After seeing Poundcake at City Winery, Mrs Devereaux went to speak to the drummer Ethan. He mentioned that his wife was working at the newly re-opened Gage & Tollner and that Mrs Devereaux should call if she wanted to go. peg, rtb, and I decided we would like to go but no special arrangements were made and Mrs Devereaux just made a reservation. I was bummed about missing out on the special things we might have gotten when you “know someone” who works there but any meal at Gage & Tollner is worth a trip to Downtown Brooklyn. peg’s son Alex joined us.
Since I am still just taking buses, I had to figure out how to get to Downtown Brooklyn from the wilds of Queens. There were several choices and I decided to take the unfamiliar route for the trip there because it would be during daylight. Ridgewood Terminal is neither a building or a lot but just a place where a lot of different streets cross each other and a lot buses end and start their runs. It makes it more difficult to find your transfer bus and I never did find it and ended up calling a Lyft. Going home I took the more familiar buses and that ride took me 1-1/2 hours. The trip there of bus plus car was two hours. Subway would be faster.
Gage & Tollner is a 125-year-old oyster and chop house. Luckily, both the outside and inside had been landmarked in 1974. Lucky because before the revitalization of Downtown Brooklyn and the closing of the restaurant in 2004, for 17 years the restaurant was a TGI Fridays, an Arby’s, and then a bazaar selling phone cases, hair scrunchies, and other items. But none of these businesses could change the interior. In 2018, St John Frizell, Ben Schneider, and his wife, chef Sohui Kim raised money to refurbish and reopen Gage & Tollner. They were all set to reopen on March 15, 2020 when…you know. They finally reopened in April 2021. Kim was the chef at The Good Fork, a Red Hook restaurant where rtb, violaleeblue, and I had had a fabulous meal. And the famous Edna Lewis became the chef at Gage & Tollner in 1988 and she completely changed the 100-year-old menu to what it primarily is today – with some updates from Kim.
The gas chandeliers are now electric and floorboards have been replaced but it is like walking back in time. I would have liked to have taken a photo of the bar but there were a lot of people sitting there and I thought that would be rude.
The wait staff dress in crisp white shirts, black pants, and long black aprons. All staff is masked. And they are very attentive. Water glasses are always filled. If you need help in making a choice, they are happy to find out your preferences and tell you want you would like.
A day or two before I had read their menu and also the New York Times review so that I would have an idea of what to order. Normally if there are East Coast oysters, I am there. Chicken liver pâté or devils on horseback – I am there. But I wanted to eat the foods that I knew I could not get anywhere else. Or at least not the same preparations as I would have at Gage & Tollner.
The menu carries a lot of old-timey drinks. rtb went with a Gimlet, peg had a Planter’s Punch, and Alex had an Old Fashioned. Mrs Devereaux had a Tito’s and soda and I had a Ketel One on the rocks.
All of us decided on Parker House rolls instead of sourdough bread. That was the right choice – we all marveled at how good the bread was. Each roll was brushed with butter and sprinkled with sea salt. They were soft and hot.
We originally mis-read the menu, thinking that you could order your steak by the ounce. But the charge per ounce depends on the size of the steak you buy. peg, rtb, and Mrs Devereaux decided to share a 25-ounce ribeye. 10 ounces would be bone, so that would 5 ounces for each. We got creamed spinach, kale and kimchi slaw, and two orders of French fries for the table. I wish I had seen the hash browns on their Instagram before – if I had I would have insisted that one of the French fries be hash browns instead. (Their IG has incredible food photos.)
We were all a bit hesitant about the kale and kimchi slaw – especially me since I do not like kale or kimichi. But the combination plus whatever they did to it actually made it quite enjoyable to eat. And the creamed spinach had nutmeg that I did not taste and it was very good.
rtb and Mrs Devereaux started with a special of the day – tomato salad. It was made up mostly of different types of locally grown tomatoes. I Bogarted a bit of the salad and it tasted fresh from the garden.
I also started with the she-crab soup (an Edna Lewis innovation) and soft clam belly broil (a Gage & Tollner staple). The she-crab soup is a rich bisque of female crab (and there is supposed to be roe but I believe that Kim has eliminated that) and they pour in the sherry at the table. Because of the sherry it reminded of the turtle soup at Commodore’s Palace in New Orleans. The soft clam bellies or steamers are in a miso stew and covered in sourdough croutons. Even without the heavy cream of the bisque, it was as rich as the soup.
Alex’s entrée was the soft-shell crab sandwich served on their home-baked focaccia. I had the pork pot pie made from pork belly and shoulder with mushrooms, carrots, and pearl onions and topped with the most buttery flaky crust you have ever encountered. The mushrooms give it deep earthiness. I did not eat all the crust but only because I was too full and wanted to fill myself up with the pork and vegetables. I also tried a small bite of the ribeye and it was like butter – melted on my tongue.
I had a glass of the Chablis and one of the Chardonnay with dinner. I cannot say I was happy with either. Perhaps if we had shared a bottle of wine, I would have been happier with that choice. Their forte seems to be the mixed drinks and bottles of wine.
I could not decide among the malted milk and dark chocolate torte, chèvre cheesecake, or coconut cake for dessert. Earlier rtb and I were talking about how kale has replaced spinach and after being a garnish for so long. And now goat cheese cheesecake seems to be on everyone’s menu. And because of that, that was an easy elimination. Alex had ordered the chocolate torte, so I went with the coconut cake, which is layered with lime curd and topped with pink peppercorn brittle and blueberries. I tried a small bite of the chocolate torte and exclaimed loudly at how good it was – you could taste the two distinct chocolates and each was rich and creamy. The coconut cake was sweet but not too sweet especially because of the lime curd and the peppercorn was not bitey but added a delightful crunch. rtb, peg, and Mrs Devereaux shared the Baked Alaska. I had the tawny port along with dessert.
It was a delightful evening because of the delicious food but also because of the most excellent company.
By Carene Lydia Lopez