Friday, February 12, 2016

restaurant review: Martha

184 Dekalb Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11205

Maybe Martha is trying to please everyone - here's to a restaurant that serves microgreens and chicken wings - but it is probably succeeding. Although enamored by this spot long before I decided to leave my teeny Upper East Side studio for a fourth-floor walk-up in Bushwick, my most recent visit as a newcomer to the borough was symbolic. Martha's breezy space on Carlton and Delkab, all but hidden next to a blocky food market nearby hilly Fort Greene Park, felt strangely like home. With its smooth wooden tabletops, cool glass bottles, sturdy chrome stools, and delicate light courtesy of generous windows and a backyard patio, it emanates the sweet freshness and guiltless idle of a nap on a hammock, or an afternoon whiled away with a tall hot French press and a book you've already reread once, even twice before.

The lunch menu reads like a hybrid between street-cart and farm-to-table peppered with sandwich names no less saucy than the fare itself ("rogue sailor!") and numerous welcome appearances of the modifier "fried." Sandwiches are Martha's claim to fame: in its early days, the restaurant was known as the Brooklyn Sandwich Society. Although the repertoire has since expanded, I stuck to the classics—which are, it so happens, far from traditional. The Sloppy Josephine is more like a deconstructed burger than its drippy namesake, with packed ground lamb spiked with five-spice and gingery lime pickles inspired by nimbu adrak ka acchar, an Indian pickling method involving no vinegar or oil. Served open-faced with a big, splashy fried egg on top, Sloppy Josephine is to Joe as croque-madame is to monsieur. The All-American, Asian-spiced reference to a Parisian bistro staple somehow works, perhaps because the bizarre eclecticism of its parts is tempered by a warm, cornmeal-sprinkled village round sandwich roll from Balthazar Bakery, so yeasty and bubbly; still, I was delighted to find that a sandwich this well-traveled could taste so much like comfort food.

There is no quicker way to feel like a culinary genius than to whip up a fabulous omelet with the various, often incongruent odds and ends found in an otherwise understocked fridge; the Roti John sandwich at Martha is like your midnight Sriracha-drenched egg improvisations but cleaned up and fully graduated. The sleek scallion and smokey lap chong omelette on buttery bread gets its heat from sambal (chili peppers, coarsely ground), pickled jalapeños, and smoked paprika; whole cilantro leaves act as an invigorating palate cleanser before the whole thing makes you drowsy. Even then, rapacious eaters like me will have to pace themselves—the bread, plush and toasty, is extravagant in itself, the kind that leaves the tips of your fingers shiny and of which I could probably consume an entire loaf before it became anything more.

Tip: wash it all down with white wine at 3pm on a Sunday; I learned it the easy way. They also have something called hot buttered sake that sounds a lot like getting tipsy at the movies and will be on my tab when I head over for dinner, now that I live only 2.9 miles away. Sake or not, I'll have to make my way back for dessert, for which I had no room this time - the globetrotting combinations of our first courses fully satisfied my wanderlust.


© valentina citadina Maira Gall.