Water had completely flooded the restaurant. It was waist-high on the ground floor; the basement, totally submerged. Chef Sohui Kim thought maybe a cosmic force was telling them to give up.
The neighborhood, Red Hook, was one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy. Most of the restaurant’s equipment was destroyed in the storm. The Good Fork, which Kim and her husband had built together, was badly damaged. Kim wasn’t sure what to do next.
But then she started getting notes in the mail. One pair of diners wrote about how the restaurant had been the site of their first date, and later, their engagement. They enclosed a $100 bill, “for the rebuilding effort,” they wrote. Many more notes came.
“It was the first time I realized it wasn’t just mine and Ben’s restaurant, it’s the people’s. We share it with customers,” Kim said. “It made a difference to people.” Together with neighbors, staff, and customers, Kim rebuilt the space.
This year is The Good Fork’s 10th anniversary. The restaurant’s quaint environs and elegant, unshowy takes on familiar dishes have solidified it as a neighborhood mainstay.
Kim and her husband, Ben Schneider, settled into Red Hook in the early 2000s, charmed by the area’s old-world, small town feel. She envisioned a “globe-trotting bistro” that would incorporate flavors from different parts of the world. Schneider designed the interiors in a similarly homey style, with warm lighting, framed paintings on the walls, and backyard seating underneath a shady tree.
Kim’s Roasted Free-Range Chicken dish is classic French with Chinese flair ($23). The chicken is prepared French-style, while the gravy-like, umami-concentrated sauce is made by reducing chicken stock, Chinese fermented black beans, Shaoxing wine, shallots, and peppercorns. Butter is added right before serving. The sauce is like a more luscious version of the kind found in Cantonese stir-fried noodles–incredibly savory, and ideal for mixing with the mound of potato-parsnip mash atop. It’s at once comforting and sumptuous. “But people don’t have to know that it took hours to make that sauce,” Kim said.
The surprising elements in the dishes are often subtle. The Fried Green Tomatoes, dipped in a light beer batter made with Sixpoint Brewery “Brunt” Ale, is paired with serrano ham and anchovy mayo—an unexpected blend of creamy and fish-sauce-esque funky ($13).
A seasonal dish of Grilled Summer Squash is embedded in a moreish romesco sauce, with a little more heat than usual ($13). The chef de cuisine, Sam Filloramo, was inspired by a staff member from Mexico who showed him how to cook with dried and smoked Mexican chilis. Filloramo toasts cubed pieces of bread with guajillo, chile de árbol, chipotle, pasilla, and other chili peppers in olive oil, before adding Korean chili flakes.
The staff at The Good Fork like to learn from each other. A new iteration of the Rainbow Trout dish came from a line cook, who wanted to pay homage to the Mediterranean tradition of pairing fish with preserved lemons ($29). The mild-flavored trout becomes a canvas for picking up the flavors of preserved Valencia oranges, wood sorrel, fennel, and torn herbs accompanying it in a refreshing, light salad, brightened by a drizzle of coriander vinaigrette. Everything is given a buttery finish by the pool of beurre blanc sauce underneath.
As a restaurant that also celebrates its own neighborhood, it’s only apt that The Good Fork’s dessert menu includes Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies, a long-running pie shop located off the pier in Red Hook ($8 for a slice). Its pies are made from freshly squeezed key limes, made into a lovely custard that has just the right hint of tang.
The Buttermilk Panna Cotta also makes for a pleasant summer ending: clean, slightly savory, and topped with pucker-up-tart berries ($9). There’s just enough sweetness to tease your taste buds.
Now, Kim says the restaurant has finally recovered financially from the Sandy aftermath. It’s a new era, to be celebrated with an upcoming cookbook featuring The Good Fork’s most memorable dishes.
“It’s [the restaurant] dear, dear to our hearts. It’s like your first baby,” Kim said.
The Good Fork
391 Van Brunt St., Brooklyn
Tuesday to Saturday
5:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.
5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday
10 a.m. – 3 p.m.