284 3rd Ave., Brooklyn
Perfect For: A low-key meal with friends; a first date with someone who appreciates whimsy and seasonal ingredients
On the Speakers: Ghostface Killa, "Shakey Dog"
Wallet Stress: Medium ($4 to $22; cash only)
The short walk from the R train to the front door of the Pines is anything but scenic. You pass a Super 8, a Holiday Inn, and several discarded mattresses—it's fun; they're like hurdles. Gowanus might be a bit gritty, but it makes the Pines an even more intense breath of fresh air.
The eclectic space is dressed up with mismatched chandeliers and elaborately molded white ceilings, exactly what your grandparent's house would look like if it got the Williamsburg treatment. They've even managed to make the place smell old; the musty aroma seeps into your clothes. Still, the look works. The walls are Instagram-ready, a sepia-toned palette punctuated by a quirky collection of ephemera: dusty bouquets above the bar, a wall of emerald keys, and a curiously explicit neon painting by the ATM. The backyard space is more of the same, a collection of garage-sale antiques.
Thankfully, the Pines is more than a pretty space. The kitchen is run by the very capable Angelo Romano, who helms the beloved Gowanus clam shack Littleneck and once ran the kitchen at Roberta's. His polished cuisine is charming, full of unassuming ingredients that meet in inspired combinations.
Concord Grape Granache: In retrospect, this playful amuse-bouche was emblematic of the entire Pines experience. It was a cool, bright bite of childhood—your bagged lunch PB&J without the PB.
Cheese: The dairy product of choice here was “Moses Sleeper," a buttery, slightly funky Vermont cheese that didn't live up to its lethargic name thanks to a tomato mustarda and a fierce chili paste.
Apples: It's autumn, so you can expect apples to enter most seasonal menus. Still, it's a fruit that's hard to get excited about, except on rare occasions like this. The Granny Smith apples were sprinkled in sesame and bathed in a silky sheep's milk broth that masked the fruit's tartness with a savory coating.
Lamb's Neck: By the time this arrived, I was so full I swore I couldn't have another bite. And then came the awkward moment where I faced a clean plate. The lamb's neck is this heavily marbleized hunk of meat that's as thick as a slice of baked ham. Swimming in a pool of mascarpone, leeks and quark, served with the softest sweet potato you'll ever pierce with a fork, this is deeply satisfying eating.
Brisket Agnolotti: According to our server, Chef Angelo "loves making pasta." His macaroni-making chops were confirmed with these awesome agnolotti, tiny pockets filled with soft brisket. Apple made into the mix again, but this time around, with less fan fare. Who's paying attention to a sliver of fruit when rich mascarpone has a chokehold on your taste buds?
Pici: The pici (chubby strands of spaghetti) was a great contrast to the dainty angnolotti that preceded it. A bit too rubbery, it was reminiscent of Chef Boyardee Beefaroni. Only, instead of ground beef, pork trotter classed up the joint. Beefaroni was my jam back in the day, making this bite still enjoyable, despite its shortcomings.
Cocchi Americano: This is the only cocktail currently on the menu, though the server said the bar was expanding. A blend of Eli Miller's seltzer, cucumber, and basil, this bright-colored beverage was refreshing but lacked punch. Not a knockout, just light and easy to drink.
Old Golden Hen: Despite sounding like a character in a nursery rhyme, this brew was bitter (with a honey finish). The draft list was host to many offbeat beers, but this one was so good, it was impossible to walk away from.
Yoo-Hoo: Instant nostalgia points for including this on the menu.
THE FINAL WORD
The Gowanus Canal will never hold a candle to, say, the Williamsburg Waterfront, but the Pines is a restaurant worth dragging friends to: people who like eating in pretty places, friends who appreciate good food. And considering that the restaurant has been open less than a month (and, is still ironing out its kinks, as any new restaurant would be) it's likely that the Pines will only become better.