The center of most bars is just that—the bar. But at Belle Shoals, whose narrative centers around a fictional southern town, one is immediately drawn towards a vintage Wurlitzer jukebox.
The story behind the jukebox trumps the fictional tale behind the restaurant. “I found a guy out of Wisconsin via hours and hours of Internet worm holes,” co-owner Josh Mazza explained one Wednesday evening as the space slowly filled up, “His passion is car racing, but he restores jukeboxes to support his habit. So I bought it from him.” Warm, resonant blues and soul 45’s courtesy of the Wurlitzer coupled with dark wood paneling and assorted vintage memorabilia give the space, which used to be Good Co., a homey feel. Belle Shoals isn’t too polished, and Mazza admits to preferring many elements of a dive bar, but without having to sacrifice a quality cocktail program or knowledgeable bartenders. Mazza and the combined forces behind popular Manhattan establishments The Seamstress and The Gilroy want you to feel looked after. Inventive cocktails and high-quality ingredients achieve just that.
While cocktails are the focus, the food holds up. Chowing down on a crispy fried duck leg served on a homemade biscuit after a couple of cocktails beats standard bar fare. Another standout includes the Hell’s Belle’s—Virginia ham-wrapped fried oysters (fried perfectly crisp) served atop a herb crepe, with smoky aioli and pickled onions. Sadly, the ham was supposed to be sourced from Edwards Ham in Virginia, which Mazza admits was “the best ham in the country” before a tragic fire brought their production to a halt. The po’boy, served on a grilled baguette, is also well-balanced and not to be missed.
The team isn’t trying to make a statement in the somewhat oversaturated landscape of nouveau Southern cuisine, especially in this particular corner of North Brooklyn. “Bob Dylan wrote all the good songs, and we have thousands of good restaurants here. We’re not trying to compete here,” Mazza says of their place in the hood. The goal isn’t to be niche, and Mazza cites neighboring spots like The Commodore as doing comfort food quite well already. “Our goal is to be inclusive, and it just so happens that Southern food has a certain feel and character that is very accessible,” Mazza explains, adding that he finds southern cooking “delicious and a little bit naughty. It’s rustic; it’s everything that we are.”
Cocktails (priced within the neighborhood range of 11$-13$) do the heavy lifting at Belle Shoals, and there are twice as many concoctions as there are main food dishes. Beverage Director Pamela Wiznitzer and Head Bartender James “Jimbo” Palumbo drew heavily from southern inspiration. A favorite is the “Lil slice of Heaven,” made with mellow corn whiskey, blackstrap rum, dry curacao, benedictine and house made pecan orgeat (a sweetener that tastes a bit like pie in a blender). Served over cobble ice, it’s a drink that playfully masks its alcohol. You may also be drawn to the novelty of rose on tap or shots served in (empty) bullet casings.
As we dined the space filled up quickly, and Mazza’s self-described goal of creating something “inviting” revealed itself. Fans of Good Co.(RIP) should note that the garden, which holds about twice as many people as the 50 seat restaurant itself, opens later this Spring.