In New York City, when a cool new chef-centric restaurant with a great wine list becomes well known or receives a stellar review, it’s kind of bittersweet. Once the New York Times or another reputable publication has praised a restaurant, it can become nearly impossible to get into for months on end. Thus, RIP a normal person’s ability to drink at places like Le Coucou, Olmsted, and Aska, where roughly zero slots are available between now and September.
But there are plenty of delicious, low-key restaurants in the city that are bursting with atmosphere, stocked with wonderful bottles of naturally leaning wines from small producers (“natural” meaning: organic vineyards, and few or no chemicals used in the winemaking process). These establishments are also service-oriented, chef-driven, and basically just waiting for Sprudge Wine readers to come in and have a wonderful meal.
Here is a list of restaurants in New York City where you can drink great wine (and eat well too) without making reservations three months in advance.
Faun, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
A light, mineral red is ideal to wash down the richly flavored, handmade pastas at this cozy spot, which opened in 2016. Chef Brian Leth and wine director Bill Fitch come from Vinegar Hill House, in DUMBO, and they’ve brought to Faun a real sense of charm; a stellar market-driven food menu; and a very affordable list of small-producer wines—there are plenty of options in the $45–$50 range. On Wednesday evenings, you can order half of any bottle on the list—more exciting than ordering by the glass, but still practicing midweek restraint. That said, the list of wines available here by the glass is really excellent: Examples include the Slovakian producer Strekov and the Côtes Catalanes winemaker Matassa, both of which are natural winemakers worth knowing about. You might start with some Greek orange sparkling wine for the many delicious, seasonal small plates that begin the meal: bibb salad; fluke crudo; chicken liver mousse. A more classic Italian red such as a Tuscan Sangiovese might suit for the pasta course, and Faun’s knowledgeable staff are happy to guide you.
Gristmill, Park Slope, Brooklyn
Just about every dish at this place is touched by the wood oven in some way: the insanely good stuffed garlic knots and pizzas are all baked in its heat, and even the sundae features burnt honey ice cream. Young chef Jake Novick-Flinder’s family has a farm in Upstate New York, which drives his obsessive passion for ingredients. He knows the provenance of literally everything he cooks with, and uses many heritage grains and always the most seasonal produce. Wine director Kyle Eberle has put together a list that offers affordable choices such as the Marcel Lapierre “Raisins Gaulois”, a low-key, fresh, and fruity Beaujolais at just $32 list price, as well as natural wine favorites such as Arianna Occhipinti from Sicily, and small-production American labels such as Bedrock Wine Co. and Arnot-Roberts, which are defying the notion of oaky, big California wine in favor of something more subtle. It’s nice to eat and drink this well in such a warm, welcoming setting without breaking the bank.
Sauvage, Greenpoint, Brooklyn
After ensuring that Maison Premiere would forever be a favorite in New Yorkers’ hearts—and getting the hint that we like to have something to eat with our liquids—the founders of that award-winning bar opened this absurdly beautiful Parisian-style spot in prime Greenpoint real estate, where the patio actually gets sunlight nearly every day of the year. French tourists regularly walk by the patio and do a double take: “Are we actually in Paris?” Inside, the extensive, very well-curated wine list does feature primarily French wines made naturally, along with those from Spain, Italy, and Germany. There’s delicious grower Champagne by-the-glass: On our last visit, it was a non-dosé (meaning: bone dry) blanc de noirs from Champagne Piollot. Chef Damon Wise has a seasonal menu that riffs on French classics such as lapin à la moutarde, dressing his version of the rabbit dish with mustard-honey broth and roasted turnips. And don’t miss cocktail guru Will Elliott’s low-ABV drinks, featuring wildcrafted spirits from all over the world.
Have & Meyer, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
It feels a bit like entering a trattoria in a stylish Milanese neighborhood when walking into this cozy small-plates wine bar: Waiters call out a friendly “Ciao!” as you crane your neck to examine all the wine bottles lining the walls. Have & Meyer is a relaxed place to enjoy some simple Italian dishes—polenta with warm blue cheese; a charcuterie plate; a dish of olives soaked in their own oils—on your own at the bar, or with a date, or with a small group of good friends. The wine list is impressive, featuring Italian growers ranging from well-known names (Radikon, Foradori, La Stoppa) to harder-to-find Italian natural wine icons such as Serragghia and Marco de Bartoli, along with dozens of small producers such as Francesco Cirelli and Franco Terpin. The folks from Have & Meyer recently teamed up with Brooklyn’s local affineur Crown Finish Caves to experiment with orange wine-washed cheeses. You can taste the delicious results at the wine bar now, and they have possibly one of the most extensive orange—or “skin contact”, if you prefer this term—wine programs in the city.
Mettā, Fort Greene, Brooklyn
Henry Rich (of June Bar and Rucola, among others) has done it again with his latest neighborhood restaurant, one that goes above and beyond a casual bistro in terms of food, drinks, and service. Chef Norberto Piattoni trained with Argentine master of fire Francis Mallman, so there’s char on just about every dish; he also worked at Bar Tartine, evidenced by the use of fermentation and pickling in many things at Mettā, as well as the excellent housemade breads. Rich himself did the wine list and it is centered on small producers, featuring some fairly off-the-beaten path wine regions and grape varieties. It’s a list with something for just about every palate: funky, cloudy, somewhat wild bottles from Partida Creus in Catalunya, Spain; the precise and lovely wines of Domaine de la Tournelle in the Jura; and the energetic, mineral-driven juice of Hervé Villemade in the Loire Valley. Selections are mainly from France, northern Spain, and Italy, with a few interesting options from Austria. There are also some well-chosen, affordably priced large-format bottles (magnums and jeroboams) for when you’re dining with a crowd and want to look badass, as well as delicious dessert wines to pair with the unmissable savory desserts (i.e.: charred and crumbled parsnip cake with lovage ice cream).
– Flora Bar: This recently opened, chic uptown eatery inside the Met Breuer gets a lot of attention for Ignacio Mattos’s innovative, artfully plated cooking (and rightly so), but the wine list features some of the best small producers from around the world, including unique finds from Champagne, Burgundy, and California.
– Hotel Delmano: That amazing cocktail and oyster bar that is ideal for romantic dates, and that just celebrated its 10-year anniversary? It also has a killer and affordably priced small-producer wine list, with plenty of bubbles.
– Sunday in Brooklyn: One of the recent darlings of Williamsburg is this casual, all-day farm-to-table restaurant from chef Jamie Young, formerly of two Michelin-starred restaurant Atera. The concise wine list features lots of offbeat grape varieties from naturally working producers around the world.
– Flinders Lane: At this casual East Village restaurant, you’ll find an extensive selection of Australian wine, far beyond Shiraz, which is a welcome change from the typical French- and Italian-heavy lists around town.
Rachel Signer is a Sprudge Wine contributor based in Paris, and the co-founder of Terre Magazine.