Now that the warm weather will once again slowly abandoning us for the next too many months, it’ll soon be time we all start transitioning our activities to take place indoors. The minds behind Smorgasburg apparently see it the same way, so they’ve decided to take it inside a massive garage space with the newly opened Berg’n (899 Bergen St.), with food from features food from Asia Dog, Pizza Moto, Ramen Burger, and Mighty Quinn’s. Crown Heights’ new beer hall/food court/thing finally opened last Wednesday, after a handful of delays and angry Facebook posts.
In all the excitement though, we were curious, is it possible to enjoy an entire, hearty meal at this place, with dessert, and still be able to enjoy a libation at their long, dark bar for under $20? We already know you can do pretty well for yourself on that much at Smorgasburg, but with fewer vendors to choose from and the desire to enjoy a refreshing beer emphasized due to said bar, is it possible here? I decided to put President Jackson to the test in the eatanddrinkeria at 7:30 this past Sunday evening.
Starting budget: $20
Entree: The Vihn beef hot dog from Asia Dog – bahn mi style, with cucumber, spicy mayo, pickled carrots and daikon, jalapeño, cilantro, and pâté.
Time of wait: 18:00 from getting in line to having the hot dog brought to me.
Cost: $5.44 with tax
My first surprise came when I was charged tax at Asia Dog, bringing the cost of a hot dog up to $5.44. Worried, I knew I had to switch up my strategy a bit to keep the cost of the next item down. And on the hot dog being brought over: the way this place works for most items is you get a little place card to put in front of you or hold in your hand. Then wait staff employed by Berg’n take food from all the different vendors as it’s ready, find you in the massive crowd, take your place card, and hand over your purchased goods. Why yes, it is as hectic as it sounds.
The result of this is wait staff walking around an overly crowded beer hall with huge trays of food, looking increasingly stressed and confused over not finding the number they were looking for, occasionally calling out the name of the food item hoping for a response, and eventually heading to the back area to do all of those things again, hopes slowly fading that they’ll ever find to whom it belongs.
Anyway, after carefully considering the rest of the menu’s items to look for an inexpensive side, all while eating my slightly soggy but altogether tasty Vihn Asia Dog with its generous helping of spicy mayo (something I could BATHE in, in public), I made a decision…
Remaining funds: $14.56
Side: Burnt ends baked beans from Mighty Quinn’s BBQ – baked beans with chunks of smoky brisket.
Time of wait: Like, 30 seconds? However long it takes to scoop beans into a cup. There was absolutely no line which given the orgasmitude of the beans, was shocking.
Cost: $3.54 with tax
Tax not being included in the menu prices continued to be a potentially devastating development and a hurdle I’d have to figure out how to navigate if I was to stick to my $20 budget. The place is arguably more of a beer hall than it is a food court, and the possibility of not being able to afford a beer while keeping the total bill under $20 was becoming terrifyingly real, though I was still also in great spirits, because those baked beans were spectacular. I wet my whistle with water from one of the communal bottles placed a few to each long cafeteria-style dark wooden table (after asking one of the drink servers for a glass), and proceeded to seek dessert.
Remaining funds: $11.02
In the hallway leading to the restrooms and the back seating area, there’s a dessert/coffee stand serving Blue Marble Ice Cream and a selection of pastries as they’re available. The ice cream would set me back $4, which was the same price as a tantalizing-sounding dessert item over at Ramen Burger. With tax added onto that, it’d be very difficult to find a tasty, affordable beer at the bar without going over the $20 allotment. The cheapest thing they had on draft was Six Point Sweet Action at $6, and it was sold out.
Dessert: Ramen churros with chocolate and caramel dipping sauces.
Time of wait: 15:39
Cost: $4 flat, as taxes are baked in like so much delicious cinnamon sugar.
So as it turns out, not every vendor adds tax onto their menu prices, a development that meant I was back in business. I finished off my churros, which were as delicious as they were texturally confusing (the ramen made them very chewy in the middle), trying to get as much of that ridiculously good caramel sauce with every dip as I could, and proceeded to the bar to get a drink to wash it all down.
Remaining funds: $7.02
With $7 left, I first looked to see if there was any kind of happy hour special. As it would turn out at Berg’n, every hour is happy, in that they all cancel out and therefore there is no actual happy hour. Luckily, they had a long list of bottled and canned beers, a few of which were $6, and there was even one at $5. However, that was Budweiser, and nobody ever should pay that much for a Bud. So in the end, I opted for…
Beverage: Avery Ellie’s Brown Ale.
Cost: $6/$7 with tip.
Remaining funds: $.02!
The chocolatey, nutty brown ale tasted like victory: it is in fact possible to have yourself a full, hearty meal and an alcoholic beverage at Berg’n for under $20. There are other combinations you can use to get the same result: A slice of pizza ($4 total) with ramen fries, some ice cream, and a beer will get you where you need to go for example. My strategy however was to eat as filling and complete a meal as possible, so a loaded hot dog, a cup of baked beans with brisket, fried ramen churros with two dipping sauces, and a can of beer had me past satisfied, and over to regretful and self-hating. Mission: accomplished.
A couple more notes on Berg’n. Food servers wore white dress shirts, grey vests and black bow ties, simply to remind you that this is no two bit operation. This is Berg’n, Cr’wn Heights new’st hot spot. There are bouncers at the door and inside, and there’s a hostess just inside the entrance to explain to newcomers that yes, just sit wherever and go right up to the vendors. In the end, you can feel the strain, the need to impress, the vibe that this is basically Smorgasburg: Nights. Only 4 vendors were invited to this party, so be prepared to wait if you come on a particularly busy evening, and come early (but after 5pm, when Mighty Quinn’s will open for the first few weeks of Berg’n’s operation): from the looks of it, everything can very well sell out long before the glass doors close.
Is it a good first date spot? Sure! If you were so afraid to make a bad first impression that you thought you’d be better off not talking at all, just offer to get more food and watch the minutes melt away as you stand in line at Ramen Burger.
If you’re a vegetarian, Berg’n’s menu is easier to navigate in theory than it is in practice; the veggie Ramen Burger and the kimchi mac and cheese from Asia Dog were long gone by 7pm at a place that wouldn’t close until 1am that night. If you’re a vegan, you’ve got a few choices, like the veggie Asia Dog in their Sidney (Thai mango relish with red onion, cucumber, cilantro, and crushed peanuts) and Mash (sweet and spicy ketchup, jalapeño mustard, and crushed potato chips) styles, their fries with ketchup, the pommes frites from Mighty Quinn’s, and… not much else. Lots of animals were harmed in the preparation of Berg’n. If you’re a carnivore, you’ll have ample options at your disposal to feed yourself into a stupor. If not, you can always drink yourself into one.
Follow Dave for more eating and drinking at @DaveRosado