BY CRAIG CAVALLO
When you walk in to the restaurant you won’t find yourself standing in front of a podium. Your last name doesn’t matter and ‘party of five’ would just be a Jennifer Love-Hewitt reference. There’s no host or hostess and you certainly won’t find a maitre’d making pleasantries. You’re water is going to be filtered. So long as it’s not sparkling you won’t be charged for it, and although the restaurant is in Brooklyn, there’s no room for strollers. The only conventions Fort Defiance boasts are a front door and a chef.
A sign hanging inside at the end of the bar explains how Fort Defiance was built during the Revolutionary War to help detain ships from entering the East River. The bar itself is set beneath large panels of dark wood that suggest the hull of a cargo ship. The night I dined there the captain smiled and waved me in. Her name is Abigail and it turns out she’s leaving for New Orleans in a couple weeks. The cocktail list is headed with an homage to her departure and, in regards to her drinks, suggests you ‘Get em while you can.’ Ingredients like flamed orange peel and rosemary smoke reveal cocktails that express the vision Fort Defiance has.
Pickled herring sits in horse radish and creme fraiche and manages to retain a freshness despite its preparation. Biting into the dense, meaty flesh invites a sensation that must be the human equivalent to bears catching salmon swimming upstream.
Monday’s are burger nights at F.D. and it’ll only run you $10. For $12 you’ll get a beer with your burger. Make it $14 and you can wash down the perfectly seasoned blend of lean and fatty cuts from Pino’s Prime Meats with homemade punch–obviously spiked. The burger is dressed economically; lettuce, red onion, and pickles. It’s accompanied by a side of roasted potatoes that is kept warm in a cast iron skillet, the likes of which can be seen through the pass being tossed with the same frequency a saucier may skim the fat off a stock. A pleasant spectacle though perhaps a better plate of food if the potatoes were hot out of the oven.
Aqua walls invoke more maritime spirit and lend themselves to a bright room should you decide to dine here for lunch. Any of the $6 beers on tap are the perfect companion to the New Orleans inspired muffaletta. The history of its creation at Fort Defiance started with St. John Frizell’s longing for the sandwich he became familiar with living in The Big Easy for eight years. He is the owner and proprietor of the restaurant so no one could really tell him having muffaletta’s FedExed from New Orleans was a bad idea. His intention? Dissect the sandwich and put it back together using local products. The result?
An authentic product trapped between perfectly toasted lips of bread that scream of cured pork, briny olives, and rich Provolone and Emmental cheeses. The sandwich is a symbol for the effort that goes in to the restaurant.
Adam Baumgart is the current chef and his well-crafted menu exists in a remote corner of Brooklyn. Peter Luger’s gets diners from all over the country. Roberta’s serves sweet breads to patrons from the Upper East Side. Fort Defiance may not have what it takes to entice guests from all reaches of the city but you quickly get the feeling that’s not what they’re after. Instead, Fort Defiance succeeds as a subtle, reliable, neighborhood fixture and shows no signs of going anywhere. These notions are quickly set into place after one of the servers or the bartender catch your eye and politely steer you to a table, should there happen to be one open.