Straphanger’s Delight #3: Hot Bird and Speedy Romeo [A former autobody shop face-off where everybody wins]

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Don’t be fooled by the car stuff and Liquors sign. There’s actually some fine ass pizza behind those walls! It’s Speedy Romeo and the picture that I took that showed you both sides got deleted from my phone because phones are hard and technology is hard but pizza is good, especially this pizza.

  • Subway stops: Hot Bird and Clinton-Washington; Speedy Romeo at Classon Ave
  • Walk from subway: 9 minutes from Clinton-Washington to Hot Bird; 2 minutes from Classon Ave to Speedy Romeo
  • Neighborhoods: Hot Bird in Prospect Heights; Speedy Romeo in Clinton Hill
  • Locations: Hot Bird at 546 Clinton Ave on the corner of Atlantic Ave; Speedy Romeo at 376 Classon Ave on the corner of Greene Ave

It’s that magical time of the month, the middle. For March that means being somewhere between a lion and a lamb, a limb, if you will. For Off the G it means it’s time for another installment of everyone’s favoritely named feature: “Straphanger’s Delight!” For those of you who are new readers, first off, welcome, thank you, I don’t know how you found this blog, please never stop reading this blog, and feel free to email me and tell me how talented and pretty I am. Also, a quick explanation of what Straphanger’s Delight is. It’s when I take two businesses along the G line that share some kind of common bond and talk about them together. This week I felt like truly embracing the yo-yo-ing weather of March and talk about a place that’s good for the warm outdoor weather and the cold nights that you want to sit by a wood burning fire eating pizza and meats, both in former auto parts shops. Did you follow that? You mean you can’t understand my tangential train of thought that has led me to this post? Did my brain never fully develop or am I stuck in a state of arrested development, like the show? These are questions I ask myself daily. Anyway, this post is about Hot Bird, a bar with plenty of outdoor seating in Prospect Heights, and Speedy Romeo in Clinton Hill, a restaurant with a woodfire oven for pizza and a grill cooking up the nicest cuts of meats and octopuses you’ve ever seen. And what brings these two together in a Straphanger’s Delight? They’re both obviously located in old auto body shops, because this is Brooklyn after all. So much like the weather and my brain, let’s ping pong back and forth talking about these two G-line delights.

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One of the aforementioned G-line [Straphanger’s] delights: Hot Bird. Don’t let the smoke from the fire pit confuse you; there actually is no smoking. Please read all the signs lining the fence.

On a cold, March night, after a warm March day, I found myself ducking out from the rain and looking for a nice hot place to get some hot eats. So you’re thinking to yourself, Hot Bird, right? It’s got “hot” right there in the name. Nope, I’m actually talking about Speedy Romeo. Their hardwood fired pizzas are cooked in an open kitchen for the whole restaurant to see, and if you’re like me, take so many pictures of that eventually people start to notice. All of my other posts up to this point have seen me taking really, just truly shitty pictures, because I’ve been nervous about telling businesses about my blog so I tried to be discreet. But after a day fighting with my phone after it repeatedly deleted all my photos, I rebelled against my old ways and my phone, threw caution to the wind, said “fuck it,” and took as many non-discreet pictures as I could. But don’t worry kids! The photos are still poor quality because I’ve got a brand to maintain! Anyway, back to what’s actually important: pizza. The times I’ve come to Speedy Romeo, it’s always been incredibly popular, and while there’s a bit of a wait, you can wait it out drinking around the bar/kitchen (as I said before, it’s a good view, so it’s kinda worth it to have a wait), or you can go to a bodega nearby and buy a Powerball ticket. I suggest this because I did that once, and while I didn’t win, I felt like a winner because pizza is fucking delicious. Aside from the bar/kitchen, there’s also an open grill that you can watch the cooks firing up some of the most succulent looking protein dishes this side of the Rockies. There is regular seating, but we were lucky enough to get a seat at the bar next to the kitchen. This meant not only getting to see them prepare everything, which did NOT make it easier to order because I wanted to eat all the pizzas and meats, but you also got to bathe in the warmth from the pizza oven. Perfect for a cold night out on the town, or anytime because I like being warm always.

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A coupla chefs, a coupla pizza boxes, bada bing, bada boom, you’ve got a Clinton Hill Speedy Romeo

There aren’t a ton of remnants from it’s former auto body shop days. Aside from some mechanical stuff that I’m assuming was for car repairs (but to be honest could have been for cooking. I don’t know how to cook. Or repair a car) and the outside which is adorned with all kinds of car insignias, what really stands out is the painted portrait of a horse in the kitchen, watching over all the dishes before they go out. No, he can’t taste them, HE’S A PAINTING. And yes, he is Speedy Romeo, a former champion racehorse who is the namesake for this restaurant. If you’ve read any of my former posts, you know that I’m a sucker for a good animal portrait that watches over a bar or dining room. So honestly, the food could’ve been truly awful and I would’ve been like, “But it’s great because a horse watches you eat.” But obviously, you know that’s not true. One peek at their website and you’ll see words like “Michelin” “Jean George” “New York Rising Star,” which I don’t even need to give you the context to because you know that means good things, or at least you think you know that it means good things because you watch Top Chef and you once watched your friend make pasta. I’ll get into the food a little later. But let’s quickly pop on to the G and go one stop to check out Hot Bird.

