I’m a sucker for a good gimmick. And Williamsburg’s Commodore has one of the better ones around. Send a postcard from any state (or country for that matter) other than New Jersey and Connecticut to the bar. Claim it when you visit and the bar gives you a free beer. A postcard will run you maybe $2 and a stamp is $0.34. That’s a pretty good deal for a beer.
If that were all the Commodore had to offer, I would make a point of visiting it after every out-of-state trip and that would be it. But that is far from the case. Inside its unassuming frontage – the first time I went a few years ago, I walked right by it – and the 70s Southern nautical decor beats the heart of a bar that turns out exceptional fried comfort foods.
Grilled cheese has had a renaissance in New York the past few years. Unlike the cupcake bubble or the bull market on macaroons, Melt Shop and Melt Kraft (along with Queens Kickshaw out in Astoria) have provided substance to this development. The unrelated Melt outlets dish out great sandwiches, but often they stretch, in particularly tasty ways, the definition of a grilled cheese. That’s why the menu item that first caught me and kept me coming back to Commodore was the Adult Grilled Cheese.
Appearances – like the front of the joint – can be deceiving. Coming out all by itself on a midsize plate, your first instinct is disappointment. Presentation aside, the unexpected combination of pimento and poblano changes everything. Eventually, I discovered the cheeseburger which became my second go-to.
That whole time though, I was making a circuitous route to the Commodore’s true calling card – the breast. Either mild or hot. A friend of mine is so enamored with the dish that when we talk about hanging out and grabbing dinner, she’ll e-mail me with a variation on “I’ve been craving a mild breast” as her way of suggesting we meet at Commodore.
Last month, my friends Maura and Quinn and I visited the Commodore on the first post-Labor Day Saturday of September. Managing to snag three seats at the bar made the “ordering from the bar” set-up that much easier to navigate during the busy evening.
With three of us there, we decided to order not two, not three, but four different dishes. Our first go to was the fried chicken plate. Maybe the more refined fried chicken consumers out there will scoff at me for being a newcomer to an abiding appreciation for chicken off the bone, but I have to imagine this is what it is supposed to be – the sweet spot between the poles of dry and rubbery and something that should probably just be called boneless. What more could you ask for then the right mix of dipping sauce and biscuits with honey butter, paired with tender white meat that falls off the bone?
Order this plate, and it will get messy. The guys next to us tore through their plate to the point where there was a fallout zone of crumbs radiating a good six inches around their plate.
Quinn, who successfully came up with an Oscar Watching Party menu where the made from scratch dishes were themed to each Best Movie nominee – so he clearly knows his shit – said, “I’d come to Williamsburg just for this.”
Then it was on to our main dishes – the hot breast for Quinn, the hot fish for me, and the nachos for Maura, who was drawn to them by the presence of cilantro.
The fish and breast overwhelm the larger than normal hamburger bun they come in. The fish is literally the entire fish. With breadcrumbs and smoked mayo adding to the sandwiches’ force, even I, someone who finds it hard to eat fish could enjoy this sandwich on a regular basis. The hot breast, which comes with coleslaw and pickles found a fan in Quinn.
The nachos are not bad. In fact they are good. But in a place like the Commodore, ordering them seems like a disservice to one’s taste buds given the other options available.
It is great to see a place get the recognition it deserves and this summer, the Commodore started serving brunch. So there is another reason to get your hung over self on the G Train on a Saturday morning.
With that being said, this place gets packed. Like L train packed at night towards the end of the week and the weekend. So if you’re going just for the food, earlier in the evening might be your best bet. No matter the hour though, you don’t need a postcard to enjoy this place.