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Review: The Federal Bar in Brooklyn

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The night that legendary craft cocktail pioneer and food-world rockstar Sasha Petraske died—from a rumored drug overdose—I had dinner and drinks at The Federal.

Adjacent to Williamsburg’s iconic Knitting Factory concert spot, and staffed and frequented by the type of ingredient-worshipping connoisseurs Petraske unintentionally evangelized, The Federal (fairly or not) had me anticipating a rock-and-roll experience.

What it delivers is more like power pop—loud flavors, superficially on trend, hit or miss depending on personal taste, but massively pleasurable on select guilty pleasure tracks. And… loaded with underground hits.

Photo credit: Darren Irwin
Photo credit: Darren Irwin

Like that ear-worm re-formated ’60s sound, the menu reads eclectically, trying to mix a variety of influences, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

The more highbrow dishes, such as the crispy duck livers with pineapple and cilantro chutney and spicy maple glaze over miniature waffles or blackened red snapper with collard green and herb salad, peaches, cherry tomatoes, and citronette, were more ambitious than successful.

Photo credit: Black & Steil
Photo credit: Black & Steil

But that’s ok. What’s cool—as every teen movie preaches—is embracing what you do well and, well, rocking it. What The Federal does well is not aspirational cuisine. It does basic shit. Basic like simple comfort food, and basic like Instagrams of avocado toast.

But, because this is Williamsburg after all, even the most Basic Bitch items had a little edge if you knew how to customize and what to ask for.

Photo credit: Darren Irwin
Photo credit: Darren Irwin

The stars are the dry aged burger, mac and cheese, and Peter Pan Doughnut bread pudding. The burger (with the overexposed yet inarguably delicious Pat Le Frieda Patty) is solid paired with Shelburne Cheddar and black pepper and garlic aioli, but begs for acid to cut the unctuousness.

Luckily, upon request, you can get outstanding homemade cayenne ketchup and mustard created with the chef’s own secret recipes. It somehow doesn’t come standard but’s worth the ask.

Photo credit: Darren Irwin
Photo credit: Darren Irwin

The mac and cheese features a surprisingly pungent taleggio cheese to balance the dish’s standard creaminess. Ask Bar Manager Abbra Sharp, or any of the talented bartenders to mix you a drink with a little smoke (such as a Dusk ‘til Dawn or BBL, a.k.a. “Brazilian Butt Lift”) to pair with it.

Or, challenge them to mix you something custom. I asked for my two favorite cocktail elements—Mezcal and a stiffly beaten egg white—and got a Mezcal Sour with a lemon twist, a drink so good the chef was drinking it too by the end of the night.

Photo credit: Darren Irwin
Photo credit: Darren Irwin

For dessert, Greenpoint neighborhood favorite Peter Pan Doughnuts are reinvented as bread pudding for people who don’t even like bread pudding—multi-textured, not too sweet, and ultra decadent.

And for the ultimate Bitch in the Know, the staff and regular patron favorites make up The Federal’s D.L. secret menu. For an after-hours industry experience, ask for the beef heart poutine as “Super Poutine,” extra loaded with cheese curds and the Shelburne Cheddar from the burger.

Photo credit: Darren Irwin
Photo credit: Darren Irwin

Or request a plate of french frieds with the taleggio cheese fondue from the mac and cheese as the ultimate drunk food. Other secret off-menu items include grilled Kielbasa sausage (the bar food of choice for Knitting Factory regulars next door) or the roast turkey leg done fried chicken style, known lovingly as the “Confucky Fried Turkey.”

And of course, for Bitches Who Brunch, there’s apparently steak and eggs available off-menu; but you didn’t hear it from us.

Photo credit: Darren Irwin
Photo credit: Darren Irwin

The Federal Bar
367 Metropolitan Ave.
Brooklyn, NY
718-388-8641

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