“It’s the fanciest trash food you’ll ever have,” Liza Queen said with satisfaction during a recent lunch service at Potlikker, her sunny, diminutive new slice of a restaurant on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg.
It”Ãƒƒƒ‹œs a descriptor that hardly does justice to Queen’s particular brand of rootsy regional cooking—which reads more as a love letter to the hardscrabble, working-class immigrants of the Northeast (think Dutch pancakes, beef tongue sandwiches, and ploughman’s lunches), than as an ode to the joys of beer-can chicken and pork rinds. And yet, it fittingly encapsulates not just the vibe of her restaurants—exemplified in her scrappy, DIY Greenpoint joint The Queen’s Hideaway, which closed due to rent increases in 2008—but the owner herself, who frequently flies in the face of anything pretentious, self-aggrandizing, or holier-than-thou.
“This being NYC, everyone’s ambitious and wants their Michelin star—but that’s how the fun gets sucked out and you wind up tasting someone’s ego on a plate,” Queen said.
“Fine dining versus home-cooking is kind of like high versus low art”¦ there tends to be a lot of machismo involved when you want to be the high. I don’t give a shit either way, personally, but I think embracing low art is a beautiful way to put together a business.”
Queen’s come-as-you-are credo is more than evident throughout Potlikker, which, under the guidance of her interior decorator sister, rejects muted tones, stark lines and reclaimed wood (“done, done and overdone!”) in favor of saturated colors, multilayered lighting, comfortable seating and a bustling open kitchen—where you’ll frequently spot the tatted-up restaurateur working the burners and rocking out to Zep tunes. “I still play CDs,” Queen confided, “which the wait-staff thinks is hilarious.”
In fact, there’s little from the flatware to the wording on the menus to the signs that hang in the bathrooms that go untouched or unconsidered by Queen, whose tastes have gotten her labeled time and again in the media as eccentric, idiosyncratic, or worst of all, quirky, a dismissively twee term Queen can’t help but bristle at.
“I just do things the way they make sense to me”¦ is that quirky because I’m a chick? Cause I don’t wear a chefs coat? Because I’m here and work the line and do the prep?” she pondered. “It sounds like I’m flitting around in a dress Alice Water’s-style, and not sweating my ass off in the kitchen and worrying about bills and the DOH. It’s belittles the fact that I’m a business owner. “
“And I’m certainly not cute,” she laughed brightly, expertly scanning each station in the lemon-colored room with a practiced eye, as “House of the Rising Sun” wailed out of the CD player. “You can ask anyone who works for me.”