In the event of a zombie apocalypse, people would respond in different ways. Some would hop in abandoned cars and speed wherever they always imagine to be uninhabited, like high up in the mountains, or New Jersey. Others would stay and fight. They’d tie bandanas around their heads, and take selfies before typing “zombie battle” into Uber.
We, on the other hand, would wait it out. And in the time it takes for Will Smith to arrive, we’d settle in at the most comfortable place we could think of - a spot where worries from the outside world are drowned out by great beers and babka sundaes. We’d go to Mekelburg’s in Williamsburg.
This location of Mekelburg’s has a very similar layout to the Clinton Hill original, with a high-end grocery store up front, and a bar in the back that serves sandwiches, small plates, and about 20 craft beers on tap. Groups hang around at the communal tables for hours, occasionally getting up to order food or another obscure beer at the bar. From the growlers of beer and on-site cheesemonger to the huge projector screen showing football, this below-street-level spot is the place to camp out when you’re homesick or hungover, especially once the red plastic baskets of comfort food hit the table.
The menu at Mekelburg’s is familiar enough that you won’t feel the need to read dish descriptions, but the sandwiches and small plates involve twists unlike any others in the city. There’s a baked potato that’s on another level thanks to a coating of creme fraiche and smoked cod, and a scoop (yes, like an ice cream scoop) of caviar. The roast beef sandwich is made with Wagyu, and the meatloaf sandwich with ricotta and red gravy is simply the best sandwich in Williamsburg.
The beer program here is not just a complement to the food - it’s reason enough to come to Mekelburg’s on its own. The 20 draft beers are offered in a range of sizes, so you can try a double IPA from Iowa, a blueberry grisette from Maine, and a spiced stout that Grimm Ales makes just for Mekelburg’s, all without spending too much money or getting too drunk. If the latter isn’t a concern, then take advantage of the offer to add a shot to any can of beer for $1.
Mekelburg’s isn’t the only dimly lit spot in the city serving excellent food that’s simultaneously familiar and different. But most other restaurants that fit that description require preternatural planning to get a table 30 days in advance. At Mekelburg’s, though, you can show up in gym clothes or to grab takeout, and everything on the menu is less than $20. If neither fight nor flight appeals to you when the sh*t hits the fan, wait it out behind a pile of hot chicken and moonshine-aritas at Mekelburg’s.
The salt-baked potato is topped with so much caviar that you’ll assume there’s been some sort of mistake. But there’s no need to wolf it down before a server notices. Everyone gets this hockey puck of briny caviar, which mixes in extravagantly with the creme fraiche, smoked cod and potato.
Standing out as exceptional in the world of mac and cheese is like being the most powerful person at the Bilderberg Meeting. And with a charred top covering a liquidy mixture of three cheeses and firm noodles, that’s exactly what this version does.
This dish is like the kid who was good at lots of extracurriculars, but never specialized enough to be great at any of them. The pistachio butter tastes like Nutella, the pickled peppers add flavor without too much spice, and the long strip of cracklin is like porchetta concentrate. There are so many flavors that none of them stands out.
Unlike the fried chicken wings, which are too breaded and fried, this fried chicken sandwich is a must-order. The skin is crispy but thin, so it adds texture without taking away from the juicy meat - and it soaks up the cayenne and hot honey sauce.
If you enjoy porchetta like David Foster Wallace enjoys footnotes, then you should order this huge portion of porchetta topped with what’s essentially crumbled bacon. But besides some very bitter broccoli rabe, it’s relatively one-note, and we prefer other sandwiches here with more interesting flavor combinations.
Imagine that bread and ricotta had a lovechild with meatballs and tomato sauce. If they pampered their baby, sent it to all the right schools, and dressed it in the finest cheeses - it would grow up to be the fall-apart tender meat in this sandwich.
Calling this a roast beef sandwich is like referring to a marathon as a casual run. The roast beef is wagyu, the cheese is comte, the bun is an everything baguette, and the horseradish will clear your nose better than Flonase without overwhelming any of the other flavors on the plate.
Finish your meal with the sundae - caramel-topped soft serve that melts over gooey cinnamon babka - and then get a couple more loaves of babka from the grocery store on your way out.