Williamsburg has more than its share of down-and-dirty Southern grub (Brooklyn Star, Pies n Thighs, Sweet Chick, The Commodore, etc.) but the team that took over Zebulon’s former home and opened The Heyward there earlier this week is aiming for something a little less defined and a little more refined.
Christopher Brandon and Matthew Hechter, owners of West Village spot Hudson Clearwater, say that they and their partner in The Heyward — Che Stipanovich, who owns longtime children’s shop Smoochie Baby — take their inspiration from the new wave of lowcountry restaurants like The Ordinary, as well as the heritage recipes of cookbook author Emma Lewis.
The menu created by Derek Orrell, previously a sous chef at Andrew Carmellini’s Locanda Verde, nods to the Carolinas, Virginias, and Savannah — but the dishes employ local, seasonal ingredients. The restaurant is named after South Carolina poet DuBose Heyward, but it aims to serve its immediate neighbors with what will eventually be breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner service. After midnight, there’ll be a late-night menu featuring Southern grub like fried chicken and boiled peanuts.
Brandon and Hechter were childhood friends when they were growing up in New Mexico. They moved to Los Angeles (where they’ll open a seafood-driven restaurant in Santa Monica next month) and then to Williamsburg, where they’ve been living for some half dozen years (Stipanovich has lived there about twice as long).
As Brooklynites, they know the place that Zebulon had in its neighbors’ hearts, but Hechter is careful to note something about the owners’ decision to close the jazz venue: “They owned the building, so it wasn’t exactly gentrification.” (The Heyward team helped ship Zebulon’s bar to Los Angeles, where owner Jef Soubiran is opening “something similar,” Hechter said.)
“We do occasionally have people who walk by and say, ‘Oh, I miss Zebulon.’ Well, I miss Zebulon, too, but the guy sold the building and at the end of the day it could’ve been another Starbucks. At the very least we’re Brooklyn kids.”
“That’s kind of the trend in the whole city right now,” Brandon noted. “With higher rents the old, stable places are all getting pushed out, so it’s really on us – especially the younger generation – to open cool, tasteful, unique places in these spaces so it doesn’t get taken by corporate [entities].”
With a raw bar at a chef’s counter and industrial light fixtures that subtly nod to the building’s past as a pillow factory, the place is indeed tasteful – we’ll give it that. And its owners want the food to be equally so. “It’s a very casual, neighborhood-friendly restaurant,” said Hechter, “but we want the food to be taken seriously.”
Here’s a look at the menu.
The Heyward, 258 Wythe Ave., bet. Metropolitan Ave. and N. 3rd St., Williamsburg; (718) 384-1990