dine different from most other eateries is the almost complete lack of formal training in the kitchen -- the partners have hired one trained cook -- and the bizarre creative flourishes this translates to on the menu. Would a Cordon Bleu grad serve you a dish called Heart Attack 2.0 ($11)-- an upscale version of a jalapeno popper, that is somehow beet-red, stuffed with chevre and smoked salmon? Maybe, but the name might be different.
How about deviled eggs -- on their menu, E666s -- stuffed with tender-chewy baby octopus tentacles, the cephalopod’s heads stuffed with caper berries on the side ($9)? They’d taste fantastic with beer, though Do or Dine is still waiting on a liquor license.
The menu is full of creative small plates with funny names: A take on Caesar salad called Et Tu, Brute?, and the no-longer-available Tar-Tar Binks, a choice of steak or tuna tartare, which has gone the way of the Star Wars character it was named for.
The restaurant owners call the style American Itzakaya: an American take on Japanese pub food. And while yuzu, sansho and shiso all make appearances on the menu, the food at Do or Dine is definitely not Japanese.
The story behind the restaurant informs its playfulness. While the kitchen is not formally trained, these are restaurant people. Partners Justin Warner, George McNeese and Luke Jackson all worked together at The Modern, a three-star fine-dining restaurant in the MoMA in Midtown Manhattan. They worked in the front of the house, as waiters and bartenders. And like many service professionals, they did not find the work fulfilling.
“I used to be the classic waiter stereotype, you know? Just like in a suit, not clean, drunk, you know, barely shaved,” said Warner, who runs the kitchen along with McNesse. They had the idea that they wanted to open their own spot for some time, but it finally happened over dinner at Roberta’s in Bushwick (another Brooklyn restaurant lacking a formally trained chef that is good nonetheless). So they shook hands and agreed to do it.
Even then, they knew that they wanted to open a restaurant in Bed-Stuy. For starters, this corner of the neighborhood is home to lots of restaurant people. “In my building alone,” Warner said, “75 percent of the people are working in Manhattan in restaurants.”
So they opened up shop in an old Caribbean restaurant space called B’s Taste Buds -- the awning still hangs above the storefront, with Do or Dine’s sign plastered to the bottom, somewhat sneakily.
The room, like the menu, has its quirks, but for the most part looks like what you’ve come to expect from a Brooklyn restaurant: Retro wallpaper, knick-knacks here and there and a visible kitchen pass. It also has an outdoor seating area with communal tables, the old menu from B’s Taste Buds, and other standard Brooklyn backyard detritus scattered about.
And while the menu has a focus on small playful plates, it also has some excellent and inexpensive main dishes, under the heading “Proteins.” Roast Chicken with a succotash of buttery sweet summer corn, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes ($13) was perfectly cooked; a whole wild striped sea bass ($16), deep fried -- “A Fish and Chips” on the menu -- was both delicious as it was visually stunning: The fish is delivered upright on a bed of well executed french fries.
Perhaps the food is that much more impressive knowing that it was made by front-of-house staff with no formal training, though they have had some help. “We have chefs and [cooks] that are friends, but there’s never been a time where it’s like, you know, ‘Teach me how to dougie,’” said Warner with a laugh, having summed up the irreverent attitude of Do or Dine in one sentence.
The playful nature of the menu has even worked its way onto the dessert menu, where you can have Dirt and Worms -- remember that? -- or a Snickers Ice Cream Bar, sliced while still in its wrapper, plated with a single strawberry.
The dessert menu might as well be sourced from the bodega, and that’s funny.
“Chef-driven restaurants fall in to this trap all the time where they feel that they have to be married to this kind of this farm-to-table concept in order to be taken seriously,” said Warner, going on, “and seriousness is not everything. We want to make people laugh and enjoy themselves.”
Do or Dine is located on 1108 Bedford Ave at Quincy St. It is open for dinner seven nights a week from 5-11. Feel free to visit them on Facebook and Twitter.