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Pomme de Terre

“It’s shocking,” a diner at Pomme de Terre said one night. “I’ve

lived down the street for 20 years. A few months ago this was a seedy
bodega that dealt drugs.”

Now that seedy bodega in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, is a charming corner bistro near a laundromat, a CVS
pharmacy and a few takeout spots — a culinary nowhere along Newkirk
Ave. This snug 40-seat space is appointed with vibrant murals that
resemble vintage French posters. The original tin-ceiling remains,
newly restored and painted over in a sunny yellow. Through large
curtained windows, I saw patrons of every age waiting along the
sidewalk. From the expressions on diners’ faces, the neighborhood seems
thrilled with the dizzying transformation.

So are co-owners Gary Jonas and Allison McDowell,
who are residents of Ditmas Park themselves. They opened their first
restaurant — The Farm on Adderley, only five blocks away — two years
ago and realized they had tapped into an “underserved market.”
Underserved is an understatement. Pomme de Terre, the couple’s second
endeavor, is a joint venture with another Ditmas Park resident and
restaurateur, Jim Mamary, who turned Smith St., which once resembled Newkirk Ave., into the culinary hot spot it is now.

The authentic French menu is the collaborative effort of chefs David Pitula (Aquavit, The Hideaway) and Tom Kearney,
who also oversees the kitchen at The Farm on Adderley, where he
developed a following for his American cooking and beloved twice-cooked
fries. They serve the same, supercrispy fries at Pomme de Terre, but
here they’re accompanied by homemade ketchup and a finely charred
steak. This is exquisitely executed bistro fare served in an unsettled
restaurant frontier.

I ordered the steamed mussels, which arrived in an intoxicating,
bright-green broth of basil, shallots and white wine. I loved an
appetizer of crispy squid, defiantly greaseless and paired with a tangy
lemon aioli. A moist branzino comes whole and stuffed with a fistful of
fennel, lemon and dried tomatoes. And there is a first-rate
croque-monsieur stacked with gooey Gruyere and paper-thin shavings of
ham. But what makes this French staple so distinguished is the brioche,
which tastes like a savory rendition of French toast. “I soak it in
custard,” Pitula confesses. If only I hadn’t asked.

“Everything’s homemade. Except for the bread,” our server told us
one evening. The butter that accompanies the baguette is made in-house.
So is the chicken liver mousse, the mushroom ravioli, as well as the
juicy duck sausage sweetened with currants. The thick, flaky crust on a
fingerling potato tart — another homemade wonder — nearly overshadows
its warm, soothing filling of potato, leeks and pungent Roquefort. The
only disappointments I sampled were an overdressed chicory salad and a
napoleon layered with desiccated vegetables in a greasy bric dough

“This is dangerous,” my dining companion said. We looked down at the
remnants of our dessert — a satiny chocolate mousse, a pistachio-cherry
tart, and a blood orange tart that, lucky for us, was a special that
evening. My favorite was a tarte Tatin with incredibly ripe apples and
candied edges.

Pomme de Terre could easily make it anywhere in Manhattan, but for now Manhattanites will have to travel to Ditmas Park.

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