Red Star Sandwich Shop’s Asian-inspired American sandwiches brings the kind of bold cuisine-fusing flavors you might find at Smorgasburg to Smith Street.
Korean, Chinese, and other pan-Asian flavors combine with the best American comfort food traditions (yes, including tater tots and mac & cheese).
For a New Yorker like me, Asian food is already comfort food, so this was my kind of joint.
Brothers Gibson and Johnson Ho run the place with the assistance of their family restaurant construction business, and they make a great team. Gibson, a French Culinary Institute graduate, runs the kitchen and shows what he picked up at past stints at Ippudo, Momofuku Noodle Bar, and Landhaus (let’s hope he introduces a version of Landaus’s bacon on a stick). Johnson, an affable recovering corporate lawyer, runs the front and the business side. The shop’s bright, stone-walled interior with wood tables and steel chairs is modern and clean.
There is always a risk when combining this many different flavors that things will go off the rails, but thankfully, that has not happened — yet.
Rather, the menu remains bold but not too extreme. For example, the exceptionally crispy and surprisingly not fatty pork belly sandwich is served on a baguette with just some greens and a slick of mayo to cut the saltiness. The pork belly’s seriously crisp and porky flavor needed no extraneous accompaniment, and thankfully, there was none. I don’t know how they get the pork belly’s exterior to retain such crisp while keeping the interior juicy. It’s probably best not to know.
Another favorite sandwich was a neat take on Korean fried chicken, with pounded twice-fried chicken covered in just the right amount of gochujang sauce and topped with pickled daikon and dill inside a soft roll. The gochujang was more tangy than spicy and the pickled vegetables provided a freshness you don’t normally associate with fried chicken.
Bowing to the millennial generation’s lust for customization, any of these sandwiches are available as salads, and soon, as rice bowls. I could certainly see the crispy pork belly feeling right at home atop a mound of rice. Sides include, yes, homemade tater tots, topped with just a few scallions. Great by themselves, or with a squirt of the otherwise unnecessary sriracha sauce on the table.
My favorite side was the mac & cheese with Chinese sausage and topped with fried shallots (of course, everything’s better topped with fried shallots). The noodles were more cheesy than creamy and nicely cut the saltiness of the Chinese sausage, which you might recognize from its more familiar surroundings in pork fried rice. A straight-up wanton soup had a deep-flavored broth with delicate pork dumplings.
The large beverages selection includes Tsingtao, alongside local craftbrews, Boylan’s soda, coffees, teas, and lemonades.
In an area with not enough original fast casual spots, Red Star nicely fills the void.
Red Star Sandwich Shop
176 Smith Street, Brooklyn
Recommended Dishes: Pork belly, Korean fried chicken, tater tots, mac & cheese.