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Upon passing the façade, one might easily mistake The Kettle Black (8622 3rd Avenue, corner of 87th Street; 718-680-7862) as just one of Bay Ridges most popular watering holes. Sure, there is an expansive bar area, which is further augmented by a wraparound sidewalk café that gives the place a truly distinctive look along with an unusually expansive amount of space in which to lift a few while enjoying some bar food and some great company. And to be sure, this section of the place is always hopping. And well it should be given the truly lovely surroundings and the scope of brews and drinks at the bar. But in reality, this really only tells one portion of the story, for The Kettle Black is as family friendly as it is a meeting and greeting place, and the food is just about universally beloved by young and old, ravenous and picky eaters alike. Indeed, kids are welcomed along with grandmothers, both of whom will find the place quite endearing, and The Kettle Black is as accommodating for friends and couples out for a night as it is with singles looking to connect at the bar. TV sets are everywhere, in the dining room and around the bar, but in the former, they are never obtrusive or distracting. This graciousness and truly old-fashioned hospitality can be easily linked to the conviviality of its host, Tommy Castelli who, along with brother Rob and friend Erik Manning, owns and operates the place. Tommy and Rob are both firefighters; Tommy just retired from Engine 226 in Brooklyn and Rob serves with Ladder 24 in Manhattan. Now everyone loves a fireman anyway, but Tommy has a real knack for the restaurant business and is the heartbeat of the place. You might also know Tommy from Bay Ridges Salty Dog, where he worked for many years. Step into the back dining room and leave the bar and its denizens behind and enjoy a separate space of open weathered brick walls, a beautiful and quite captivating new tin ceiling, ceiling, long benches and a circular padded corner booth in a world decorated by an eclectic assortment of old license plates and vintage baseball memorabilia among other effluvia. But it all works and its all marvelously comfortable. But the real hallmark of The Kettle Black is the food I might even call it comfort food but it extends beyond that. Imagine all the appetizers, add-ons and main dishes you crave culled from several dozen other menus and put together all in one place here. Thats The Kettle Black menu. Its really difficult not to over order and not to over eat till bursting. In some restaurant you may search and find a single dish or appetizer that piques your fancy. Here, the opposite is true: You have to begrudgingly give up on a few must-haves else they will have to roll you out of the place. Tommy and associates have put together the quintessential crowd pleaser of a menu. Its pretty much a guarantee that no one at any table here has said that there is just nothing I like on the menu. Indeed, people who normally wouldnt think of snatching a taste from their neighbors plate do so with unabashed abandon here just to get in a few more nibbles. Just one example is the wings not your normal appetizer, you understand. First, they are delightfully meaty not the scrawny things you usually get served. And secondly, there are 12 count em, 12 different variations on a theme, from the Jack Daniels variety to the Hawaiian Luau with a hint of pineapple and plum; from the Mojo, tossed in a citrus based glaze with plenty of garlic to the Jameson, with a marinade that combines Irish whiskey, the kitchens secret sauce and Hickory BBQ. Whether wings are your passion or you have shunned them in the past, rest assured they will be a favorite after sampling them at The Kettle Black. Order up the Firehouse Famous Chili, which Tommy won a citywide competition for while a part of the FDNY, and be presented with a huge bowl of ground sirloin, beans and secret spices that add up to heaven. Other appetizers run the gamut and include one of the best shrimp dishes it has been my pleasure to consume dubbed the 87th Street Zesty Shrimp. Its fresh Tiger Shrimp, which have a dense texture and flavor far, far beyond the measly shrimp so typical in many restaurants, which are then each wrapped with crispy bacon and wrapped so tightly they merge flavors with the shrimp. Its served with an addictive spicy Creole dipping sauce. The Crazy Fries are aptly named, as the dirty (skin on) fresh potato strips are piled high on a platter and then covered almost to invisibility by layer upon layer of Jack and Cheddar cheeses, Jalapenos and first rate chili. The Chuckwagon Ribs will also be making the rounds