There’s been much written about how Billy Durney’s Red Hook Tavern draws inspiration from New York institutions. The font used for the restaurant’s name could be mistaken for Minetta Tavern’s from afar, and there are two ales dedicated to McSorley’s. But once we secured a seat (if you manage to score a prime-time reservation, play the lottery), we quickly realized the experience here is its very own thing.
After an affable employee leads you down the narrow dining room or to one of the 18 bar seats, your first priority is to order the Dry Aged Red Hook Tavern Burger ($24). This pub-style burger is hefty but manageable. The simple dish—a dry-aged patty cloaked in American cheese and topped with raw white onions, then sandwiched between sesame rolls—is cooked to a perfect temperature. This juicy burger is one of the best we’ve tasted in the city.
It’s no surprise that the burger and the menu’s other meat options are also expertly executed. Durney showed off his expertise with proteins at Hometown Bar-B-Que, a popular destination despite its location in difficult-to-get-to Red Hook, that’s known for its ribs, brisket, sausages, pastrami and other barbecue dishes with global touches.
Executive chef Allison Plumer interprets the nostalgia that Red Hook Tavern strives for with an unfussy approach that results in plates you’ll want to devour on a cold winter day. The country-ham croquettes ($10), which are filled with white cheddar and sit atop a swath of dijonnaise, can be popped into your mouth like candy. The romaine wedge ($18) feels decadent, with its thick-cut applewood-smoked bacon draped across greens dressed in bleu cheese, pickled mustard seeds and a tangy buttermilk-herb dressing.
We felt the carnivore-centric menu veered toward the heavy side, especially when the “lightest” dish was the pan-roasted half chicken ($28)—though even that was nevertheless delightful and accompanied by a bed of mashed potatoes covered in a silky chicken gravy.
While Durney’s take on New York mainstays is admirable, the restaurant sets itself apart with its attentive service, which eschews the brusque treatment you get at Peter Luger Steak House, and it also takes a more modern approach to tavern dining (check out the natural wines). Just be prepared for an onslaught of meat because, after all, that’s what Durney and his team do best.