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Review: Buttermilk Channel (Brooklyn, NY)

Review: Buttermilk Channel (Brooklyn, NY)

Hello restaurants, my old friend. Thanks to a busy travel schedule and some surprise visits from old friends, it’s been a minute since my last brunch review. Now, with my internship ending this Friday, I found just enough time for a second consecutive exhale and got back on the horse. The review horse. The "mid-morning combo meal" horse. The “strangers stare at you taking close-ups of food” horse.

The, uh… extended metaphor horse. That one.

Phew, barely made it out. Anyways, here’s this week’s review:


Brooklyn is a many funny thing. Once the industrial base of Greater New York, outsourced manufacturing heralded a new era of inter-borough migration. Brooklyn become the respite of transplant Mahattanites seeking cheaper rents, typically creative types working in fields where minor promotion doesn’t mean “Upper West apartment.” This noticeable lack of bankers (and money) made Brooklyn scrappy, even exotic. After SoHo became popular post-1980’s, if you needed a studio – not a studio apartment – you went to Brooklyn.

Well, Brooklyn is a many funny thing. This urban flight of cash-strapped cool kids cultivated a coolness all its own, and suddenly, Brooklyn wasn’t just exotic – it was widely desirable. One by one, neighborhoods began *gulp* gentrifying. You can guess what this did to rents.

In the present, Brookyln exists as the synthesis of two divergent identities: the fetishized hipster environ surrounding ritzy neighborhoods like Green Point, contrasted harshly with the hollowed-out industry that line Gowanus and Bed-Stuy. It’s A Tale of Two Cities, packaged neatly into one borough. Exotic and cool, indeed – especially when it’s packaged as such.

Throughout this summer, I’ve spent quite a few afternoons strolling Williamsburg. Each time, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was trapped in a hipster Disneyland: pretension oozes from the raw wood paneling every restaurant on the block uses as a substitute for thoughtful design. Worst of all: every simulacra of this grand imitation proclaims itself “exotic and cool” (read: unique), if only because everyone is doing it. It’s enough to make you bikeshare into traffic.

Long story short, I had enough. On a beautiful sunny Sunday, I decided to explore Brooklyn, seeking brunch somewhere far from the circus. I took a 40 minute F train to 9th St, Gowanus and went on my way. Over the following two hours, I walked the streets around the former shipping channels, shooting graffiti, old cars, and warehouses that hadn’t been converted into microbreweries. Catharsis is an understatement.

Feeling grounded (and hungry), I made my way towards this neighborhood’s famous brunch spot. A line out the door greeted me from blocks away: this had to be Buttermilk Channel.

Buttermilk Channel (524 Court St, Brookyln) is a Southern-influenced New American eatery specializing in everything sweet and comfortable. A large dining room with communal tables is built into a space ripped straight from your Great Aunt’s knitting room. This is the South of New Orleans mansions; the blank walls, the plantation sconces, the floral centerpieces. I half expected a steamship. Behind the bar, only the most aesthetic bottles of brown liquor will do – with the exception of champagne and clamato juice, of course. One compromises for brunch.

Much of the above sounds like the venom-inducing Bedford brunches I described above, but here, I like it. The sum effect of the décor is a mere introduction to the Southern Hospitality heaped on you by Buttermilk’s staff. My coffee stayed full. Any and all questions were anticipated. Even better, I waited less than 10 minutes for food, even during a busy Sunday brunch. While most hipster hangouts snob diners with pride, that just ain’t the Soth’rn way. Color me impressed.

Tired from the sunbleached walk, I ordered a walnut sticky bun from the “snacks” menu to tide me over. The bun came out piping hot, burdened with frosting and dripping brown sugar. Sticky indeed. My “snack” quickly become a fork and knife affair. Slice by slice, the quality pastry came through alongside the sweetness rather than under it. Paired with a cup of Brooklyn Roasting Company coffee on drip, the sticky bun was a great start to the meal.  

Now, it was time for the main. On the bartender’s recommendation, I ordered the Hot Sausage Egg Scramble. Eggs, peppers, and onions meet sausage from hometown favorite Esposito’s in a fluffy mixture that dares to be called greasy. The veggies remain surprisingly tasty given their context: it’s easy to overcook, or worse, to sweep away fresh bell peppers in a tide of sausage drippings. Instead, each bite is steeped in flavor without oozing it off your fork. I thoroughly enjoyed every bite of the scramble.

All five to six of them.

Seriously, this is one petite entrée. It’s small to the point of recommending you order something else. The plate came with a salad of bittersweet greens, a potato cake, and some artfully cut slices of miniature toast – and all were great - but it was like assembling an all-star supporting cast around a lead actor cameo. It is theoretically a lot of food for the price, just not much of the food you ordered. A shame, considering how the quality of the dish.

I nibbled on the salad while my coffee stayed bottomless. Around me, Brooklyn’s exotic and cool young professionals shared mid-day waffles. Tattooed young parents watched their child watch an iPad. The Ink Spots played as conversation swelled and mason jars clinked. 

I should’ve hated it.

Instead, this place felt… authentic. A couple of regulars in their 50’s sat at the bar next to me and engaged the staff about their families. It was no L stop tourist trap – I was the sorest thumb in there. Was it the plantation sconces that brought out this two-way Southern hospitality? No; it was the people. No one here was packaging their lifestyle for others. Now that was cool. Way out in Gowanus, Brooklyn’s divergent identities called truce.

All in all, I really enjoyed my meal: small portions were the single demerit, and even then, that’s as subjective as it comes. If you’re coming from Manhattan, I’d recommend visiting Buttermilk Channel if for the leg-stretch alone. Brunch to your heart’s content in this Southern-inspired bistro, then go for a walk around the neighborhood. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the sights, and completely delighted by Buttermilk Channel.

AS RAKESTRAW | The personal site of Alex Rakestraw.