Last Sunday I ate an excellent plate of holy basil minced pork during opening weekend at Little Grenjai in Bed-Stuy. It was funky, fiery and came with a crisp-fried runny duck egg that brought both color and a nice bit of gloppiness to the party.
It was delicious, and only took a few minutes for chef Trevor Lombaer to whip up and carry from his spanking new open kitchen to my table. But, really, Lombaer’s journey to that moment — setting this classic Thai street dish in front of me here in a Bed-Stuy restaurant — was a long one, a story that began seven years ago when he traveled to Thailand to explore the cuisine and, on his third day there, met Sutathip Aiemsaard.
“I had bought a one-way ticket and ended up loving, loving, loving it there and staying for three months,” Lombaer told Brooklyn Magazine. Aiemsaard “and I absolutely fell in love with each other, and she decided she would move here to Brooklyn with me, and we jumped into this crazy thing together.”
The crazy thing was, at first, just a hotdog cart he bought off Craigslist and transformed into a pad Thai stand. Then came a food truck called Warung Roadside, at which point Aiemsaard — who goes by P.S. — insisted they add that great holy basil to the menu, and various pop-ups followed.
The couple were on the verge of signing a lease for their first brick and mortar in early 2020, right before Covid hit and messed up that plan, and then it took two years to find a new place, and two more years to build it out and get the gas turned on (this latter issue delayed things for many months) before, finally, Little Grenjai opened last weekend in all of its glory.
Wait, you say, wasn’t Little Grenjai open last fall, selling those krapow smash burgers all over social media? Yes, for two weekends in September, Lombaer and Aiemsaard were slinging the krapows, also in Bed-Stuy, which they cooked on a $42 electric grill from Amazon and topped with Thai giardiniera and a sauce made from shrimp heads. The burgers quickly became a cult hit, and they are available at the gas-powered Little Grenjai, but only at lunch.
Other than the holy basil, the dinner menu here is almost entirely new and, as Aiemsaard put it, “we cook it exactly like how the food should be, in our opinion. That’s what we say at Little Grenjai: my kitchen, my way.” Basically, despite the watered-down-sounding “Thai American food” on the sign outside, the couple is pulling no punches.
There’s a very good crispy rice salad, for example, laden with so much sour fermented pork that the latter should really get top billing.
The aromatic pad cha (or “sizzling stir fry”) clam toast comes with a slab of bread large enough to sop up all of the potent broth. And If you want your holy basil made with Brussels sprouts instead of pork, Lombaer’s got you covered.
Pad cha clam toast, $24 (Scott Lynch)
The dramatic-looking grilled prawns, served with the head on of course, should start popping on your Instagram feed soon, and the crackling peek gai tod wings will likely be a crowd-pleaser as well. Lombaer is also cooking a few entree-sized dishes, including a $48 grilled pork chop, which looks like a beast, and the lively porgy platter, with well seasoned hunks of fish fried to a crisp and placed around a pile of bright mango salad.
Crispy porgy with sour mango salad, $36 (Scott Lynch)
Lombaer promises the menu will expand as they hire a few more cooks and everyone gets comfortable with the new kitchen. The only dessert at the moment is a Thai tea cake. Beer starts at $7 for a can of Orion, and climbs to $16 for a big bottle of Iwatekura Sansho Ale. You can get a bottle of wine or sake for about $50, or a glass from $11 to $15.
The space itself, designed by Aiemsaard, is lovely and fun, with a diner vibe played out in black and white and bright red. There are padded stools at a counter looking into the kitchen, tables set wherever they can fit in the middle of things and, for one lucky party, a single booth. It’s one of the cutest rooms in Brooklyn, but it’s definitely not huge. Only about 25 people can eat here at a time, and the place was full for both lunch and dinner all weekend. Get those Resys in now, or try and snag one of the few walk-ins the couple set aside each night.
“It’s been all love so far,” said Lombae, who’s lived in Bed-Stuy for 12 years now. “Completely packed with people in the neighborhood and people that travelled here who’ve been following us for years. We’ve been received so warmly. It’s awesome.”
Little Grenjai is located at 477 Gates Avenue, just west of Marcy Avenue, and is currently open on Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 3 p.m. for lunch, and from 5 to 10 p.m. for dinner.