Black Walnut may be a bit of a departure for Rob Newton, but it still hasn’t taken him past Smith Street.
Known for cozy, casual, independently-owned spaces—including Wilma Jean, Smith Canteen and Nightingale Nine—Newton is the latest local, influential restaurateur to jump into the hotel fray, taking the reins of both a 100-seat eatery and associated food and beverage programs, for the recently-erected Hilton Brooklyn. And fittingly positioned on the junction of Smith and Schermerhorn, which neatly bisects small-town Cobble Hill from metropolitan Downtown, Black Walnut just so happens to emblematize Newton’s personal career crossroads, merging his approachable, ingredient-focused, community-minded aesthetic, with a desire to reach a significantly larger audience.
“Obviously it’s a great business opportunity for me, after running a series of very small restaurants for the past seven years,” Newton says. “But I’ve always sought to create concepts that benefit Brooklyn as well, which in this case has resulted a cool, modern, Downtown-located hangout, that fits a lot of people and serves breakfast. It’s exciting for me and for the borough, which means that it all adds up to a really smart move.”
Named for a tree with deep roots in the South, that’s since found its way to Brooklyn, Black Walnut also represents a natural evolution in Newton’s culinary style. Sheets of 18-month-aged country ham top crème fraiche-smeared flatbread (his roundabout nod to pizza), while a shishito pepper, basil mayo and sunchoke puff “salad” reconciles New Yorkers virtuous veggie obsession with a Southerners penchant for deep-fried comfort. And owing to Newton’s passion for Vietnamese flavors, there’s a decided Asian streak too: “Snacks” include steamed eggs with truffle, crab and yuzu, a “Meat” section features confit chicken coated in chili oil and surrounded with greens and coconut milk, and Japanese buns anointed with Aleppo pepper butter serve as a gratis start to each meal.
“The pervasive problem with hotel restaurants is they don’t embody their surrounding city, or particularly serve the people who live there,” Newton said. “So because of my history in and commitment to Brooklyn, as well as my distinct point of view, I hope to bring something unique to the table; i.e., a distinguished, authentically New York restaurant, that just happens to be located in a hotel.”
Black Walnut at The Hilton Brooklyn, 140 Schermerhorn St., Boerum Hill
Photos by Maggie Shannon