Originally published on Park Slope Stoop, December 19, 2013.
After a comparatively short construction time, Grand Central Oyster Bar Brooklyn opened last night at 256 5th Avenue, between Carroll and Garfield, in the 5,000-square-foot space that formerly housed Fornino. We stopped in to take a look around and chat with owners Jonathan Young and Bruce Fox (pictured above), who told us that as they’ve been doing construction over the past few months, people have been peering in the windows and knocking to ask when they’d be open.
“I hope that anticipation and excitement continues,” Bruce said. “We’re really looking forward to meeting everyone in the area.”
As they shot around the restaurant trying to put some finishing touches on the space, which they stress is still a work in progress, Jonathan, who moved to Park Slope in the mid-1990s and now resides in Greenwood Heights, said that he has a noteworthy memory of this space — back when it was Cucina, he came to dinner to meet his future mother- and father-in-law for the first time. And it looks like he and Bruce are trying to make this the kind of place where those same kinds of memories will be made for local families.
“We can tailor things a little bit more toward what people in the neighborhood want,” Jonathan said, noting that as the menu grows, they will pay attention to what’s popular and what’s being requested, while keeping a strong focus good, fresh shellfish and seafood.
“If we run out, we run out, and there’s a reason why,” said Bruce. “We want fresh food on the table. So if you don’t get here at a certain hour, you might not find a certain oyster.”
Jonathan explained that they will be happy to accommodate people if they know what they like and they know when they’ll be dining here, citing examples from his time working at Grand Central, where certain regulars knew when they’d have sea urchins and come in to eat four dozen in a sitting, or would ask for certain oysters to be set aside for their table if they heard they’d be available that day.
For the first few weeks, the menu will be lighter than it will be later on, with a focus on the raw bar and a promise of 16 varieties of oysters. Last night they had 17 available, ranging in price from $1.75 for a Bluepoint to $2.95 for the special 17th oyster, the Totten Virginica from Washington state for $2.95. Plus, adventurous children are encouraged to give oysters a try — Bluepoints on the kids menu are just 25 cents.
But which ones would they recommend?
“I could eat them all,” Jonathan said before launching into some marvelous descriptions of salinity and texture. He said he and the staff will be more than happy to guide diners through the differences, and they hope to host events so people can try several varieties treated in different ways.
The rest of the initial menu includes traditional favorites like mussels with white wine and garlic ($12.95), a smoked salmon plate (where you can choose from some made the traditional way, or “pastrami” or “tequila”) with horseradish cream ($12.95), and a jumbo lump crab cake ($11.95).
They’ve also got a lobster roll with french fries ($19.95), New England clam chowder ($6.95), and a little bit more, but note that everything is still in development: The food menu will be growing and changing; the wine list, which won’t be as massive as the Grand Central location; the beer list, which will change seasonally, and will hopefully include special items like an oyster beer that they’re working on sourcing from a Long Island brewer.
The dining room is spacious, and seems like a good spot for a fancy dinner with family or for a nice date night. Plus it’s got that impressive chandelier, which comes from the Grand Central space — the owners say Landmarks didn’t allow it to be reinstalled there after a fire in 1997, so they were lucky enough to use it here.
There’s also seating in the the area that will house the fish market – which they hope to have running by Sunday, or at least before Christmas, so people can get prepared dishes to go, oysters, and more for their holiday parties — at a counter that looks into the open kitchen, and in the bar and lounge area. So if you’re just in the mood to have a drink and eat a dozen oysters with a friend, there are several spaces that could make for a great after-work destination — they had 10 wines by the glass on opening day at $9-$10, and 10 beers on tap at $7-$8.50.
Once the menu is filled out, expect pan roasts, stews, and chowders with a focus on shellfish and local produce. While it is a franchise and will have some similarities to the 100-year-old space in Grand Central, Jonathan and Bruce are definitely bringing their own spin to the Park Slope spot.
“Manhattan’s great,” Jonathan said, referencing the Grand Central location. “I worked there for 10 years, I had my first clam chowder there when I was 10 years old with my grandmother, I love the place. This is just going to be a smaller version of it, with some different things, too.”
Have any of you stopped in yet? What’d you think?
Grand Central Oyster Bar Brooklyn is located at 256 5th Avenue, 347-294-0596. It will be open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, and brunch on Sundays is coming soon.