Somehow my favorite new restaurant in New York is not even a full-service restaurant but rather the best example of the growing genre of “fast casual” establishments. With soaring rent and labor costs, New York is becoming inundated with all sorts of fast casual concepts, many seeking to become the next Shake Shack.
VHH Foods (an offshoot of nearby Vinegar Hill House, hence the name) is located in DUMBO, a neighborhood that seems to have been transformed overnight. Construction was initially slow. First, Brooklyn Bridge Park began to emerge out of a series of dilapidated piers, then a series of gleaming luxury condos went up, then Jared Kuschner’s brother bought all the Jehovah’s Witness properties out. Soon a swarm of restaurants have emerged, many excellent.
VHH is several steps up from the other new attempts in the current fast-casual trend. Yes, you still order from the counter and they have a brisk delivery business. But the offerings are far more inventive, and delicious, than the current crop of similar concepts I’ve been to lately. And the price point is often a steal. For example, VHH offers the same red wattle pork that goes for $34 for Vinegar Hill House’s well-known Red Wattle Country Chop, but here it is offered for a far more reasonable $13, slow-braised with spices and then squirted with some lime juice and cilantro. It is delicious.
The other proteins, through seemingly simple, have a sauce or preparation that makes them stand out. The star is the grilled hanger steak, which comes alongside a garlicky and spicy harissa yogurt, a condiment I could eat with a spoon. The chicken, while looking like a standard cut up rotisserie, has a smokey and lemony flavor and is also great.
The rest of the menu is filled out by a selection of vegetables and salads, available a la carte or three for $14, sandwiches, soups, and hot dogs — creating the feel of upscale picnic-friendly food, probably to encourage people to contemplate a picnic at nearby Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The salads are composed and thoughtful with some interesting and unusual combinations. The best of the current offerings is the charred carrots with ricotta, honey, lemon and sesame. The carrots, trimmed but kept whole, make the perfect vehicle for the creamy ricotta, sweetened with honey. I am, as most New Yorkers are, a sucker for hot dogs. While you might initially object to spending $10 on a dog, the offerings are excellent. The dogs themselves are from Williamsburg’s Meat Hook, and are substantial. The best is the one placed in a curry ketchup slathered bun and adorned with cabbage, cilantro, mint, and just enough fried shallots to add crunch.
Breakfast offerings include an excellent rendition of a breakfast taco, with the queso fresco smartly melted below the scrambled eggs, and topped with avocado, as most tacos should. There is also an extensive coffee and pastry selection. The coffee, mysteriously haling all the way from Maine (the Brooklyn of New England), is good to take to go so you can wander around Brooklyn Bridge Park, visit nearby Jane’s carousel, or browse the offerings at West Elm.
All of these dishes can be enjoyed at one of VHH’s few indoor tables, other picnic-style indoor tables spread out into the interior of the Empire Stores development, or in warmer months, one of several lovely outdoor seats. On a nice day, grab one of those tables if you can!
One thing that VHH has in keeping with the fast casual trend is a brisk delivery business — pairing with Caviar, the emergent west coast-delivery app import. So we decided to try one of our reviews with the Caviar service, as the NYT’s Pete Wells recently did with his Made Nice review. (This review is a lot more positive than Mr. Wells’).
The food traveled well for delivery (from DUMBO to Downtown Brooklyn/Brooklyn Heights), other than the pork being a little dry. The chicken retained its smokey and lemony flavor. The carrots remained the highlight of the salads platter. I also tried the tomato saffron soup (it actually stayed hot), which was good but could have used more saffron.
Sadly, the winter/spring hours were shortened to a closing time of 6 pm, reducing the dinner-time delivery option, but I am told the hours are likely to extend when the weather gets warmer. I’ll be sure to keep them on my delivery rotation when I’m not cooking one of our recipes.
55 Water St, Brooklyn, NY 11201 (located in Empire Stores)
Open 7 days 7 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Recommended Dishes: Breakfast Tacos ($10); charred carrots, antipasto salad, tuscan kale, fried Brussels sprouts (3 for $14); curry hot dog ($9.50);