Bonnie’s (398 Manhattan Ave.), a new Cantonese restaurant from Chef Calvin Eng, was a generous parting gift from 2021. On December 3rd, Bonnie’s opened its doors to the South Williamsburg neighborhood, only to halt sit-down dining service two weeks later and switch gears to a takeout-only model. But, on January 4th, Bonnie’s welcomed neighbors once again, giving Williamsburg residents a worthwhile reason to venture out into the blistering cold temperatures of the new year.
Charismatic and sweet Eng named his first solo spot, Bonnie’s, after his mother. On the restaurant’s website, Eng writes, “Everything I know about Cantonese food I learned from her.”
Not only is he an exemplary son, Eng is an excellent chef, and he is not new to Williamsburg dining scene. Eng ventured out on his own after working as the chef at Williamsburg hotspot, Win Son. This is perhaps one of the reasons that recent reviews express that Bonnie’s truly lives up to the hype.
Chef Calvin Eng spoke with Greenpointers about his new restaurant and experience so far in the neighborhood.
Greenpointers: Welcome to Williamsburg! How has the response from the neighborhood been so far?
Eng: Very positive! I have met so many Williamsburg natives, including people who have lived here for 50 years. I was born in Bay Ridge and knew I wanted to open a restaurant in Brooklyn.
I have worked and lived in Williamsburg for past 4 years. Our goal at Bonnie’s is to be a neighborhood restaurant.
Greenpointers: Before Bonnie’s officially opened, you found a way to test recipes via pop-ups. How did the pop-ups come to fruition?
Eng: During the build-out process for Bonnie’s, I was testing recipes at home. But there is only so much you can do in a small kitchen. So, I hit up friends and asked them to let me “pop-up” in their established restaurants. It was my way to test things out, build hype for the brand, and finalize the recipes.
Every pop up I did reflected the spot I was at. My first pop-up was at Regina’s Grocery on the Lower East Side. It was fortuitous because the chef at Regina’s also named his restaurant after his mother.
The pop-ups did not draw a lot of attention until the one I did at Golden Diner. That one got the attention of the media, and people posted about it on social media.
Greenpointers: Your most recent pop-up certainly drew a lot of buzz. You called it McBonnie’s. Tell us how this idea originated.
Eng: The McBonnie’s pop-up, a takeout only menu, had lingered in my mind for awhile. I first mentioned it to Libby Willis, the former co-owner of beloved Prospect Heights spot MeMe’s Diner (which has been reinvented as KIT for Keep in Touch). COVID came and we never got to do the pop-up, but I was still thinking about it.
When Bonnie’s paused indoor dining in December, we switched to takeout only. However, our current menu did not work well as takeout. It was meant to be eaten immediately at the restaurant.
So, we switched gears. While most of the menu was not prepared to be eaten an hour later, the McBonnie’s menu was specially designed for it. We cooked the items from the McBonnie’s menu, let them sit one hour, and then went back and tried them. And all of the food was delicious!
Greenpointers: Would you say McBonnie’s was successful?
Eng: It really was! We ended up feeding way more people than we did on a regular night. The restaurant only has 40 seats, so it’s a limited number of customers that we can serve. But, with the pop-up being takeout, we were able to serve anyone who wanted it. It was a little crazy because I was taking orders through Instagram only. My girlfriend helped take orders sometimes, but other times I was alone taking orders and preparing the food.
Greenpointers: What is your most popular dish at Bonnie’s now?
Eng: The best selling item in the month of December was the McRib! It is the only item from the McBonnie’s menu that translated well to the regular Bonnie’s menu. The Stuffed Fish is also popular.
Greenpointers: It’s been difficult to get a reservation via Resy. Do you accept walk-ins?
Eng: We do take walk-ins! I’d recommend walking in at 5 p.m. when we open. We keep a few tables set aside for walk-ins. Visit us Tuesdays through Sundays 5 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.