The optimum pregame meal

You can pregame dinner at home, or at a bar nearby. It's an especially useful and often necessary tactic when you're going somewhere that doesn't take reservations (or you didn't make one), and there's a long wait. We all know this. I'm not talking about that kind of pregame today, though. I'm talking about the meal as pregame when the game is a concert or a sporting event or a Broadway show. I've touched on this before in a previous newsletter about Simon & The Whale, but in many ways that pregame was a game in and of itself.

This time I'm talking about an eatery that provides an ideal pregame experience. It must be said that a pregame dinner needs to occur somewhere that is close to where the main event is going down. If in New York, it should be within walking distance. You want to be able to finish your meal (and perhaps a few drinks), then transition quickly and smoothly into the next part of your night. This is not debatable; if you have to spend 25 minutes in an Uber getting to your final destination, you're doing it wrong. Given all that, the spot I'm about to describe is the pregame counterpart to a specific venue. That venue is Brooklyn Steel.

Those of you who've been to Brooklyn Steel know that it's in a section of East Williamsburg that's retained the desolate vibe that Williamsburg as a whole was once known for. Old warehouses line the blocks and Newton Creek, one of the most polluted industrial sites in the country (thanks to its former use as a vessel for 300,000,000 gallons of spilled oil and plenty of raw sewage), flows nearby. You could say it's gritty.

Three blocks away, on a corner surrounded by a smattering of discreet headquarters for plumbing companies, window & door manufacturers, and the like, rests an eccentric little Vietnamese café. The décor is vaguely kitschy, with reclaimed Vietnamese signage, objects of certain sentimental value strewn around, and a chandelier made of various knick-knacks hanging from the ceiling. It sometimes doubles as an art gallery, although I've only been for the food. A long, wooden communal table sits in the center of the room. A staircase across from the entrance leads to a small loft-like area with two tables for two. There's a fridge (used in part to store fresh produce for the kitchen) that stocks self-serve Sapporo, Schöfferhofer grapefruit bier, and some craft beers, plus kombucha, cold house-made chrysanthemum tea and yerba mate, and a large white tub of New York's finest tap water. Next to the fridge is a small pantry section where, presumably, you can buy fish sauce or sriracha to take home. Finally, there's the counter where you order food, behind which is the open kitchen. I couldn't find them, but a set of speakers is installed somewhere in this vicinity. Last night, a jazzy, psychedelic rock song called "D-Day" by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard and Mild High Club was filling the space when we entered, and it sounded pretty good. (Yes, I Shazamed it.) It set just the right energy for a pregame to a show, or at least the kind of show I was going to (Animal Collective and Flying Lotus, FWIW).

The menu is simple—rice bowls (my go-to), sandwiches, and bun—and it caters to every kind of diet. The rice bowls are made up of grains of the day, vegetables of the day and can be ordered with one egg, two eggs, and/or your choice of add-ons ranging from salmon chicharron to asparagus seitan to smoked Vietnamese ham. There are usually special additions, too, and last night those included Vietnamese barbecued chicken and sautéed shiitakes. I chose the latter. Because of the seasonal nature of the restaurant, every bowl you eat here will be a little bit different, but they never skimp on flavor or substance. Besides the mushrooms, mine was loaded with blanched leafy greens; a vinegary carrot-jicama slaw; crunchy slivers of raw beet; earthy, lightly cooked celery, carrots, and turnips; caramelized onions, and a sprinkling of crispy onions.

But the very best thing about this place (every time I come here, without fail, I become giddy over it) is their condiment line-up. To the left of the counter, there's a table piled with a vibrant selection of clear squeeze bottles filled with sauces, including Thai basil (very hot), fish sauce vinaigrette, sambal oelek, sweet and tangy onion, soy-balsamic, carrot sesame, turmeric, ginger, and (my personal favorite), coffee hoisin, plus a quart of pickled jalapeños. They're all free, which—operators, take note—is the right thing to do. It's advised to take some time to sample them before your order is called, so you're prepared when it's go time.

Food aside, the reason that this works so well as a pregame joint is this: it all comes out quickly, and from that moment onwards you're in control of your own time. If you want another beer, you can grab one from the fridge at any moment, because you pay for everything before you leave. You're not gambling on timely service. When you're done, you're done, and five minutes and a few blocks later, you'll have moved onto what's next.

Now it's time for you to tell me one of your secrets. What's your pregame go-to before an event at a specific venue? And why does it work?

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Nhà Minh
485 Morgan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222
(718) 387-7848