“HOW is it I extract strength from the beef I eat?” asks Walt Whitman in “Song of Myself.”
When the beef is a grass-fed LaFrieda blend, it’s easy to understand how; the well-charred patty ($13) at Henry Public, a saloon in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, is lean, juicy and pure. Served unembellished (cheese and bacon are extra) on a plump Orwasher’s bun, with a side of skinny fries and juniper pickles, this austere “hamburger sandwich” is a balm to an appetite fatigued by too many baroque burgers.
It’s a dish befitting a throwback to an earnest time, before the war the Civil War, that is. As per ephemera accenting its décor, Henry Public feels like Walt Whitman’s Brooklyn circa 1848, earlier than the Prohibition-era speak-easies that nearby JakeWalk nods to, earlier than the turn-of-the-20th-century Clover Club after which Julie Reiner named her Cobble Hill bar, and earlier, even, than the Victorian vibe of the new Prime Meats in Carroll Gardens. If this trend continues, we’ll be ordering grog from bartenders wearing breeches and tricorner hats.
That would be O.K. if the taverns were as interesting as Henry Public. It’s lighter and calmer than its sister, Brooklyn Social, which was serving a decent old-fashioned long before Ms. Reiner hit the ’hood. It’s made for dining, and local families have found it. They tuck into wooden booths beneath Edison-bulb sconces in the white-paneled front room opposite the zinc-top bar, or occupy the small back room beside the slate mantel, mixing with the young crowd sipping vintage-style smashes, fancies and sours. Children know that Henry Public serves one pungent grilled cheese and apple sandwich ($8), two tangy cheddars abetted by Granny Smith’s sweet snap.
The top sandwich on the list of three is turkey leg ($12) braised in organic milk, and dressed in peppery pan gravy and fried onions between thick Orwasher’s slices, the bottom soaking up the sauce like a drunk. Enjoy it alongside a sweet and tart Ward Six cocktail, two steps removed from a Ward Eight with applejack and pomegranate molasses standing in for rye and grenadine. Your meal will taste like autumn. (Cocktails are $10 and $11).
Among the other smart riffs on classics, the Eagle’s Dream glides through layers of flavor: acidic (lemon), metallic (egg whites), sweet (sugar), herbaceous (gin) and floral (crème de violette). It makes for fine sipping with Pemaquids “fresh from the oyster-smack,” as Whitman would say, served with a bracing cucumber mignonette.
Henry Public’s is a small, meaty menu. One of the few other items is cross-cut marrow bones ($8), with marinated shallots to curb the beefy opulence. A generous lettuce and watercress salad, with almonds, blue cheese, optional egg, and a mustardy vinaigrette ($10), comes out swinging for the greens team.
For dessert, there are Wilkinsons ($9), an apple-less version of the Danish pancake nuggets, ebelskivers, with a rum-caramel sauce too boozy for children. Get an egg cream ($5) for them, an absinthe-laced Brooklyn Ferry cocktail for yourself, and feel glad that you’ve dined in a pub worthy of an East River crossing.
329 Henry Street (Atlantic Avenue), Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, (718) 852-8630.
BEST DISHES Turkey sandwich, salad, oysters.
ALCOHOL Full bar.
PRICE RANGE $2 to $16.
CREDIT CARDS Cash only.
HOURS Saturday, noon to 3 a.m.; Sunday, to 1 a.m.; Monday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., Friday to 3 a.m.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS Accessible.
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