12/20/2012 01:39:00 PM

First Bites: Hunter’s Sneaks Into Carroll Gardens, With Kale

About four weeks ago, Hunter’s stealthily opened on Smith Street right across from Julie Reiner’s Clover Club, showcasing market-driven dishes with a focus on sustainable meat and local produce.

When we walked in on a rainy, cool night, the star ingredient was kale, and they served it many ways including creamed, grilled and in their seasonal soup. Angelo Schifilliti and Michael Nee are behind these creations - the pair met at Landmarc Tribeca where they worked respectively as executive chef and sous chef. In addition to the being on the cusp of the kale craze, the duo has put together a menu of American fare that feels especially appropriate for the cold winter months.

A heaping bowl of tender milk-and-honey braised pork shoulder over hearty heirloom beans and wilted mustard greens warmed us up. So did the beef tartare - while the dish is served cold, slathering some of the meat on the soft, crusty bread felt rustic and comforting. We also padded our bellies with tender housemade papardelle that’s served with a heaping pile of wild mushrooms and boar ragu - you can order this one as an entrée or appetizer.

With dishes like the pasta, you get a sense of their hunter/gatherer inspiration. Our server said the eatery prides themselves on dishing out game meat and forged ingredients. These little twists can be observed throughout the menu - from the wild mushroom pot pie, to the winter squash and sage-laced agnolotti to the lemon-tarragon vinaigrette on the market lettuce salad. But be warned, even the salads go the hearty route. Witness their smoky, grilled kale with a rich whole-grain mustard dressing, a thick disk of roasted squash and bright, crunchy chickpeas.

The space also exudes warmth. The wooden chairs, exposed brick and menu notes hand-scribbled on chalkboards gave off the laid back vibe that defines much of the Brooklyn restaurant scene these days. The walls are sparsely decorated with animal drawings and mirrors, and on one side, lays an old, framed picture of a little boy.

“That’s nobody we know,” said our waiter. “We are waiting for an oil painting of Hunter.” Who, might you wonder, is the restaurant’s muse? According to our helpful server, Hunter is the owner’s Beagle, a true breed of hunting dog.

The cocktails on offer also run with this theme, paying homage to real and mythical hunters. We had the sweet and herbal Katniss Everdeen for dessert, but if we had stayed for another drink perhaps the gin and blood orange mix in the Van Helsing would have been nice. You can also get the gold rum, apple jack, maple syrup and a bitters combination dubbed Elmer Fudd; or go for the Hot Teddy, which tips its boozy hat to President Roosevelt’s famous hunting habits.

Aside from cocktails, Hunter’s serves an array of wine and beer produced in the United States, including a Pindar “Peacock” Chardonnay from Long Island, Johan Pinot Gris from Oregon and Wagner “Estate” Cabernet Franc from New York’s Finger Lakes region. For beer, they have Penn Dark Lager from Pennsylvania, Crooked Tree IPA from Michigan and Peak Organic Pale Ale from Maine.

So far, it appears locals have hunted down this place and taken roost, whether at the bar or one of the dozens of simple wood tables. But, as time goes on, there is no reason folks from other nabes won’t make the trek for a hunting trip of their own.

 The Details: 213 Smith St., Brooklyn, New York; 718-246-2221

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