BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — Chef Danny Brown, who earned Queens its first Michelin Star with his restaurant Danny Brown Wine Bar & Kitchen, is cooking Italian American-style Sunday suppers for the Brooklyn community. The supper is served every Sunday at the Brooklyn waterfront spot Estuary, where Chef Brown is the Executive Chef.
While Estuary isn’t an Italian restaurant, Chef Brown grew up on the hearty Neapolitan American cooking of his godmother Lily. And while no part of his personal lineage is Italian — Chef Brown’s mother is French, as was most of what she cooked while he was growing up — his childhood was steeped in red sauce smothered food. Within only five blocks of his childhood home in Forest Hills, Queens, Chef Brown said, there were as many as eight pizza places — many of which are still there. Chef Brown also referenced the hearty, family-style offerings of Don Peppe in Ozone Park — a cash-only, white-tablecloth place that Chef Brown called “an institution.”
The menu at Sunday Supper is only three items deep: it consists of a salad course, a main course, and a dessert, served with two glasses of wine for adults. The main course is a “Sunday gravy” — a straightforward-sounding, but deeply layered dish of rolled pork flank called braciole, along with meatballs and sausage. The sausage is a mixture of hot and sweet Italian pork sausage, while the meatballs are made of pork, veal and beef.
As Chef Brown describes it, a traditional Neapolitan Sunday feast consists of large cuts of meat, roasted and simmered in tomato sauce until the flavors meld together; the meat is then served as the second course of a meal. The origins of Lily’s sauce, however, are a bit nebulous — he can’t say for sure whether a true Neapolitan gravy has ever had meatballs or sausage in it — but its role in his childhood memories of Lily and her dinners, are as clear as anything. He would watch intently as Lily cooked, absorbing as much information as he could.
In Italian American households, Sunday dinner typically takes place after Catholic mass, and can be an event unto itself, a production of epic proportions, involving pasta with gravy and several kinds of meat, and dessert.
Though Lily ostensibly cooked from memory, without anything resembling a recipe, Chef Brown said that the gravy “always tasted the same.” He has had to reverse-engineer the sauce, but he’s happy with his version.
For his gravy, Chef Brown rolls pork flank with garlic, parmesan, and herbs, like Lily did — omitting the classic addition of pine nuts in recognition of nut allergies. He gives it a hearty sear, along with meatballs and sausage, and then simmers it in the sauce. He then ladles it over spaghetti, and, for groups of three or more, he heaps the whole thing onto silver platters. He serves it with another Italian American classic — and a kid favorite — garlic bread. A simple salad, along with a dessert course of biscotti, rounds out the meal. Cookie platters are an essential part of many Italian American celebrations.
This Sunday is the fourth Sunday Supper at Estuary. Chef Brown hopes to serve the same menu into March or April — as long as the weather is cold, he said. And, while reservations are available, diners are perfectly welcome to show up without one. The price of dinner is $40, non-drinkers pay $30, and kids eat for $15. The Supper starts at 5 p.m.
Estuary is located at ONE15 Brooklyn Marina at 159 Bridge Park Drive, in Brooklyn Bridge Park.