Bedford-Stuyvesant gets a new neighborhood joint.
Thu Oct 9 2008
Photograph: Roxana Marroquin
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
Peaches, a recently opened Southern spot from the folks behind Fort Greene’s Smoke Joint, only takes cash. Its neighborhood, Bed-Stuy’s regal Stuyvesant Heights section, suffers from a chronic ATM shortage. A bad combination. But such pitfalls come with being a pioneer. Co-owner Craig Samuel, the former executive chef at City Hall, grew up in Bed-Stuy and understands the importance of a place like Peaches—an airy corner perch with high molded ceilings , a too-big-to-be-Manhattan dining room and a 25-seat outdoor patio—to the neighborhood. Walk several blocks in any direction, and you’re pressed to find another restaurant, save a Chinese takeout with bulletproof glass in front. The neighborhood seems to appreciate the place, too, judging by the multigenerational local crowd, some of whom are already repeat visitors.
But rather than take applause for being a location visionary, Samuel, co-owner Ben Grossman, and chef Karel Blaas, an alum of the Wolfgang Puck conglomerate, attempt to push boundaries with the food, blending two trends—Greenmarket and upscale Southern. Fans of the Smoke Joint, which forges together several styles of barbecue to create its own unique version, will appreciate Peaches’ shot at doing the same with its chosen cuisines. However, the restaurant falls short of full-on success (you won’t see references to “Dixie Barnyard” anytime soon), instead settling for a few moments of ingredient-driven wonder.
I’ve never seen a menu featuring the cuisine of the South, where I once read the slogan “If it ain’t fried, it ain’t food,” with so many salads—four out of five appetizers, to be precise. In one dish, supple purple, red and yellow heirloom tomatoes from Eckerton Hill Farm’s Tim Stark complement sliced late-season peaches and fresh ricotta. Another quality salad features a spirited yet balanced blend of watermelon cubes, arugula, spicy pickled ginger and peppery vinaigrette. Are Samuel and Grossman trying to get the neighbors to eat their veggies? Could be.
Other than using homey summer fruits, are these dishes really “Southern”? I don’t much care, given how I’ve rarely felt healthy or refreshed eating Southern cooking. The rest of the menu, with the most dominant influences coming from New Orleans’ Cajun and Creole cuisines, hews closer to the heavy standards—and made me miss the salads. A potentially craveable shrimp po’ boy presented a hoagie of crisp cornmeal-fried crustaceans slathered in a zesty aioli on an unfortunately overchewy, borderline stale, Italian roll. The best part of the dish: medium-width fries dusted in a fiery paprika-fueled barbecue salt.
The staff, while uneven when it came to knowledge, was universally effusive, treating everyone in the restaurant like family (one cashless diner prompted a group search for an ATM). A server steered me toward the blackened tilapia, which lacked any kind of kick—the surprisingly lifeless coating, blackened more in color than in hot culinary spirit, was subsumed by a sweet stew of plum tomatoes, onions and squash. Meanwhile, a juicy half chicken, pressed and seared, was in some ways truer to Peaches’ Cajun roots, with its piquant salt-and-chili rub. My favorite entrée makes good on Peaches’ mission, combining two classics—shrimp and grits and shrimp Creole—as if they always belonged together. The fluffy grits, infused with sharp cheddar, had the consistency of soufflé, while the toothsome shrimp were lavished with guilty-pleasure pools of garlicky tomato gravy. Of the few red-meat options, there are smoky short ribs, a commendable grass-fed burger and baby back ribs, Smoke Joint–style.
Befitting its name, Peaches does sweet things well. In lieu of booze—it’s still awaiting a liquor license, but you can bring your own—free refills of lemonade and sweet tea flow, and homemade desserts are marvelous. A pineapple upside-down cake is a carb-heavy vessel for a delicious walnut syrup, while a comforting apple-raspberry pie is notable for both its tangy filling and sugary crisp topping.
Now in its third month, Peaches still has much to do to get its act together, liquor license aside. It’s sometimes hard to get anyone to pick up the phone (odd for a takeout place), and if you ask two different people, you’ll get two different answers as to what the hours are. Regardless, Peaches offers progressive food in a spot where the mere existence of such a restaurant is noteworthy—guts like those play well in the South, and in Brooklyn, too.