This post is part of the Food Writer’s Diary blog.
Once upon a time, the Pink Tea Cup was an institution, or so I'm told.
I have musician friends who confirm that the restaurant had long been a popular hangout for musicians and other celebrities in its original West Village location, but in the food world this 61-year-old restaurant has largely been forgotten.
Laurence Page is trying to change that.
Page, a native of Birmingham, Ala., came to New York and made his fortune working in restaurants, slowly building an empire of coffee shops which he sold to buy the Pink Tea Cup from founder Charles Raye after the restaurant’s longstanding West Village location closed in 2010.
Page tried several locations for the restaurant before moving out of Manhattan to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Fort Greene in 2013, where I visited Page and his restaurant recently.
Fort Greene’s a cool neighborhood near downtown Brooklyn. It's pretty, with brownstones and leafy trees, lots of middle class African American but also public housing developments and a rather low-key white semi-hipster community — generally older and less insufferable than some of the hipsters in Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Bushwick, but not as humorless and fastidious as many of Fort Greene's neighbors in Park Slope.
(I live in Park Slope.)
The latest location of the Pink Tea Cup — named, Page tells me, for Raye’s “first wife,” who loved the color pink and loved to drink tea — is a larger restaurant than the original, but the original just had 12 seats. This one’s still cozy at 30 seats. Page says it’s more rustic than the original spot. Pictures of visiting celebrities are still on the walls — I spotted Isaac Hayes and Denzel Washington — and Page says celebrities have stopped by the new location, too, including Queen Latifah.
Page said he’s adjusting to his Brooklyn audience, offering new flourishes for the new crowd.
It seems that Brooklyn residents have more dietary issues than Page is accustomed to, so he has learned to make pancakes without eggs and fried chicken without gluten. He has fancied up his brunch service — a great moneymaker for him as he says he draws a great after-church crowd — with a wide array of Mimosas, new toppings such as mixed berry compote and bananas Foster to go on top of his Belgian waffles, and a whole new line of omelets.
He said his top selling omelet is made with feta, broccoli, onions and Cheddar.
Page has also upgraded the mac & cheese, which used to be made with Cheddar, but now also has feta, Monterey Jack, mozzarella and smoked gouda.
It's a good mac & cheese, of the chunky rather than saucy variety. The smoked Gouda gives it a kind of meaty-seeming quality.
Actually, all the food I tried was quite good. The fried chicken was crispy and juicy, the catfish firm yet supple, both nicely spiced. The pork ribs are just shy of fall-off-the-bone tender, so I could still sink my teeth into them, coated in a sweet and tangy tomato-based sauce that suited my tastes but might be a bit too in-your-face for the hipster crowd.
Then again, this is soul food: You eat it, and if you say, "Mm," then it’s good. So just accept that the sweet pickle relish mixed into the potato salad is supposed to be there, and that candied yams are supposed to be as sweet as candy.
That said, now that it’s 2015 it could be argued that the string beans — just salty enough and, like much of the other food at the Pink Tea Cup, spicy in the right measure — were overcooked.
The Pink Tea Cup has a cocktail list, and the drinks are okay. One, the Bourbon Savannah, is a sweet peach tea with bourbon added, another is a Pink Mojito — colored with strawberry syrup and yet surprisingly not overly sweet — both served in mason jars, which is appropriate for Fort Greene, but if you want to attract the mason-jar-cocktail drinking crowd, you need to up your game. Buy a classic cocktail book, pick up some bitters, maybe hire a consultant; Brooklyn’s lousy with cocktail consultants.
Also, a cool Brooklyn restaurant needs to consider its beer. Corona, Heineken and an India Pale Ale from Delaware aren’t going to cut it. The borough's very proud of its craft breweries. Give some of them a call.
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].
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