All photos by Scott Lynch
Sep 7, 2022
Gus’s Chop House is a stellar new spot with old school flair in Carroll Gardens
The team behind Popina is now slinging steaks, chops, chicken, seafood, and lots and lots of wine at Gus's on Union Street
In 2017, chef Chris McDade and “front-of-the-house and drinks guy” James O’Brien opened a friendly Italian spot called Popina in the Columbia Waterfront District, and had something of an instant hit on their hands. Reasonable prices, great food, an exciting wine list, a welcoming vibe: it was exactly what this neighborhood wanted.
And their ties to the area only grew stronger when the pandemic hit. “The last couple of years were extremely difficult for all of us,” O’Brien tells Brooklyn Magazine. “But I do think that there were some good things that came about during that time, and one of those was the sense of community it brought. We were rejuvenated, and revitalized, by the love we felt from the neighborhood.”
So although they flirted with the idea of opening Popina 2.0 in Manhattan last year, in the end McDade and O’Brien knew that their second restaurant had to be in this part of Brooklyn. “Doing something in the community that supported us through the pandemic, and who we love cooking for, just kind of made more sense,” says O’Brien.
And so Carroll Gardens gets Gus’s Chop House, a stellar new spot on Union Street right off Henry that specializes in steaks, chops, and cocktails, whole chickens and wine, and enough unexpected delights to keep you coming back for more. “We did a lot of traveling in Europe, to the old French Bistros and chop houses of London, and they always seemed so neighborhood-y,” says McDade. “They’re almost Brooklyn-y in a way. Plus, for the last 15 years I’ve been cooking Italian food, so this gives me a chance to do something different.”
There’s a lot of meat on Gus’s menu, naturally, including uncommon cuts like a pork porterhouse, a pork shoulder, the beef coulotte, a killer “bar steak” that’s extremely rich and tender with a lovely crown of fat on each piece.
High rollers can spring for the $68 New York strip, there are slabs of lamb loin if you want something extra funky. For early birds, there is a limited number of off-menu burgers each night.
An early contender for Gus’s signature dish might be the Bo Bo Chicken, prepared and served in what the United States Department of Agriculture has categorized as “Buddhist style,” with feet and head intact. “There are only two places you can get them in the city now,” says McDade. “We dry brine them, slow roast them until they’re, like, 90 percent done, and then we just throw the whole thing on the fryer in the pick up so it has this glassy, crispy skin with the beautiful succulent insides.” It arrives at your table in a puddle of French onion jus. Don’t forget to bite off the crackling crisp toes.
As at any good chop house, the more seafood- and vegetable-oriented sides and starters at Gus’s provide almost as much pleasure as the hunks of meat. The shrimp cocktail, a steakhouse classic, delivers on its promise of retro luxury. We counted a nine of these beauties, stacked to overflowing, in our dish.
Also available are oysters by the half dozen, anchovy toast, beef tartare, and an ingenious “leeks a la wedge,” a new twist on the blue cheese-and-bacon staple.
You can get fries, of course, but horseradish heads will want the bowl of buttery potatoes absolutely buried in fresh shavings of that sinus-clearing root. The side of hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and raw kale was also very strong, and very good.
For dessert, you don’t want to miss out on the gooey, super-sweet pavlova topped with a bit of olive oil, some mint leaves, and figs for now, while they’re still in season.
As far as alcohol goes, there’s plenty of it. Most cocktails (old school stuff like whiskey sours, Rob Roys, and daiquiris) are $15. There are beers, ciders, wines by the glass, and an extensive list of bottles of red, white, sparking, and rosé all under $100, and most comfortably so.
The basic layout is the same as when the same location housed La Cigogne, which closed last spring after an eight-year run. The front porch and back portholes remain from that era, but McDade and O’Brien built out round banquette tables and a new cherry wood bar, and they took down the big TV to reveal the fireplace behind. Also new: the big front windows can be opened wide, which is going to be very pleasant on warm autumn nights.
“We opened Gus’s based on places we’ve seen and been to,” says Mcdade. “But ultimately we needed it to be a place where we would want to hang out, and where our friends would like to come, because that’s who we want to eat here. My son [the restaurant’s namesake, Gus] has grown up in Popina and now he’ll grow up in this one, so we really want it to feel like a family.”
Gus’s Chop House is located at 215 Union Street, just east of Henry Street, and is currently open on Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. (347-227-8421)