My family had hardly, if ever (depending on which member we're talking about here), visited New York prior to their Christmas trip. B and I were determined to give them a rather alternative tourist trip. T did start saying he still hadn't seen any famous sights on day 4, so in a last minute mad rush through the rain (and one little glimmer of sunshine), we managed to whiz round MOMA, Central Park, over Brooklyn Bridge, a quick look at Lady Liberty, the World Trade Center, and a view of the Empire State Building (albeit from below). However, the majority of their trip was spent eating and walking all around Brooklyn.
Our favourite locals - Brucie, Rucola, Ample Hills, Bien Cuit and Blue Bottle - had been crossed off the list, so we went on an adventure to cobbled Vinegar Hill to dine at the cosy corner restaurant that is Vinegar Hill House.
We were greeted by a small elf. She seemed unable to speak and left us standing awkwardly in the entrance, gazing at us through her big round glasses as if we were aliens landed from outer space, before listening to what we were asking and then going off to find someone else who could show us which our table was. Apparently she couldn't figure out that the table reserved for 5 right next to her was probably for us. A few minutes later, we were seated at the table tucked away around the corner, a bottle of wine had been ordered, and the confusion caused by elf girl's lack of manners had subsided.
Starters were split between salads and pastas. A fennel salad with burnt onion creme, pear and sunflower seeds was crunchy and toasty; fall squash with walnut hummus was perfectly autumnal. But the highlight of the whole evening (sorry to put in a spoiler so early on), was the blue cornbread with spicy honey and butter which we genuinely fought over. Served in a searing hot cast iron dish, it had a chewy, almost charred crust, with honey and butter slowly melting and seeping into the cracks on top. The fluffy, sweet interior was as perfect as cornbread can be: we all agreed that this would be the best breakfast (maybe just add a slice or two of bacon?).
The pasta dishes - sweet potato ravioli and tagliatelle with pork ragu - were rich and comforting. Portion sizes were huge, and the boys were more than happy to help themselves to some of maman's porky plate and to some of my buttery, sage-scented potato parcels.
We were tempted to cancel our mains, and just order more cornbread, but we managed to resist. That may have been too much for little elf to cope with understanding anyway. Papa's cast iron chicken was as classic and juicy as we had been promised it would be. B's country chop with sweet corn grits was warming, cheesy, and suitably rich. T's steak was served very rare (I was very glad that that was his dish and not mine): a creamy caesar dressing was served over the top of it, which the huge, raw leaves of earthy red kale really needed. I'm not sure anyone could really chomp through quite so much raw kale. Not even a rabbit.
Sides of beets and Brussels sprouts with garlic and breadcrumbs vanished quickly. The sprouts were declared the best ever, until we went to Rucola where they served them with crispy exterior leaves, tonnato and sesame, successfully taking the lead in the Great Brooklyn Brussels Sprouts Off.
We declined dessert, full to the brim with grits, buttery pasta and raw kale: the chocolate guiness cake looked wonderful, but it was not what was required after several days of non-stop eating.
Vinegar Hill House, 72 Hudson Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11201