On the whole, Brooklyn does not lack for great places to eat or drink—and more specifically, Bushwick has no shortage of any such places (the burgers at Fritzl’s Lunch Box! the back lounge at Three Diamond Door!). However, just because there’s a lot of great places that do what they do very well, there are not that many places that do everything very well. And by everything I mean everything: early morning coffee, lunch, dinner, a full bar and cocktail program, a late night menu and brunch. It’s the service industry analog to the boyfriend everyone is in search of but who doesn’t really exist; only, that restaurant does exist, and it’s Juno in Bushwick.
John Barclay, of Bossa Nova Civic Club, opened Juno in December, in a building bought by a friend near the foot of the Central Avenue M stop on Myrtle Avenue. And when that friend asked Barclay if he’d like to open bar, Barclay suggested that particular patch of sidewalk needed something else: a place that could do everything (including having a coffee window for easy ordering access).
“The idea was to have it function much like a diner, and that we could be a place that is open ‘round the clock, and where you can get pretty much everything,” Barclay tells me, leaning against the bar, when I went with a friend to visit last week. “People just need a spot where they can get coffee. But then we do wine and cocktails and breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a late-night menu and brunch.”
When I take this heavy-load into consideration, paired with his Bossa Nova duties, it occurs to me Barclay is working probably all of the time, and I feel tired thinking about it.
“Yeah,” says Barclay, who still manages to walk around with the laid back energy of a college student on winter break, “sometimes I’m just sitting around complaining, too. But I’m usually right around here.”
Inside, Juno looks like what Brooklyn dining has trained us to expect: pretty high end, yet still semi-casual. There are pendant lamps, a marble bar, spacious and comfy dark leather booths, a tiled back splash behind the bar, a show-stopping front wall of wrought-iron-spined windows that swing, vertically, open to the street. In back, separated by a short walkway flanked by the kitchen and bathrooms, there are two more levels of seating. There the aesthetic is more casual, and so much so that the spaces almost feel like different restaurants. But they still offer views to the prettiness up-front.
Behind the bar, Jordan Schwartz (previously of Nitecap, Up & Up, and Milk & Honey, among other spots) runs a high end cocktail ship. Schwartz’s wife is a long-time friend of Barclay’s, and when offered the opportunity, Schwartz was excited to have “a little more voice in a place” than at his previous bars. So he’s started by making things like a rich, tangy-sweet house-made sherry blend, and cocktails ($12) with names like “Late Night Triumph,” which is a blend of tequila, lemon, pineapple, and cayenne pepper. My friend went for the Soi Cowboy (bourbon, cachaca, banana liqueur and chocolate bitter). Without permission I stole the last sip; Schwartz noted the drink gets better as it disappears, and he was right. It was a refreshing swig of icy, boozy banana.
Talking to Schwartz and Barclay while drinking was a great time, so I almost forgot I needed to eat. But I’m happy my friend drew my attention back to the menu because the kitchen—headed by Salvatore Crisanti, who also lives in the neighborhood and has cooked at Tabaré, Northeast Kingdom, and Five Leaves—is where things get exceptionally interesting.
“Everything I put out [in the dining room] is something I could sit at home with and stuff my face with, and I probably have done that a few times before I bring it here,” Crisanti tells me about his menu. “My fiancé and I sit at home and cook all day on our days off. She is vegetarian and she challenges me to cook for her,” he says. And the result of that are some exceptionally tasty grain- and veggie-heavy selections.
For example: Crisanti riffs on General Tso’s chicken by substituting eggplant for poultry, and whole grains for rice; the standard cornstarch slurry is replaced by a sauce which includes mirin, ginger, hoisin, and a Thai chili and red curry paste. “When I order General Tso’s chicken I’m always looking for that spice, because it’s supposed to be very hot, but I added sweetness with hoisin,” says Crisanti.
Chicken is also a standout; Crisanti cooks it with his own achiote sauce, and serves it with blackberries, currants, dates, and brussels sprouts. And then there’s the impossibly tender octopus; Crisanti sears it on a plancha, and combines it with wine, lemon, and bacon, serving it on a bed of wheat berries.
“I cook what I like to eat,” says Cristani. “If you’re forced to cook (dishes) you’re not happy with, it comes out mediocre.”
Lucky for us, Cristani has great taste—as does Schwartz, and, of course, Barclay.
Juno: 1264 Myrtle Avenue, Bushwick