Next door to Clinton Hill’s beloved bottle shop, Radicle Wines, you’ll find the team’s unexpectedly magical BYOB restaurant called Brooklyn Hots. The menu highlights the indulgent regional cuisine of Rochester, N.Y., through a hero dish, the Trash Plate, which — according to the Brooklyn Hots team — is what you eat after a night of binge drinking Bud Heavies or working a long shift. It usually features macaroni salad, fries, and two cheeseburgers, all slathered in ketchup, mustard, onions and meat sauce, lovingly slopped together in a styrofoam to-go box.
In an age of over-thought restaurant concepts and complicated menus, the concept of Brooklyn Hots is beautifully simple: Grab a bottle of wine, pop one door over, tuck into a two- or four-top table (no parties greater than four can be seated), and enjoy waived corkage fees. In that way, what’s on the ever-changing shelves at Radicle becomes Brooklyn Hots’ show-stopping by-the-bottle wine list.
Rochester isn’t an international foodie destination, but Brooklyn Hots owner Brian Heiss is a proud Rochester native, and took his craving for nostalgic hometown food and built a menu that can best be described as a locavore’s late-night diner fever dream. There are fresh, house-made pickles and crunchy coleslaw, as well as Pizza Logs (egg roll wrappers filled with pepperoni and mozzarella). The trash plate is a pleasingly DIY experience, where you can swap the traditional cheeseburgers for options like a grilled chicken thigh or a fresh fried egg. The vegetarian offerings on the menu are always seasonal, from a pickled ramp burger to charred broccolini. Even the meat is responsibly and locally sourced (except the hot dogs themselves, which are from Zweigle’s upstate — another nod to the restaurant’s roots).
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The Radicle team never aimed to be conventional. The shop opened its doors in the early days of the pandemic, having stocked its shelves with bottles of natural wines from Virginia to the country of Georgia with prices ranging from $12 to $666. There’s always either a vinyl record spinning in the shop, or some older guys from the neighborhood playing low-key blues on the drum set out front. Team member Jen Abbott can often be found in the retail store, but might take your order at Hots if it’s busy one night. When I was heading to Brooklyn Hots for dinner in early April, she recommended a natural Slovenian red (Zaro ‘Eazy’ 2020) that was light and fresh enough to sip alongside my chicken sandwich, but was a perfect and peppery addition to my friend’s cheeseburger-based Trash Plate. The table next to us was drinking a rosy Portuguese pét-nat (Humus Wines Pét-Nat Rosé) that was savory and had some body to it — like a beer and burger combo that got a refreshing and slightly funky makeover. When I went back, I opted for a Spanish Garnacha (Orly Lumbreras ‘Los Besos Que Te Robe’ 2019) that tasted like cherries and made me think of drinking Dr. Pepper for grownups.
The best pairings, in my opinion, are ones that continue the theme of upgraded nostalgia: Instead of a tangy Fanta soda you might have ordered in middle school, snag Old World Winery’s L’Aureate Orange, a salty and tropical orange wine made in California, or the domestically made Love Cider apple cider that tastes much more like a lambic beer than an Angry Orchard. Or, use the opportunity to try a bottle (or two) of something you have had on your wine bucket list, like Pierre Cotton’s Brouilly.
In short, Brooklyn Hots is where you can split bottles of $23 natural Georgian Malvasia and $55 Jura Arbois from a niche producer with three friends, while eating $12 burgers at 9 p.m. on a Thursday night. Find me another spot where you can make that happen, and I’ll go there with you. But until then, I’ll be at Brooklyn Hots.