The Good Fork was long closed when the sign was affixed to the door: The Good Fork wasn’t dead, just hibernating, and would soon be back, albeit in a slightly different form. “We will open as a public house, where all people from Red Hook and beyond are welcome to sample our food and drink under the old wooden roof,” he said. And with that, Good Fork was officially reborn as the Good Fork Pub.
When Sohui Kim and her husband and business partner, Ben Schneider, opened their first restaurant in 2006, it helped usher in the era of Brooklyn’s artisanal peak, land of the canned goods, and speak in detail about the origin of their coffee. It was a neighborhood restaurant in a neighborhood with very few options, which could have been enough, but the difference was that the Good Fork was surprisingly good. It was a local diner turned culinary destination, serving steak and eggs with kimchi rice and chicken roasted in a black bean butter sauce and wild boar ragout. Much of the food was Korean-influenced, but not all; the only guiding principle was “things Kim wanted to cook”.
“It was sort of an anchor restaurant for 17 years,” says Kim, sitting in the restaurant’s backyard, of the gentle efforts of sawing from within. When it was flooded by Hurricane Sandy, the neighborhood banded together to bring it back. In the following years, they opened two more restaurants – Insa, a Korean restaurant in Gowanus, and the revived Gage & Tollner – and if Good Fork had been anywhere else, they could have packed it.
They switched to takeaway, briefly, in the early days of the pandemic. They later borrowed the space for popups. The Chinese-American concept of Leeland Yu of Good Fork, Mr. Lee’s took up residence for several weeks this past spring, and the traveling cafe Somewhere took over in the summer. “Whenever we did something here,” Kim reports, “people would say, ‘Come on, guys. We need the Good Fork back.’” And crucially, she agreed. “I live half a block down the street,” says Kim. “I know there’s a need here. And it felt sad to let him die when we still had the contract.”
The question was what to do with it. A full-service restaurant no longer made sense to them. “Red Hook is a tough neighborhood because there’s not a lot of density here,” explains Kim, and that’s before factoring in the rising cost of labor and the rising cost of food. “So we needed to reorganize the concept a little bit.” Longtime neighborhood bartender Barry O’Meara, formerly of Bait & Tackle and a local institution, joined in to help them open. The new business would be a pub, in the truest sense.
From left: Chef Dan Clawson, Sohui Kim, bartender Barry O’Meara and Ben Schneider.
Photo: Matt Genovese
“This notion of pub fascinates me because it’s all over,” says Kim, from quintessential British pubs to Greek taverns and Japanese izakayas, all designed to meet the same essential need: a place to sit and rest your feet and get unpretentious sustenance. “And it’s always a friendly, welcoming, community-based place,” she continues with growing passion. “It’s quick and casual as it was designed in the 17th century.”
In the back, Kim’s fridge is still on stilts, a post-Sandy innovation: “If there’s another 15-foot storm, at least this will be spared.” There’s a tangle of edible weeds growing in the yard — purslane, sorrel, quarters of lamb — and picnic tables, and when it opens next month, she’s imagining a campfire. The idea is to open from noon to 10pm, serving lunch and dinner, with the bar open until later on weekends, a meeting point by the sea.
It will be warm, tough and reliable; they will rotate the British inflection menu whenever they can. “Perhaps a beautifully made shepherd’s pie,” she suggests, considering the potential menu on a suitably rainy afternoon. “Maybe it has minced lamb, or maybe it has pieces of lamb and it’s cooked properly and topped with beautifully silky mashed potatoes that we top with a little cheese – a good shepherd’s pie. Or maybe a day like this is a solid soup day.” She’s intrigued by the idea of a farmer’s lunch, with grilled pita, “a few chunks of nice cheddar cheese, some charcuterie, some pickles and some fruit, and maybe we can change that with what we have at home?” Or maybe a crispy Korean fried chicken sandwich with some stray daikon pickles. “That’s pub-ish,” she muses. Or, in winter, they can braise ribs, or perhaps hearty mushrooms, and serve them on a bed of lentil polenta or kimchi fried rice.
Photo: Matt Genovese
the only thing that goes no be is a revival of Good Fork 1.0, but it’s not entirely turning its back on its Good Fork roots either: the original restaurant’s beloved Korean steak and eggs have been reworked into what she’s calling a “Korean sandwich, by way of Philly, cheesesteak.” .” It’s a playful evolution, recalibrated for changing times and changing needs. The shape she imagines is loose. She and chef Dan Clawson will lean towards culinary inspiration as it strikes at them. “It’s whatever we want to do that day, you know what I mean?” she says. But at the same time, “I want people to know that whatever is on offer is going to be solidly amazing.”