Is Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, ready for an all-natural-wine-pouring, Dominican-influenced patio party restaurant? It had better be, because Kleinberg’s has landed.
It may be that Alex Kleinberg had no choice but to enter the restaurant industry. Sure, he loves food and drink, but the gig is in his blood, growing up soaking up the business at the knee of his father—Neil Kleinberg, most recently of Clinton Street Baking Company. When Kleinberg the senior passed along a tip to Kleinberg the junior about a Bedford-Stuyvesant landlord looking to partner on a breathtaking restaurant space near the top of Tompkins Avenue, the timing coincided perfectly with Alex Kleinberg’s personal natural wine odyssey.
Kleinberg had begun hanging out with Jenn Sherman, who he later tapped to build the wine program at Kleinberg’s, when she worked at Williamsburg wine merchant Uva. Kleinberg and Sherman, along with a handful of other natural wine reps and drinkers-about-town, began brainstorming.
“We all just started hanging out drinking wine in Bushwick and bringing bottles to McCarren Park and talking about ideas for this restaurant,” Alex Kleinberg tells me in his restaurant’s striking, plant-filled “greenhouse” dining room. “The inspiration for this place is kind of—not trying to be too like fancy about things—and keeping something like wine that kind of always has had this pretentious kind of vibe to it, keeping it casual and young and cool.”
Seated in the restaurant’s atrium—a raw construction outdoor-indoor dining space full of exposed brick and hanging plants that unfolds behind the bar itself—Kleinberg freely admits he’s a food guy first—new on his path of natural wine discovery—but found the approach he wanted to take with food—hip casual, a little irreverent—paired perfectly with the wines he’d begun discovering.
“We’re all about the unusual pairings,” he says, “how to mix some pancakes with a pét-nat or a pastrami sandwich with orange wine, an egg sandwich with a Gamay, that kind of thing. We’re trying to do classic American-style things with a twist, some tostones and empanadas and my Dominican stuff on the menu, and if I find a really delicious sparkling Gamay that tastes like guava and passionfruit to me, it just works with our guava empanada. Or a burger with a glass of Susucaru, because of all that acidity and minerality it cuts through all the fat in the burger and the cheese. You wouldn’t expect it but it’s so much better in my opinion than a big full-bodied Cab.”
Together with Sherman, Kleinberg built a wine menu that focused on making natural wines approachable: all wines by the glass are $13, no matter how much the bottle is. His own bent is towards acidic, fruity, splashy wines from Germany’s Mosel Valley. “We have a cool little wine list,” says Kleinberg, citing a Lèzer wine from Trentino-Alto Adige and a La Boutanche rosé among his recent favorites.
“We have a cool little wine list where we go into our reserve list, we just definitely aren’t the kind of place that has 100 wines and a huge cellar. We’re only ordering a couple cases at a time, always getting new stuff, always trying new stuff,” says Kleinberg.
And “new stuff” will soon include the debut of morning service at Kleinberg’s, with an espresso bar fueled by Bushwick roastery Variety Coffee. “I can’t wait for that,” says the eponymous restaurateur. “I’m a morning guy.”
Expect to find Kleinberg—and Kleinberg’s—continuing to stretch the bounds of hospitality in delivering day to night service to a nook of Bed-Stuy still largely untouched by even less daring expressions of gentrified food and wine culture.
“Even though some people might argue that the neighborhood isn’t ready, it’s great being able to complete my vision and my passion in a place I can afford it,” says Kleinberg. “In Williamsburg, a place like this would be $25,000 a month. This space lets me be able to offer cool wines at a price people can afford and do food like this. It all creates a nice harmonious atmosphere where you’re able to do things from a positive good place without just trying to rip people off and pay your rent.”
Liz Clayton is the associate editor at Sprudge Media Network. She is the co-author of Where to Drink Coffee, a worldwide guide to Coffee from Phaidon Press. This is Liz Clayborn’s first feature for Sprudge Wine.