Dining Review: Gristmill’s Innovative Menu Brings The Funk

(Courtesy BKLYNER/Justin Fox)
(Courtesy BKLYNER/Justin Fox)

I double-dipped at Gristmill, and I’m glad I did.

This relative newcomer to Park Slope (289 5th Avenue, between First Street and Second Street) gets granular about its offerings: menu highlights its innovative use of (mostly) locally-sourced grains in novel pizzas, toasts, and other dishes made using a wood-fired oven. Gristmill is the brainchild of Park Slope native Jake Novick-Finder, whose pedigree includes Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Café. The restauranteur’s youth pervades the experimental, risk-taking menu.

Photo by Josephine Rozman
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Rarely have I anticipated a meal as much as I did Gristmill,  so I visited for dinner and then again for brunch. Brunch was better, so let’s start there.

The airy, light-filled dining room proved a perfect backdrop for a decidedly funky menu during brunch.

The smoked salmon pizza is smoother than Barry White and just as luxuriant. (Courtesy BKLYNER/Justin Fox)
The smoked salmon pizza is smoother than Barry White and just as luxuriant. (Courtesy BKLYNER/Justin Fox)

“Really, really good and really cool,” is how our server described the smoked salmon pizza ($28), which is topped with Acme lox and cream cheese. She wasn’t kidding.

I’m something of an appetizing purist, so I was surprised to find that the wood-fired pizza managed to capture the essential interplay of creamy and salty that marks a bagel with lox. However, the light, slightly crunchy and chewy crust created a new platform which invigorated a very old favorite. The somewhat browned toppings melded into that crust and created something almost sublime.

I wish dinner had been so good. While brunch was marked by excellent, attentive and responsive service, dinner wasn’t as well-served. The restaurant was very crowded for dinner, and our time was marked by slow, spotty service and a pair of forgotten orders.

(Courtesy BKLYNER/Justin Fox)
(Courtesy BKLYNER/Justin Fox)

Dinner began auspiciously with a knockout cocktail, the Old Aunt Maple ($13). This gin-based libation is comprised of clove and lime syrup, maple, lemon, bitters. It’s light, refreshing, and you will order another.

However, while our appetites were whetted, our dishes proved unpleasantly variant in quality.

Our meal began with eggplant toast ($9) and potato soup ($13). The soup was excellent. Gristmill’s take was a very large bowl of creamy, rich soup, that comes with standout croutons that are perfectly crunchy and slightly buttery.

Meanwhile, the eggplant toast was a source of controversy While the toast was pleasantly thick, with a crunchy crust and a chewy interior, I did not love the eggplant, which was a bit unctuous for my taste. My dining partners disagreed vehemently, and they loved the smoky topping.

I wish the quince cornbread had been as good as it looked. (Courtesy BKLYNER/Justin Fox)
I wish the quince cornbread had been as good as it looked. (Courtesy BKLYNER/Justin Fox)

Later came the quince cornbread ($12), which was still less impressive. It is served alongside sauerkraut and marinated apples, but the mushy, almost creamy interior of the cornbread was a turnoff.

However, while the cornbread was a disappointment, the barley carbonara was absolutely excellent. The barley base of the pasta created a new spin on an otherwise utterly traditional rendition of a classic. We all agreed that this dish was a platonic ideal of this velvety, cheesy dish.

(Courtesy BKLYNER/Justin Fox)
(Courtesy BKLYNER/Justin Fox)

Our main course was the squash and ‘nduja pizza, which had was topped with sausage, habanero, and Flory’s Truckle, an especially creamy cheddar. At about 13″, the pizza is enough for two, but you will be tempted to keep it to yourself. While I thought the crust was wonderfully airy and earthy, one of my dining companions found it overcooked. We all agreed that the heavy toppings melded together into a wonderfully indulgent, slightly spicy mix.

My double-dip at Gristmill proved worthwhile. Dough gets elevated amidst the myriad experimental dishes, and particularly in the pizzas,  but be warned that this menu is not for the price-conscious and the service can be spotty. This young restaurant has all the ingredients of a neighborhood standout, and I’m certain that it will mature into one.

The Restaurant Rundown: Gristmill
Address: 289 5th Avenue, between First Street and Second Street
Phone: (718) 499-2424
Try: The pizzas, the toasts, and the cocktails.
Avoid: Nothing, but be warned that the menu is a little hit or miss.
Kids: Pizza! Of course.

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