Food is a journey, a marker in culture and time that tells the stories of those living and eating their way through. At Station, a restaurant located right at the Bedford Avenue L stop in Williamsburg that is modeled after old-school, turn-of-the-century European train station cafes, the story is one of home – the snow-covered home in northern Sweden of Project Runway model Karin Agstam, as well as the homes she made for herself while on the road, and the home of Chef Rue Rusike in Zimbabwe, Africa.
“My grandfather went to school by sleigh behind a reindeer and in the village I grew up in, there was only one restaurant,” explained Agstam inside her airy new eatery. “And every day I went to lunch with my grandpa at the “Station Café” – it was important and we’d dress nicely. So of course, with my restaurant, I have to call it “Station.””
For both Agstam and Rusike, formerly of Eleven Madison Park, Station – which had its soft opening in mid-July – is an extension of themselves and their own homes, with an unpretentious bohemian French design – inspired in particular by a station in San Sebastian, Spain – to the sleek dark tables, walls and uneven wood floors, and two menus – regular and vegan – that change seasonally and call upon ingredients and spices that have French-with-African-influences.
So the menus are filled with the likes of Rabbit, served like stew with spiced tagine and cucumber yogurt atop a bed of couscous ($15); slices of Duck L’Orange served atop marble roasted potatoes and topped with navel oranges and charred scallions ($21); Lentils with mushroom glaze, sautéed spinach and sweet potato slices ($15); and an herb-infused Portobello Cap with green beans, roasted potatoes and confit of garlic ($19).
In the hands of Chef Rusike, ingredients from land and sea find new life on your plate and in your mouth. The Spinach three ways – peanut butter, cream reduction, and tomato ragout – atop cornmeal cakes ($8) is a tantalizing beginning to any meal, perfect to share, each morsel an education in what can be done with one simple ingredient – spinach. The Mushroom soup ($9) is poured out of a white ceramic teapot and comes dotted with scallions and bits of dried portobello and button mushrooms that have been steeped and simmered for eight to 11 hours in a clear, yet dark, herb-infused broth that tastes lightly salty and surprisingly hearty.
Of the main dishes, we recommend the Mussels cooked in a creamy African chili sauce with garlic ($15) that comes in a wonderfully large ceramic soup bowl alongside a homemade loaf made out of freshly baked nutty wheat flour that has “more sodium and is more dense, which for [Rusike], is more wholesome.” The mussel meat is spicy, creamy and falls out of the shell. Pile the meat on top of a slice of bread and be blown away.
On the vegan menu, a favorite is the Ratatouille ($13) – an oval pile of sliced-and-roasted yellow squash, zucchini, and eggplant, drizzled with herbed tomato sauce and pea shoots, plus a healthy sprinkle of black pepper throughout (patrons can request less pepper if they prefer) – which warms the stomach and soul with its fresh flavors and colorful plating.
“[The spinach, three ways] is the dish my mother taught me how to make when I was nine,” said Rusike. “It is a Zimbabwe dish and generally, the spinach peanut butter is my favorite. At home, we use pumpkin leaves – when Fall comes, we’ll do that here, as well.”
This willingness to be creative, turning childhood food memories into fully grown adult delicacies is one of the things that makes Station stand apart from other restaurants in Williamsburg and Brooklyn. Putting in the time is also key. Each dessert and alcoholic or non-alcoholic cocktail – made by another Project Runway model alum, Sveta Gliebova – features homemade fruit compotes and sauces.
Station is a formal sit-down dining experience, offset by the affordable prices and relaxed atmosphere, made warmer by the staff’s attentiveness and the cooking staff’s friendliness even while working with exacting focus and precision. All plates are heated in the oven prior to having food plated on it, and Sous Chef Brooke Nedelcovych and cook Cassiano Nuñes already are in a comfortable rhythm with Rusike, who like Agstam, hopes that the restaurant becomes a Williamsburg institution.
166 North 7th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Tuesdays – Saturdays from 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Sundays from 5:30 p.m. to Midnight
Weekend brunch from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.