We are often told that American cuisine in its most traditional form is made up primarily of burgers, hot dogs, chicken wings, and other casual (read: fast) food. But there are those who believe our nation and its people deserve to expect more from their food, and some of them can certainly be found at The Heyward in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
From the same team that brought Hudson Clearwater to the West Village, The Heyward is situated on Wythe far enough from the pedestrian hell that is Bedford Avenue to make it feel a little less frenzied, and hence a little more sophisticated. The black-painted floors, subtly sumptuous leather booths, and marble bar against the white-painted brick wall can all be checked off the “I am in a decidedly Brooklyn restaurant” list, but the result is a comfortable and clean aesthetic that lacks the disingenuous prefab feeling many hip restaurants in the borough seem to cultivate with similar décor choices.
The simple menu is Southern-leaning, with appetizers that include shrimp and grits and pork belly and hoppin’ John with Carolina Gold rice, Se Island peas, carrots, and tomato, and entrées like the just-introduced blackened catfish with spicy remoulade, purslane and dilly beans, smoked corn salsa, and pickled watermelon rind and a country cut pork chop with roasted shallot and heirloom carrot ragout, lardons, and bourbon braised mustard greens.
Some of the simplest dishes hold the greatest flavors, such as the glazed octopus appetizer that’s a tentacle enlivened by spicy andouille sausage, fava beans, and wilted greens. Often on New York City restaurant menus, a steak entrée is kept to the boring meat-and-potatoes presentation, but order the hangar steak medium rare and come to know a more complex — and delicious — dish that will exceed expectations. It comprises watercress, fig sauce vierge, Humboldt Fog cheese, crispy yams, and peppercorn vinaigrette.
The cocktail menu boasts classic concoctions like a Julep, but also more complex choices; make sure to order one that’s bourbon-based to go with the steak or pork chop. A dessert isn’t a bad idea either, and you’ll have no problem choosing a satisfying but not cloyingly sweet confection, like the cheesecake. If you do require some assistance in making any of the decisions that arise during your meal, the friendly and attentive staff will help guide you on your gastronomic path. So bring a date or a good book and enjoy what, with a little thought and consideration, American food can taste like.