With combined resumes that include Atera, Del Posto, Empellón Cocina, Momofuku, Rotisserie Georgette and Dover, a malt-slinging diner called Hail Mary is hardly the debut project you’d expect from Hisham and Sohla El-Waylly. And yet, after years spent chafing at the constraints of NYC’s notoriously buttoned-up establishments, the husband and wife team couldn’t feel more at peace in their free and easy “Grandma chic” styled eatery, serving spaghetti, matzoh ball soup and eggs.
“In those super stuffy environments, you can’t even enjoy your food, because you always have someone waiting to refill your water, and you’re expected to act a certain way,” said Hisham. “We wanted a place where people can relax, eat sundaes, and make a mess. Last Sunday, the entire bar was filled with families drinking milkshakes and having fun, which is so great! No one aims to open spots like this anymore, but then again, not everyone can hire a babysitter so they can sit down at a meal and be pretentious for four hours either. We just want everyone to feel welcome and to have a good time.”
So if levity’s the overarching aim, it’s definitely mission accomplished here, where 50s doo-wop burbles from the sound system, domed funfetti cakes and scratch-made candy bars line the counter and a painting of the El-Waylly’s pet puppy (reimagined as a bow-tied soda jerk) graces the walls. And the swivel stooled counter and generous booths in the front room are indeed ideal gathering spots for families, reveling in marginally fancified Foie PB&J (consisting of grape jelly, Skippy, and Martin’s potato buns), house-roasted Turkey Clubs sided with chaat chips, Bolivian Hot Dogs topped with “all the fixin’s” and a “Paulie Gee’s Malt,” featuring candied guanciale, Mike’s hot honey and scoops of burrata ice cream.
That said, sleek, high tables in back (overlooking the gorgeous glassed-in kitchen) double down on the restaurant’s something-for-everyone appeal, as do Smoky Creamsicle and Bourbon Banana Split cocktails, and “All Day Egg” options like Deviled Egg Dip with housemade Ritz crackers and trout roe, and Toad in a Hole with duck eggs and preserved lemon. There is also a tongue-in-cheek selection of “Fine Fare,” including Short Rib Stroganoff, Pork Steak with red eye gravy, and top notch Hot Fried Chicken—a Szechuan peppercorn-spiced, talon-on, slow-growth Sasso bird.
“When we first began putting together menus, we realized that all of our dishes were brown, because they were either representative of our cultures (Hisham is Egyptian-Bolivian and my parents are Bengali) and because brown food just tastes good,” Sohla laughed. “But when other people read those menus, they’d be like oh, it’s fusion; it’s new American small plates. And since we definitely didn’t want to go that route, and knew we probably couldn’t get away with coining the term ‘New Brown American,’ we figured we’d open a diner, where anything goes, and you can have everything under the sun. Basically, it’s our way of sneaking our influence in without trying to be some fancy fusion restaurant.”
68 Greenpoint Avenue, Greenpoint
All photos by Sasha Turrentine.