Another one of ILFA's New Year's Resolutions is to get out more in Crown Heights, not just along the Avenue but all around the neighborhood. This weekend, local journalist Maya Lau visited Catfish Bar and Restaurant on Bedford Avenue, a new spot just a block of east of many of the best-known restaurants on Franklin, and liked what she saw. Read on for her review.
Catfish Bar and Restaurant Opens on Bedford Ave.
Bedford Avenue might be the longest street in Brooklyn, but it's a relatively quiet one when it rolls through Crown Heights -- Franklin Avenue always seems the more obvious choice for dinner and drinks (see: Barboncino and Franklin Park).
But the owners of the new restaurant Catfish (1433 Bedford Ave. between Park Pl. and Prospect Pl.) want you to venture one block over from the area's main commercial strip to try their gumbo, oysters, vegan ratatouille, and cocktails.
The cajun-inspired bar and restaurant opened this weekend. Two screens, against a brick wall aglow with little lights and liquor bottles, broadcast a football game. I drank an impressive Creole Bloody Mary followed by sips of my friend's Hurricane and a French 75. Over the course of the evening, I found myself leaning in closer and enunciating more to keep pace with the escalating volume.
When I first visited the space in October, it was all sawdust and wooden planks. Maxx Colson, one of the owners, showed me around, telling me about how the restaurant started out as "a secret plan" back in 2011. He and his partners, Luke Wheeler and Aaron Giroux, met each other bartending at reBar in Dumbo. Wheeler, who had started in the restaurant industry 16 years ago as a dishwasher and worked his way up to general manager, didn't want his boss at reBar to know he had ambitions of owning a restaurant. Colson, who had been in business school and was somewhat of an investment geek outside of bartending, also had small-business dreams.
Then one night, after a particularly "bad day," Colson recalls, Wheeler said to the other two, "we need to do this." By the spring of 2012, the three put in notice at their jobs and dedicated themselves to Catfish. Wheeler is the head chef, Giroux manages the bar and Colson works as the floor manager and accountant.
What sets Catfish apart from other Brooklyn bar/restaurants, Colson says, is better service, solid cocktails, an extensive whiskey and scotch menu, and a community-oriented vibe. "We want this to be a neighborhood spot," Colson, who has been the restaurant's main voice within the community, told me. "We want our neighbors to feel welcome and have a reason to come in." The three owners live in nearby Bed-Stuy.
Colson acknowledges that some locals had been fearful that with the arrival of the restaurant, the neighborhood was going to change for the worse. Noise was the neighbors' main concern. Colson says his team did "an extensive job" of soundproofing, including using double-paned windows and dropping the ceiling by 8 in. and filling the gap with paper particles to absorb noise.
In the end, even if noise does become an issue, Colson wants to hear about it. "The last thing we want is for a neighbor to have a problem with noise and not feel comfortable telling us about it."
The music playing on a recent night had a New Orleans feel. The gumbo I tried was comforting. Deep wooden tables and a backyard seemed to anchor the place as a Brooklyn joint -- in fact, once the place got crowded it was hard to distinguish it from other packed Brooklyn bars. But the cocktails were what stayed in my mind -- perhaps evidence of the owners' bartending prowess.
"A good bartender can have a lot of influence in people's lives," Colson told me. "They can build community, give advice, or be an intermediary between two parties." Colson says that even though he, Giroux, and Wheeler have a whole restaurant to manage, you will still find them working in the kitchen and serving drinks behind the bar.
Catfish, 1433 Bedford Ave. between Park Pl. and Prospect Pl., open every day. 11am-12am Sun-Thu; 11am-1am Fri-Sat. Happy hour 4-7pm Mon-Fri. Backyard closes at 9pm. Raw bar and brunch menu to come.