Last Man Standing: How Gwynnett St. Beat The Odds
Even today, there are parts of Williamsburg, Brooklyn that aren’t that popular. The stretch of Graham Avenue where Carl McCoy’s Gwynnett St. is located has proven to be one of those spots, but in the last year as places around it like Motorino shut down (for alleged building issues) or concepts got completely flipped like the chef changes at Isa and Extra Fancy. The 10-month-old Gwynnet St., however, has remained strong. I went to the restaurant to find out how McCoy and his chef Justin Hilbert do it. The first step in successes, well, was McCoy’s decision to open up in Brooklyn.
“I think Brooklyn is the next kind of scene,” he said on a recent Friday night in the dining room. “I wanted to do a Manhattan-style restaurant with really good food, decent prices, and a neighborhood setting. With a lot of hard work and a really great professional team, I think we have accomplished that.”
Of course, he added, the good reviews helped. Hilbert agrees, and said, “I am thankful for Pete Wells’s review for The New York Times, people didn’t know who we were or where we were before that.” Now, the modern, sleek-lined room fills up most nights and critics continue to rave about the food and concept.
“We try to make food that tastes good and is a good value,” said Hilbert. “We are here to make food people enjoy and not just show off as chefs, though we do use some esoteric ingredients—but, they make sense.”
This means on any given night you can find a rotating list of dishes including one composed of carrots done in numerous ways from roasted, shaved, pickled, and made into flour. “Essentially, it’s bowl of carrots, but it’s elevated,” said Hilbert. “Our focus is to create dishes understandable to everyone, but a little more fun.” Hilbert, who trained under molecular gastronomist Wylie Dufresne at wd-50, tries to think about food through a different angle, and, like his mentor, he likes to play with textures and flavors most people wouldn’t think could work. Soon, he said, look out for his next creative dish revolving around sea vegetables.
Even though Hilbert has his fun with some of the menu items, another thing that keeps Gwynnett St. going strong is the comfort side of the menu. This can easily be seen in the their staple whiskey bread, which comes from a modified recipe Hilbert got from his friend’s Irish grandmother. It’s so good that every reviewer has raved about it, and it’s the one thing that they won’t take off the menu as long as they are there.
“We have had good receptions,” said McCoy. “People come in not knowing what to expect, and so far, we can sort of wow them.”