Losing Jimmy’s Diner on Franklin & Calyer was a hard loss to take. It was definitely one of the underrated neighborhood spots and a great place for a casual meal. Thankfully, Jimmy’s closing wasn’t because of a landlord dispute or rent issues, it was simply time for a new look. Last month, Chez Ma Tante opened its doors and quickly became one of Greenpoint’s new favorite restaurants, as evidenced by the crowded dining room on a recent night.
Chef Aidan O’Neal, formerly of the Manhattan restaurant Café Altro Paradiso, helms the team behind Chez Ma Tante. The name is in homage to a famous hot-dog-and-French-fry spot in Montreal, where Chef Aidan lived before heading to the five boroughs. (He’s originally from Vancouver.) And though you might hear that Chez Ma Tante is a Quebecois or Canadian restaurant, it’s not serving up hearty poutine and the like. If anything, the food at Chez Ma Tante is very American, just slightly refined.
When you go, you’ll want to get an appetizer or two, and/or possibly split one of their enormous salads. Here’s your first introduction to that refinery. The salmon gravlax isn’t just dill-flecked salmon that’s been cured in sugar and salt. Instead, maple syrup and gin are included in the cure, and it’s served with crème fraîche and juniper. The steak tartare isn’t just ground meat and chopped up herbs held together with an egg. It’s made with caraway and mustard seeds, with a slight funk from fish sauce, the addition of a little creaminess from a parsnip puree and topped with crunchy parsnip chips. The Caesar salad isn’t romaine lettuce and gloppy sauce. The lettuce has been dressed in light lemony vinaigrette and everything’s topped with curls of Parmesan cheese.
The menu currently has five big entrees, all in the $20-30 range. Our table only enjoyed the falafel royal and the skate wing since we filled up a bit on the smaller plates. The former includes four perfectly fried falafels atop silky hummus, with a salad of tangy pickled vegetables and a slight sweetness from golden raisins. The latter was a full wing, meaty and yet tender, a dish perfect for those who aren’t into very strong fish flavors. For dessert, of course, a round of sorbet and vodka was called for. Yes, it’s the sorbet of the day and a shot of vodka. The menu will be influenced by the seasons, so you need to stop by often for specials, but some items, like the Caesar salad and steak tartare, will always be available.
But Chez Ma Tante isn’t only good for the food, it’s got a wonderful bar program worth checking out too. You won’t find crazy mixology cocktails in beakers here, just well-prepared versions of the classics (Negroni, Old Fashioned, Daiquiri, etc.) As for wine, the by-the-glass selection is seriously one of the best around. It’s heavily France and West Coast, but you can taste a few unique vintages like a Muller Thurgau from Moravia and a non-Cava Trepat from Spain. The beer list is currently full of Brooklyn’s own Stillwater.
So though Chez Ma Tante is a little bit more, sophisticated, than Jimmy’s was, it’s still definitely an easy casual place for a weeknight dinner close to home. As the team settles into their new groove, they’ll be opening up for brunch and lunch service. Also, expect a few sidewalk tables to be available when summer finally makes its grand entrance.
Chez Ma Tante is located at 92 Calyer Street, at Franklin Avenue. They are currently open Wednesday through Sunday, 5:30 pm – 11 pm.