Restaurants can be engines of urban renewal, bringing an infusion of life to low traffic blocks, rocketing once-dreary neighborhoods onto the citywide map. In 1998, Park Slope favorite al di là, for example, brought destination dining to a section of Brooklyn without much of a food scene. Just over a dozen years later, the place is still a linchpin in one of the borough’s busiest restaurant rows. Now the pioneers behind that enduring hit are giving it another go on the opposite side of the park: Bar Corvo, from al di là chef Anna Klinger and front-of-house partners Emiliano Coppa and Jacob Somers, is spearheading a new scene in Crown Heights, still a shockingly underserved section of town.
The former Greek diner, transformed into an exceptionally charming drop-in trattoria, is the first restaurant near the Brooklyn Museum worth traveling for. The place draws a capacity crowd nightly, squeezed around cozy communal tables or lined up on stools along the kitchen counter.
Like so many off-the-beaten-path trailblazers, the Bar Corvo team (Klinger's longtime lieutenant Carla Martinez runs the kitchen here) has done a lot with a little. Layers of wall have been stripped to reveal the history beneath them: old wallpaper, peeled paint and signage—from the many enterprises that have come and gone in this space—transformed into found art of sorts. And from the very cramped former short-order kitchen come robust flavors with unusual depth—good, simple food elevated by top-notch ingredients.
Produce gets the seasonal reverence of a CSA devotee. A cauliflower “steak,” a thick tranche with a glorious golden sear on the edges and an assertive dressing of garlic and anchovies, is not mock meat exactly, but is certainly meaty. And late-winter dandelion greens, sautéed with garlic and chilies in another inspired vegetable starter, come draped over a sort of Italian hummus—a warm, creamy blend of favas pureed with great, grassy olive oil.
Even the most ordinary-sounding stuff here turns up with interesting twists. Sweet, tender calamari curls flash-seared on the plancha come tossed with a vivacious mix of toasted almonds and tart orange confit. Squid-ink spaghetti, rough cut on an old-fashioned wire-lined chitarra, arrives tangled around tender stewed octopus in a spicy tomato ragù brightened with hand-torn fresh mint. Only Klinger’s lasagna al forno is entirely classic, comfort-food perfection as traditional as a Bolognese grandmother’s, its striations of fresh pasta, three-meat sauce and thick béchamel beautifully blistered in individual crocks.
Simply grilled head-on orata (the whole fish changes daily) looks straightforward too, but there are intense layers of flavors in and around the flaky flesh and blackened skin, from the rosemary it’s stuffed with and an herby drenching of salmoriglio (olive oil and lemon with oregano, thyme, garlic, shallots and chilies). A thick, pink and well-marbled pork chop has just as much gusto, from a sherry-vinegar marinade and fresh horseradish microplaned like Parmesan all over the top—its aromatic juices bleeding into the earthy braised kale and buttery polenta generously spooned underneath.
This is Italian home cooking with a clean, modern edge, technically flawless and soulful, too. That unusual blend extends to dessert as well. The panna cotta is as smooth as porcelain, topped with a funky layer of savory-sweet blood orange caramel, and a chocolate bread pudding is intensely fudgy, with marinated cherries and whipped crème fraîche.
Early adopter restaurateurs considering a Crown Heights debut might look to Bar Corvo for assurance. Klinger and her partners helped launch one restaurant revolution in the ’90s—there’s plenty of reason to believe they’ve just ignited another.
Eat this: Cauliflower “steak,” dandelion greens with fava puree, calamari with almonds, lasagna al forno, whole fish, pork chop with kale and polenta, panna cotta with blood orange caramel
Drink this: Begin with a classic aperitivo, like a pitch-perfect Negroni on ice or an herbaceous Cocchi martini with Plymouth gin and Cocchi Americano (each $9). The bargain wine list (any bottle $29, or $7.50 by the glass) includes offbeat Italian finds like a velvety Tormaresca Neprica, a rich crimson blend from Puglia.
Sit here: The long kitchen counter is the best place for a drop-in meal, with a great view of your food being cooked, although the communal wood table in the back of the dining room offers a bit more room to spread out.
Conversation piece: The long ground-floor space at 791 Washington Avenue has been many things over the years: a Greek diner named Teddy’s most recently, a Chinese restaurant before that, and in the 1940s, a brick-oven bakery.