at the table, meaty and slathered in the chefs own BBQ sauce. There are fried raviolis, crab cakes served with mesclun greens; Chicken Zingers (think wings, with your choice of sauces that have had the bones removed now thats living); Jalapenos crammed with cheddar cheese and a bunch of others. What about the Disco Fries with cheese and gravy or the cleverly labeled Trailer Park Platters which offer a Pabst Blue Ribbon along with a dish of pigs in a blanket or, for the really trashy, an entire bucket of Pabst and a couple dozen pigs in a blanket. As for a main dish or a filling appetizer, sample the grilled thin curst pizzas; the Margherita with dollops of fresh mozzarella and basil with a homemade sauce; an all veggie pizza or something called the Left Coast, with grilled chicken, fresh mozzarella, sundried tomatoes and black olives. Add any of a dozen toppings for just 50 cents each. And this now brings us to another point about the menu very reasonably priced. Theres barely an entrée that comes above the $10 mark; most items are served in overly generous portions and come in around the $6-$9 range; its no wonder that large tables fill up quickly with more different dishes then prove irresistible to appetites. Opt for one of the Quesadillas and be met by a slightly crispy and flavorful shell which wraps around a mountain of ingredients: the Triple Decker offers grilled chicken, pico de gallo, Jack and cheddar cheeses plus grilled shrimp; the Drunken Shrimp offers tequila sautéed Tiger Shrimp with roasted red peppers, jalapenos, diced tomatoes, cilantro and Jack cheese; or the Steak and Beans option, with sliced and grilled hangar steak, black beans, roasted garlic and a blizzard of melted jack cheese studded with jalapenos. You can understand why you will want to order all three. Burgers, by the way, are given their own place of honor; first rate beef burgers (theres even a turkey burger option) and thick and juicy they are, done up in a long list of ways: topped with hickory smoked bacon, BBQ sauce and cheese; or with six kinds of cheeses; or with horseradish mayo and cheese and on and on. In the mood for a sandwich? Theres pulled pork in a hickory BBQ sauce; a Portobello Mushroom (my favorite) marinated in Balsamic vinegar, and layered with fresh mozzarella and sweet roasted red peppers, finished with a roasted red pepper aioli. Theres also the classic Reuben, a Kettle Cubano with roasted pork, smoked Virginia ham, pickles, Swiss cheese, mustard and mayo, plus a sliced steak under a mound of mozzarella served ion garlic bread, finished with mushrooms and onions. As for the more traditional entrees, theres Penne ala Vodka, a New York Strip steak customized with garlic mashed potatoes and mixed veggies; Pasta Primavera, Chicken Florentine and some Irish fare too, like fish n chip, Shepherds Pie and Beef & Guinness Pie, the latter a hearty casserole of cubed sirloin, a medley of vegetables and a heady Guinness-based gravy all baked in a puff pastry. A kids menu is fixed priced at just $4.95 and even gives you some flexibility to custom order. Desserts are from the Dyker Heights very popular Aunt Butchies confectionary and bakery and include a Mississippi Mud and a Peanut Butter Pie. The last mention is to the aptly dubbed Not So Traditional Brunch, tabbed at $14.95 (just $4.95 for kids up to age 12) and available 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. Unlimited Bloody Marys, Mimosas or domestic draught beer is included, as is the fruit cup appetizer, toast and home fries. Options include a variety pf pancakes, a Breakfast Burrito, Cajun Eggs, open faced omelet, French toast, Eggs Benedict and more. The kitchen is open seven days, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; there is free delivery seven days, too, 5-10 p.m. The bar is open till 4 a.m. Live music is featured Thursday through Saturday, from 11 p.m. until closing, with both DJs and bands. Bands are also spotlighted on most Saturday afternoons (call ahead to see if they will be on stage on your particular week). There is a happy hour nightly, 5-7 p.m. and the bar always offers $2 Pabst Blue Ribbon and a bucket of Rolling Rock for $8. Ask about the daily drink specials. Most major credit cards are accepted. The Kettle Black can accommodate private parties up to 100; outside catering is available to anywhere. Special events are on-going, like their annual Wing Eating Contest, held at the Third Avenue Festival (this year 47 wings were downed in the allotted time); there are organized trips to various sports events; a hockey night to the Garden and others.
©2006 Community Newspaper Group
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