Last Friday I headed out to Williamsburg to attend the first Food Book Fair for TheDailyMeal.com. It was a nice event held in the brand new Wythe Hotel and I really enjoyed it. More on that later. As I came out of the Bedford L Station I paused, deciding what route to take to 11th and Wythe. My Spidey Sense tingled (really my New Yorker Sense) and decided to walk up 7th Street. I made a right on Berry and a little store front caught my eye. A place called Juniper. It was closed but had an A in the window so I figured it was a restaurant. I made a mental note to find out more.
I attended two great panels at the Food Book Fair. Then it was lunch time. Trying to figure out where to eat I grudgingly called up Yelp on the iPhone. I just wanted a reminder of the restaurants near me. For once, Yelp delivered. What popped up at #1? Juniper.
This is what I read. 4 stars. "Best Burger." Then this - "great Cajun." What? Great Cajun? In New York? And I have never heard of the place? I was on the move.
Juniper. Cajun/Southern Food. It is a nice, quaint, simple spot. Seats about twenty or thirty. White walls, green wainscoting. A simple bar. It has the feel of a simple local spot in the south. The decor is not over done.
Now focus on today's specials. Jambalaya. Baked Mac and Cheese. Catfish Sandwich. Cajun Shrimp Salad. Fish and Chips. And the special note in the corner; "Everything made to order."
Please, please let this place be good. I am happy to be in Williamsburg today, but my heart is in New Orleans at the second weekend of JazzFest. I deserve Juniper to be good.
There is also a special of Shrimp and Corn Chowder on offer today. I order it. It comes. It looks like this:
It is good. It is very good. Actually, it is great. Rich and creamy but not to heavy. It has big chunks of shrimp, diced potatoes and sweet, snappy kernels of corn. It is spicy. Perfectly spicy. Peppery with enough heat to make your tongue crackle with delight but without the urge to grab for any liquid in sight. Someone knows how to balance spice and heat. I am smiling and shaking my head in appreciation.
I am happy. Juniper is worth the trip for this chowder alone. Now my hopes are up. I ordered the Catfish sandwich. Catfish in Brooklyn. My fingers are crossed. It arrives. It looks like this:
Now I am unabashed. Time for unadulterated praise. This is simply delicious. Fantastic. Two thick pieces of catfish, breaded and fried. They are light, fresh and perfectly moist. A house tartar sauce, more like a garlic aioli, and some lettuce adorn it. I think this is the best fish sandwich I have had. Anywhere. Seriously. And here comes that perfectly balanced heat again. The batter of the catfish is spicy with a little fire. It comes through after the catfish, after the cool lettuce and tartar sauce. It sneaks up on you and lingers. Oh yeah.
I forgot to mention, those spicy fries are really, really good as well.
Whoever is making this food must have grown up in the South. Their understanding of this food and command of the spice rack is too good. New York is the greatest food city in the world. Sorry everywhere else. But we do have a few holes. Southern, especially Cajun, being one of them. I never thought I would eat southern/Cajun food this good in New York City.
This is Tom:
He is the owner and chef of Juniper. He is a lovely and friendly guy. He comes out of the kitchen to make sure you are happy and enjoying your food. He is decidedly not from the South. But he is a huge fan of southern cooking and has traveled and eaten all over the South, especially New Orleans. His key to cooking southern food this well? Keep it simple. It isn't that hard (so he says). Don't reinvent the wheel.
Tom thinks this is easy. Maybe that is why he is so good at it. This is not easy. I know. I have been dissapointed too many times. It is now my mission to spread the gospel of Juniper. Many of you reading this know how much I love New Orleans and Cajun food. Now I have, at long last, found a spot that makes great Cajun and southern food. It has been here for over a year and I didn't know about it. Shame on me. I want everyone to know about it.
I am going back. I am going to try everything there, starting with the Jambalaya, which Tom says he will have for a few more weeks. I am going to write about it until you go there. I am going to sing Tom's praises until the place is so busy I can never get in. I have to. Juniper must survive. It must thrive. It deserves to. It is that good.
Juniper. Go now.
Juniper - 112 Berry Street (at 7th) - Williamsburg, Brooklyn