I suppose I need to explain the title first. We dont really have an area called WeCo. Not yet at least. According to Google Maps the small no man’s land west of the BQE around Columbia street in Brooklyn is called Columbia Street Waterfront District for some reason. While other Brooklyn neighborhoods nearby like Greenwood and Sunset Park include their waterfront districts, Carroll Gardens, and Cobble Hill decided to neglect it, blaming the construction of the BQE that broke them apart. And while it didnt work for Clinton (Hell’s Kitchen) much and other neighborhoods, the name change can definitely work here. So might as well continue with our lazy Real Estate naming conventions and call the area WeCo (West of Cobble Hill). Other consideration were Pok Pok City, and “That area where Pok Pok is”. I used the latter to describe the location of Popina to my wife and friends. No one around here heard of the Columbia Street Waterfront District.
Popina is the anti-Lilia. Ever wonder why Lilia doesnt have a Michelin star by now? Its simple. Inspectors cant buy a reservation. Ever since my meal there, its been notoriously difficult to get a table of any size. But while the meal we had at Lilia left us very impressed, the place felt more like a neighborhood joint than one of those destinations you need to wait until midnight to reserve 30 days out. Popina’s cooking approach and neighborhoody feel reminds me of Lilia in some ways. But its their dedication to the neighborhood with their no reservation policy that will win the hearts of the locals WeCos (See, its catching on already)
They dont come much tinier than this. We sat comfortably by the bar, and by 7:45 or so on a Friday night the place filled up. By 8, the wait was more than an hour. Other than one or two bars nearby, there’s not a whole lot to do and drink in WeCo (Industrial funk, Red Hook-like zone). Chris McDade and James O’brien are the two Maialino and Marta veterans opening their first restaurant. Being under the guidance of Nick Anderer and co at Maialino can make all the difference in the world, and it showed
This is my kind of menu, a picky eater worst nightmare, and classic WeCo. Small and to the point. Around 10 items all together, including only 2 secondis. Starters include terrific Arancini ladened with honey with hints of saffron. Raw Bay Scallops with soppressata and pistachio the only dish that didnt work for me. The Bay Scallops were just too large for the rest of the ingredients to catch up and balance that scallopy sweetness. Maybe some more acid and pink peppercorns can help.
Much has been written about Popina being a mesh-up of Italian and Southern cuisine (McDade grew up in the south and speaks fluent Southern), but I’m just not seeing it. The menu has all the look and feel of Italian with some southern hints here and there. You wouldnt know that you are eating in a southern establishment unless someone told you. And much has been said, for good reason, about the spicy Chicken Milanese that suggests that southern influence. Its essentially a Schnitzel gone wild. But for my taste it was the Pappardelle with Ham Hock that really showcases these guys capabilities. Perfectly cut fresh Pappardelle, slow braised goodness, with no tomato to be found. The kind of dish you may find in the hills of Piemonte. Chocolate dessert is that proper finish one would expect here. This is a GO!
127 Columbia St (Kane), WeCo, Brooklyn
Rating: Two Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Arancini, Chicken, Pappardelle, Chocolate dessert