Mekelburg’s: A Brooklyn Hideaway with a Focus on Gourmet Grub

Barkeep by | Jul 2017 | Issue #126
Photo by Miguel Rivas

“Our dream is to own a brownstone and have a restaurant on the first floor,” Daniel Mekelburg told Grub Street in 2007, dishing about aspirations to legitimize NY Bite Club, the acclaimed supper club he and his wife, Alicia, ran primarily out of their apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

In 2015, the couple’s long-held dream was realized when they opened Mekelburg’s in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. Located below a red awning advertising fine foods and craft beer, the low-slung basement space is steps away from their brownstone. But it’s far from a traditional restaurant.

Up front, Mekelburg’s is a gourmet grocery, stocked with dried pastas and sauces; olives and olive oils; bean-to-bar chocolates; freshly roasted coffee; and baked goods. In the back, past a counter resplendent with cheese and charcuterie, intentionally unmarked by any sign, is a lengthy bar constructed from a salvaged bowling-alley lane. People park here, at a nearby table, or in the small backyard to explore the 16 rotating drafts that mingle local heavyweights like Threes and Transmitter with Hill Farmstead, Westbrook, and other breweries from around the country. Growlers and pints to-go (served in a Mason jar) can be filled with select beers, as well.

While aiming for an even split between New York City breweries and their non-metropolis counterparts, Alicia Mekelburg says that “at the end of the day, we try to pour the best things we can get.”

That focus on quality extends to the menu, where highlights include oysters broiled with sambal butter; a gargantuan baked potato festooned with caviar and black cod that Alicia’s sister smokes and ships from Alaska; and the Mek-Muffin, a breakfast-only brioche sandwich bulging with an egg frittata, slab bacon, Sriracha, and cheddar.

The Mekelburgs channel the intimate ambiance and lavish cooking of their former supper club into monthly six-course beer dinners showcasing different breweries. For its dinner with Other Half last year, for example, fork-tender short ribs were braised several days in Short, Dark & Handsome, the brewery’s bold and smooth Stout, then finished with a glaze of maple and horseradish and served atop a sunchoke puree. And at an event with Queens’ Finback Brewery, a beer-washed goat cheese served with pistachio cream and lemon curd was paired with Red Shift, Finback’s sour ale brewed with cranberry and yuzu.

“We learned how to cook under extreme conditions. We never really had a kitchen of our own and we kind of still don’t,” Daniel says of Mekelburg’s compact, makeshift kitchen behind the meat counter. “There’s something creatively freeing in the lack of options.”

This creative freedom has attracted all kinds of people in this food-and-booze-obsessed borough. “We have locals, people crazy about beer, people who aren’t just looking for the latest IPA, and we have parents who just want to bring their kids to dine in the bar or backyard,” he says.

Patrick Morse, the brewmaster of Flagship Brewing Co. in Staten Island, and a regular patron who lives nearby, isn’t surprised by the spot’s wide appeal. “It carries itself like a neighborhood ‘round-the-corner hang, and you automatically feel that,” he says. “Every single time I walk in, either Daniel or Alicia goes out of their way to stop and chat. Their hospitality is amazing. I’d like to say I’m special, but I see them treat all patrons—both new and regular—with that kind of love.”