What would you do for a great plate of fried chicken? At the original Pies-N-Thighs in Williamsburg a couple years ago, fried chicken fans had to be willing to wait. The line snaked out the door, and service was glacially slow – think Duane Reade with more piercings and tattoos. But then, perhaps even because it took 30 minutes to get to the front of the line then 10 minutes more to get your food, the chicken seemed breaded with manna from heaven, perfectly seasoned and perfectly crisp. So what if you had to eat it while crouched on a curb next to a trashcan?
If you were willing to endure the old Pies-N-Thighs (the new one is a larger, more restaurant-like place), you may want to try the Commodore, helmed by Stephen Tanner, previously of the chef at Pies-N-Thighs, and also in the kitchen at Diner and Egg. But be forewarned: if you don’t have the stamina of a 21-year-old and a love of crowds, you will end up feeling aged, cantankerous and starving – not unlike Mimi Sheraton cast into the wilds of Brooklyn.
On a Saturday night (probably our first unwise choice), we arrived at the Commodore at 8:15. At this retro, nautically-themed bar and restaurant in the old Black Betty space, there is no hostess, no list, no system for getting a table other than lurking, vulture-like, and seizing upon any available space as soon as it becomes available. The front of the house has been nearly eliminated here, the only staff the servers who deliver food to your table and the bartenders take orders. We watched two girls text on their phones and eat a single plate of French fries for an hour and a half.
But why should they leave earlier? No one who works at the Commodore cares who’s sitting at the tables and for how long. It’s a lackadaisical formula that may work in Athens, Georgia, where Tanner is from, but not in a city that has 10 times the population. And bringing your friends to a place where they have to wait an hour and a half to eat is a great way to ruin the evening.
I really wish the food and drinks here were terrible: Then there would be no reason to return ever again. But the Brooklyn-influenced Southern fare turned out by Tanner is indeed really good. The crust on the three thighs of fried chicken ($11, pictured at top) is absurdly thick and crispy, flaking off in a flurry as soon as you take a bite. The slow heat of Cajun seasoning creeps up on you, and the chicken meat inside is tender and moist. Meanwhile, ’50s-style cocktails like pina coladas and other throwbacks are expertly mixed and strong – though it would probably be easier to appreciate them if they weren’t a substitute for food while you wait for eons.
We have no idea whether the biscuits are worth the hype. The Commodore ran out of biscuits and all types of red wine by the time we sat down, though how a restaurant can run out of either is a mystery. Anyone who has ever made biscuits can tell you that it takes about three minutes to assemble the ingredients. And red wine: isn’t there storage space for that?
The Carolina-style barbecue pork sandwich ($9) was somewhat of a consolation. All the details are just right, from the texture and vinegary bite of the pork to the squishy hamburger bun.
A hot breast sandwich ($10) also delivered on the “hot” part, with a current of Asian spice running through it. Tanner’s ability to mash up different cultures all on one seemingly low-effort plate was aptly compared to Shopsin’s by the Robs of NY Mag. The fried chicken also comes with a Sriracha-based sauce that is right on trend for Brooklyn dining.
Instead of the 86′d biscuits, we received fries – fried until just brown and crisp, lacking salt but otherwise nicely done.
New Yorkers without any responsibilities that require them to dine sometime between 7:30 and 10pm will probably do fine at this self-consciously casual new place. For everyone else, the Commodore is not a restaurant. It is a torture.
366 Metropolitan Avenue at Havemeyer Street