Beer Near Here is a new feature introducing Brooklyn’s newest noteworthy spots for beer.
Mekelburg’s, 293 Grand Avenue, Clinton Hill
Alicia and Dan Mekelburg have joined New York City’s growing gourmet-grocer group with their newly opened namesake store in Clinton Hill. A welcome distinction from these meticulous modern-day provisioners, who might peddle anything from kettle-boiled bagels to cocktail bitters to bone-in rib eyes, however, has entered the couple into an additional expanding association: its big beer-maddened mix, this due to the presence of a bar pouring some impressive brews. If the ambitious start continues, I confidently believe Mekelburg’s selection could quickly become one of Brooklyn’s Mekelbest.
The store, located in a sub-street level space on Grand Avenue between Clifton and Greene Avenues, opened last Tuesday. Its owners are not newcomers to food-based ventures: They previously operated the NY Bite Club, a popular underground supper club, for nearly a decade, first from a tiny apartment on the Upper West Side and later, their brownstone in Clinton Hill. At its zenith, Bite Club’s subscription base included over 5,600 members. They hosted nearly 300 dinner events between 2006 and last November, each typically offering eight courses and seating 30 guests.
Dan summates the clandestine club as “an experience born out of our love of cooking for family and friends.” It started unknowingly. “We were documenting our food travels and recipes on a message board called eGullet and someone messaged us asking if we could cook for their birthday party. It snowballed from there,” he says. Alicia describes Bite Club’s dishes, which ranged from an apple, maple, and rutabaga bisque with “foie gras nutter butter” to the equally playful combo of cornmeal-crusted quail and buttermilk waffles, as “mainly low-country cooking, European meets American. But also anything that inspired us from our travels.” They were inspired by some of the city’s venerable food-shop forebears—Zabar’s, Citarella’s, Barney Greengrass—for Mekelburg’s, and wanted to recreate “that old New York vibe,” she adds. “We want to be that neighborhood fixture for your olive oil, your pasta and so on. And we’re striving to have the best qualified people in every department. We don’t want to know the most in everything, if that makes sense.”
The store’s deceptively large interior houses a case of cured meats featuring several from Pittsburgh’s Crested Duck Charcuterie (goat salami, duck speck, lardo); another healthily stocked with cheeses by Crown Finish Caves, Jasper Hill, and more, which is handled by the store’s cheesemonger, Chris George, who previously worked at Neal’s Yard Dairy in London; light produce; and aisles stocked with packaged foods, many made in Brooklyn. There was a plan to have refrigeration-heavy retail with buttloads of bottles and cans like my favorite of the Niko-named “subeermarket” model, Covenhoven, but the idea was scrapped due to craft beer’s recent proliferation into the area’s bodegas and supermarkets. “Every corner store has bottles of Lagunitas and Founders now, so we didn’t see the point. It’s a concern of freshness. We want to move beer, not create a museum of aging bottles,” Dan explains.
As a result, they dedicated the space’s back to a café. A crew of chalkboards tout some Italian and Spanish wines, cocktails, and a concise menu of sandwiches (my favorite is constructed with house-made porchetta, broccoli rabe, and Parmigiano-Reggiano) and small dishes (like a baked potato topped with caviar, crème fraiche, and smoked black cod caught by her brother-in-law, a fisherman in Seward, Alaska), but commanding my attention most are the 16 rotating drafts, each available in two sizes of glassware and 64-ounce growlers. An impressive opening lineup last week consisted mostly of local beermakers like Grimm Artisanal Ales and its newest, Psychokinesis, a deliciously bright dry-hopped sour. The list has offered more non-New York City operations since that inaugural iteration with a similar level of dopeness and stylistic diversity; on my visit yesterday, which was spent drinking in the store’s picnic table-filled backyard, I enjoyed Hitachino’s Yuzu Saison and Jolly Pumpkin’s Weizen Bam. After, I shifted my focus to shopping, because who can resist perusing a section of dried pastas following a pale ale or looking at the locally roasted coffees (which includes a Mekelburg’s blend from Brooklyn Roasting) before consuming a coffee-infused porter?