Some new sandwich purveyors proudly wear their allegiance to bottom-of-the-barrel tastes like Harold and Kumar chasing munchies. Lake Trout, a new Williamsburg spot, could’ve certainly been conceived in an altered state (which is how it’s probably best appreciated). The place pays faithful homage to the fry shacks of Baltimore, with greasy fast food served on soft store-bought bread. The interior looks like any old cheap-eats dive in the ’hood, with wood-paneled walls, plastic food-court seating and orders dispensed from a kitchen window by a young guy in a ball cap.
But behind the no-frills menu and decor (blown-up sports cards and graffiti cover the walls) hides some serious restaurant talent. Lake Trout is the brainchild of impresario Joe Carroll and his former pit master at Fette Sau, Baltimore native Matt Lang. Carroll, who started in the area with craft-beer bar Spuyten Duyvil before expanding to upmarket grilling at St. Anselm and serious barbecue just across the street, seems to have a penchant for blue-collar junk food (he served disco fries and Cincinnati scrapple for a while at St. Anselm). If you’re not a Maryland transplant, though, his new project’s appeal might not be so easy to appreciate.
Lang, a real barbecue artist, has kept his artisanal impulses in check, focusing instead on achieving drunk-food verisimilitude. The restaurant’s namesake Baltimore staple—a fixture on The Wire—is served just as it might be at Snoop’s favorite bulletproof haunt. Fried whiting fillets—there’s no trout, or anything else from a lake—come with potato-bread slices and house-made tartar sauce. The fish, in a flour and cracker-meal crust, is fresh and crispy. If you didn’t grow up on fried fish and soft slices, though, it’s still pretty dull. An enormous puffy crab cake, served with more of that bread, is just as one-dimensional, swollen with stringy crabmeat and saltine crumbs.
Decent fried oysters, served on paper in another make-your-own sandwich, are straight-ahead vehicles for the zingy tartar or the Mumbo sauce (a mix of hot sauce and duck sauce) in squeeze bottles along the wall.
To accompany all that golden seafood, there are fat boardwalk fries, potato wedges prepped from scratch to mimic the bagged frozen variety (they’re soaked in buttermilk and cayenne, then dipped in flour and fried). Those chicken-fried spuds, and a pasta salad named for former Baltimore mayor Martin O’Malley—a lemony mix of orzo, shucked corn and chopped sugar snaps—are the closest things to vegetables at this Brooklyn grease trap.
Despite the skillful chef at the helm, none of Lake Trout’s food is an upgrade on the dirt-cheap Eastern Seaboard originals—though it’s not really trying to be. As a postcard from Baltimore, though, it’s got some travelogue charm. Considering the talent behind the place, it could certainly be much more exciting than that. And given the competitive landscape for sandwiches these days, it probably should be.
Eat this: Fried oysters, Western fries
Drink this: The restaurant hopes to serve beer once the license comes through. In the meantime, there’s all-natural root beer and orange soda in the can from Johnnie Ryan (a company owned by Joe Carroll).
Sit here: The small dining room offers bare-bones seating on orange plastic chairs attached to faux-wood tables.
Conversation piece: Among the Baltimore Orioles baseball cards on the wall, you’ll find former infielder Tim Nordbrook, who coached chef Matt Lang in high school.