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Restaurant Spotting: The Backyard at The Pines

226711_477811635627354_13709405_nA restaurant with outdoor space of any sort already has a leg up in the city, even if it’s only a pair of rickety two-top tables deposited on the sidewalk.  So the full blown, leafy backyard at The Pines in Gowanus makes it an idyllic summertime spot, a sunny reprieve from the restaurant’s dim, no frills interiors.

So while you can still hunker down indoors with tender Squab with Parsnip and Blueberry and house-cranked Cappellacci with Oxtail and Crab Brodo, be aware that visiting The Pines’ backyard means stepping into a different restaurant entirely.  Because Romano has re-imagined the scruffy urban enclave as a charming Basque cider bar and grill, offering a unique menu of wood-fired items, prepared from a makeshift, backyard kitchen.

Start with an array of inventive skewered small bites, like crispy Chicken Skin with Preserved Lemon and Pink Peppercorn, toothsome Octopus with Smoked Beef and Hearts of Palm, and salty grilled Haloumi (a sturdy Cypriot cheese) smeared with sweet/sour Celery Mostarda, before moving to larger plates of seriously elevated ‘cue.  Instead of mundane burgers and dogs, you’re more likely to find Whole Smoked Pork Shoulder, Wagyu Coulotte Steaks, Grilled Clams, and succulent Half Lobsters, wrapped with creamy, melting Lardo and perfumed with Vanilla Butter.

179552_466514550090396_412224380_nThere’s also an amusingly terse wine list to choose from (white, red and rosé), and a solid selection of craft beer (River Horse Hop Hazard, La Socarrada Golden Ale), but esoteric and complex Ciders are the pride of house.  Try the fruity Cosecha Propia, made with estate grown Asturian apples, the easy-drinking and effervescent Basa Juan, and the acidic, unfiltered Isastegi Sagardo, poured from on high to break up the residual carbonic gas.

With Labor Day looming, it’s only a matter of time before we’re relegated back inside, with only a bowl of braised meat and a throat-searing whiskey cocktail to comfort us.  But until then, it’s still possible to find an exotic, warm-weather escape in the unlikeliest of places… a fenced-in square of concrete in the industrial heart of Gowanus.

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