Achilles Heel is just far enough north in Greenpoint that when I go, I normally only grab a drink, assuming I can walk home to Clay Street and make myself dinner (I don’t, I just make garlic bread in the broiler, but let’s pretend).
But on a Thursday night at the end of summer when you’re stir-crazy after a bad day and your refrigerator is broken so you can’t cook, Achilles Heel is perfect. And if you happen to get trapped by a late-afternoon thunderstorm, do yourself a favor and order some food.
The bar is an Andrew Tarlow joint, which means the lighting is dim, the music is really good and the food is sort of archetypically Brooklyn-delicious. The menu changes pretty much daily, and while you can check it on their website, it’s full of those verbless three-word dish descriptions that sound more like a shopping list than anything else. (For instance, the menu on 8/30: spicy melon; tomato, butter beans, oyster toast; lobster mushrooms & zucchini.) It’s a stark departure from the Brooklyn restaurants whose geotags are stacked with the same marquee dish varying only in if it’s an overhead shot or a close-up (looking at you, Sunday in Brooklyn s’mores soft-serve), and for someone who obsessively looks at restaurants on social media (hi), it‘s weird but rewarding to go into any meal blind.
Rewarding, because I ended up surprised as hell by what I thought was just going to be beef tartare. It was on the menu as “kombu-cured beef toast.” Cool, okay, it was pouring and thundering and I had a busy day at work, and in addition to another Peekskill Simple Sour, I wanted raw meat and carbs in my face, post-haste.
Achilles Heel, though, is really sneaky, and I was going to get some vegetables, too. The beef toast turned out to be a pan con tomate–beef tartare hybrid situation, with chopped beef mixed with seedless tomato pieces, everything the same color and roughly the same size, piled on top of some grilled Shewolf bread going slack underneath it all. At this point in my life, it’s a professional tic to notice if the lighting and dishes in a restaurant are photo-friendly. Neither were.
The whole thing reminded me of a special I had at Night + Market Song. What resembled preternaturally yellow and incredibly sweet corn was actually grilled corn covered in melted coconut sugar and turmeric. The beef toast pulled the same neat trick of amplifying individual flavors but sneaking the means of doing so under your radar. Curing raw beef in kombu and mixing it with tomatoes is, after all, basically glutamate heaven. After I finished the toast I speared every last straggler piece of tomato with the tines of my fork. Even if I wanted to take a photo, I ate too fast to make it happen.
I always thought I didn’t really like tomatoes—to me, they smelled like they came from a clogged sink trap (I know, this is a Bad Look for someone from New Jersey). But after dinner at Achilles Heel, I had a few revelations. Firstly, I don’t hate tomatoes. I actually really, really like them. Secondly, raw tomatoes make me break out in wicked hives. I figured this out halfway through the dish, which led me to my last realization: I was going to finish it, partly to keep my hands saucy and busy so I couldn’t scratch my welts, but also because it was the best thing I’d eaten all summer.
When you work to make events and products and spaces as Instagrammable as possible for a living like I do, it almost feels like a mis-step not to optimize every inch of a restaurant. But at the end of the day, does Brooklyn really need another punny neon sign or monstera-printed accent wall or graphic tile floor to snap, especially when the food’s just this fucking good? The answer is, obviously, “shut up about Instagram and eat the last piece of toast.”