A mussels dish at Krupa Grocery was the best mussels enjoyed in years. | KRUPAGROCERY.COM
Any meats with the faintly louche name of “organ meats” are inherently queer. Think about it: “nice” people don’t eat offal — cuts of meat that come from far inside the body and are often chopped up to hide what they really are.
Offal partakes of funk, and funkiness — closest to unami among the five tastes, but incorporating elements of sourness, gaminess, sex, even a little rot — is definitely a queer flavor.
One of the greatest places to eat funky in New York right now is a new restaurant called Krupa Grocery in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. There’s nothing queer about the owners, the chef, or even, by the looks of it, the waiters. What’s queer — and wonderful — is the food. One night, mussels came in a musky sauce of housemade lamb pancetta, fermented chilies, Szechuan peppercorns, and Grüner Veltliner, an elegant white wine originally developed in Austria. The different funks of the lamb belly and fermented chilies combined to make this the most delicious mussel dish I’ve had in years.
Krupa Grocery lends a funky twist to neighborhood’s modest eating scene
Another late afternoon, my partner and I hopped in for just beers and an appetizer: a large salad simply called “mixed greens” which was made strangely exciting by its bagna cauda (literally “hot bath” in Italian, a warm dressing made with olive oil, butter, garlic, and chopped anchovies), along with flecks of Sardinian pecorino and some brittle garlic croutons.
We had just happened on the place after a long walk in Prospect Park, and were shocked that a mere green salad could have so much sex appeal. Windsor Terrace, a mixed-income neighborhood with a sizable lesbian population, isn’t exactly known for fine dining, but Krupa’s chef Domenick Gianfrancesco, it turns out, served as sous chef of Tom Collichio’s Craft and then executive sous chef at Craftbar.
Let me say straight out that Krupa Grocery is a little pricey. Not pricey like Annisa or Craft, places I can’t afford, but pricey enough that I could never make the place my second home. The mussels, not a huge portion, are $16, and the green salad I mentioned is $10. Most servings are on the small side, so you may have to order more than usual to fill up. But for a change, the inventiveness of the cooking and quality of ingredients make the money seem worth it.
Service is exceptional: hosts, bartenders, and wait staff were unusually welcoming and friendly, but also unusually correct. Glasses were never left empty, and crumbs and dishes swiftly cleared away. The one time that service faltered was a Tuesday night I dined alone (Tuesdays, there is a slightly abbreviated menu and live music — jazz, blues, and funk — starting at 8 p.m.). The lone waiter that night left me hanging for long periods and neglected to inform me that the decaf would have to be decaf Americano. Nonetheless, as service problems go, I’ll take it.
That night, I ate the best two things I’ve had at Krupa. A towering skate po’ boy was taller than the dimensions of my mouth, the stacks of fish coated in buttermilk and exquisitely fried. The sandwich ($14) was slicked with remoulade (think: something in between homemade mayonnaise, aioli, and tartar sauce) and dotted with Gianfrancesco’s housemade bread and butter pickles, which are far less sweet than most and nicely spicy. Alongside, a little oddly but pleasurably, was a long spear of a totally different kind of housemade cucumber pickle, more assertive and sour.
But the best thing I ate was something called Chicken and the Egg ($9), an appetizer consisting of two deviled eggs topped with a good schmear of the restaurant’s own chicken liver pâté and tiny flecks of candied cocoa nibs. Yeah, you read that right. The deviled eggs are also pickled in beet juice. When I put one in my mouth with its toppings, it tasted earthy, profound, a bit milky, elemental, like eating the beginning of the world. The unctuousness was cut with pickled red onions and more of those pert bread and butter pickles.
The only boring item I had at Krupa was the “blistered” shishito peppers ($7), which tasted, er, like mildly charred green peppers, and badly needed vinegar, spices, a liberal shake of salt, or all three.
The place is named partly after a beloved grocery/ newsstand owned by an Indian-American couple that stood on the same spot for years, where the proprietors called everyone “love” and posted unusual “Thought of the Day” notes on their door about the unity of all people. Yet this isn’t a horrible gentrification story, but a mildly happy one: the Krupa family still owns the building and decided to retire and rent the space out instead.
According to Bob Lenartz, one of the restaurant’s owners, the name is also an homage to his favorite jazz drummer, Gene Krupa. Oddly beautiful prints by the artist John Nickle on the walls try to show both sources for the name — in Rorschach-like black ink, they depict figures from Indian mythology holding various jazz instruments.
Krupa serves weekend brunch and breakfast and lunch every weekday but Tuesday, and has a great and frequently-changing list of beers on tap, wines by the glass, and cocktails. A brunch item of lacy lemon ricotta pancakes with apple jam spread on top (and maple syrup on the side), $14, was deeply satisfying. Too bad I never got to put my face in the smoked Berkshire pig head terrine, steak with bone marrow, or peppered beef tongue.
Krupa Grocery (krupagrocery.com) is at 231 Prospect Park West, between 16th Street and Prospect Avenue. The dining room is wheelchair-accessible, and one of the two restrooms can fit a wheelchair.