Little Rascal: An avant-garde neighborhood joint

March 17, 2023 Andrew Cotto
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It’s early evening in mid-March, and a sharp breeze comes off the river as darkness sifts down on Greenpoint. The industrial atmosphere of this low-slung, working-class neighborhood in late winter is belied by 130 Franklin Ave., where the color and light emanating beyond the storefront’s classic black trim and glass facade beckons neighbors in to eat, drink and be happy in inclusive sophistication at Little Rascal.

Little Rascal in Brooklyn is an offshoot of the eponymous original located in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood. The outpost, opened last summer, shares the vision of owner Halil Gündogdu, who opened the original location in 2012, his younger brother, Öner, who came on in 2015, and renowned mixologist Keith Larry, who is a partner in the Brooklyn enterprise.

Lamb tacos at Little Rascal. Photo: Joanna Lin

Within that enchanting storefront is an establishment, in many ways, symbolized by its bar. Not the bar scene, necessarily, or the sophisticated cocktails to be procured there, either, but its serpentine shape which allows every patron to see the extent of the expanse. The intentional inclusiveness, and the conviviality it conjures, speaks to ethos that define the best neighborhood establishments.

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And the appeal of Little Rascal begins at said bar where beyond the copper-topped surface, hauled down by the owners from Canada during the pandemic, is an array of radiant bottles, back-lit by white lights, below a vivid parade of diverse puppet characters.

Partner and renowned mixologist, Keith Larry, making a cocktail. Photo: Andrew Cotto

Between those spaces, talented mixologists — under the auspices of Larry — shake and stir, anoint and inflame avant-garde, cheekily-named cocktails, such as “Kurosawa’s Dream” (Kikori Japanese whiskey, aloe, Shiso honey, fresh lemon, mint) or “El Cantinero” (Tromba tequila or Yola mezcal, house grapefruit cordial, fresh lime, habanero shrub, pink peppercorn, charred rosemary). The “Cosmic Dream” has Basil Hayden bourbon, fresh lemon, egg white, Fruity Pebbles-infused sugar cane extract, and pistachio cream. But if a concoction informed by a children’s cereal or “house ‘illegal” tonka-infused cocchi torino isn’t your style, no one is going to lift a wax-mustachioed lip in scorn if a margarita is ordered. That’s the point.

A Little Rascal’s drink called Kurosawa’s Dream. Photo: Joanna Lin

Within the white, sand-blasted brick walls is an elegant, comfortable and open room book-ending the bar with tables up front and a fireplace in back buttressed by leather benches and alluring artwork by Murat Kaplan.

There’s also a nook with a massive tree-trunk tabletop (with another Kaplan), and an airy backyard with picnic tables under strung lights, upon dog-friendly turf. And that’s, also, the point.

The menu is a fusion of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern delicacies with notable nods to American fare. With equal offerings of appetizers and entrees, there’s an invitation to share plates that range from oysters to grilled artichokes to braised short ribs.

There’s also feta phyllo rolls, lamb tacos (and chops) and crispy duck breast. Fish options include spicy shrimp, Sicilian-style octopus, and Arctic char. And if you’re down for dessert, it will be baklava with pistachio and honey. All in all, the menu is indicative of the vibe at Little Rascal, one that is sophisticated on the surface and communal at its core. And that, once again, is the point.

A painting by Turkish painter Murat Kaplan hangs above the fireplace. Photo: Yurek Akbar

“We didn’t want it to be stuffy,” Larry said. “We have a lot of regulars, and a lot of family’s from the neighborhood who have been coming in since we opened, and I think that there’s something to that, just in terms of the kind of community you build with the guests and then they form with one another.”

Point well taken.

Andrew Cotto has been eating his way through Brooklyn for 25 years. As an author, the food of our borough has been featured extensively in his novels and journalism. In his new column for the Daily Eagle, Andrew will tell the tales of Brooklyn eateries, from the people behind the food to the communities which they nourish.

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