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Quickly, let me slip in this pic of Speedy Romeo, the horse, and a horseshoe, that I can only assume was taken right from his now bare hoof.

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The bar, and name of the bar. I think it’s named after a car. That rhymed!!

Let’s imagine for a minute that it’s a beautiful, sunny, summer day. You want to get together with a bunch of friends and drink outside, before you go eat pizza alone at Speedy Romeo because you don’t want to share. Day drinking outside, what a splendid idea! Oh, oops, you pay way too much for a tiny ass apartment with no outdoor space, unless you want to sit on the curb near a fire hydrant because no one can park there so you can spread out a little bit. But, oops, again, there are open container laws so what’s a girl to do?! That’s when you call up your friends and you all meet at Hot Bird for some beers and maybe a couple cocktails. Pick your poison. Hot Bird is a bit opposite from Speedy Romeo. While there’s a fire if you insist on sitting outside for your drinks even if it’s cold and you’re a maniac, to truly enjoy the outdoors it’s best to come on a nice, spring or summer day. There’s not a ton of food options except for a taco “truck” located next to their outdoor seating. And the outside is not covered in automobile insignia. While Speedy Romeo might wear its former auto body shop-ness on the outside, the orange fence walls of Hot Bird don’t readily suggest that greasers used to operate on cars behind those walls. However, step inside and you’ll see plenty of old remnants of a bygone car shop, down to the name of the bar and the shades outside that are reminiscent of those things on the tops of gas station pumps. What are those called? Again, I don’t know anything about cars.

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Much like Dorothy had to follow her yellow brick road, just follow the orange wooden slats around the corner of Atlantic Ave onto Clinton Ave and just like that, you’re at Hot Bird. Again, no smoking.

While Hot Bird might be seen as a destination wedding for those who like to get married on former blacktop while people they don’t know surround them getting slowly drunk throughout the day, if you’re wanting to go there even in bad weather, there is always the indoor bar, which is where you have to go anyway to order your drinks. You might be forced inside even if it is nice weather because I have been known to go to Hot Bird on some of the first nice days after the winter moths, only to go 15 minutes after it opens and the place is packed to the gills. You’ll be sitting on the very tippy edge of one of the picnic tables while a group of 17 close friends laugh and catch up about their EXCITING! and INTERESTING! ENDEAVORS! In scenarios like that, it’s a better option to head inside. The space, while still having ample seating, is very open with a large window that illuminates the room and makes you feel like you’re just outside adjacent. Which is because you are. Outside adjacent is a term I just came up with and it actually means inside. To be real though, it can get very unbearably hot in New York in the summer, who are we kidding. And this isn’t Southeast Asia or anything, so it’s not like it’s fun. You’re just hot in the city, where everything starts to smell like rotting garbage, and you’re sweating, looking for any air conditioned building you can find so you can run to the bathroom and rinse your pits off in the sink. On days like this, you’re gonna want to go with the indoor seating and take in all of the garage themed decor. Don’t worry. The decor is clean and you won’t leave covered in grease, but if you order the tacos you might leave covered in sweat. Because I ordered them for the first time ever last week and those tacos are muy caliente! If that is correct spelling, grammar, and says what I think it says, then the 5 week Spanish class that I took 3 years ago is basically just paying for itself!

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In putting this picture up, I realize that you can’t really see the size and openness of the indoor part of Hot Bird. So I guess you just have to trust me that it’s large. Do you trust me? You should. I’m very smart.

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Hot Bird’s “taco truck,” with bird decal and no wheels. Don’t let the impending spring and summer be the only thing that makes you sweat! These tacos will have you panting!

Since we’re talking food, let’s pretend on the hypothetical day I mentioned so long ago in this post that the sun is setting and you’re looking to go gorge yourself on some hot meats and melted cheese. That’s when you get back on that G and keep ridin’, as I implore you to do at the end of every one of my posts. But again, these two former garages are only one G stop away so you won’t be on that little train that barely can for too long. Get off at the Classon stop, and head back to Speedy Romeo. If you’re keeping track, then you might remember that our hypothetical day actually started by going to Hot Bird, it was just this post that started off talking about Speedy Romeo. Because that’s me. Always keeping you on your toes. Anyway, back to our hypothetical day in which you go to Speedy Romeo for dinner after Hot Bird for day drinking, because you’re a lover of car repairs of yore. I know I’ve mentioned a few pizza places on this blog before. And as wonderful and unique as they all are, Speedy Romeo may just be my favorite. For one, if you branch out and decide to get something from the grill, YOU’RE NOT DUMB. Yes, you’re at a pizza place, and yes, for many pizza places, if you decide to go off the pizza menu, you can expect some version of a pasta dish and maybe a salad with some prime iceberg lettuce from the corner deli. But Speedy Romeo don’t play like that. I said it before and I’ll say it again, watch them cook those slabs of meat and those whole fish on that grill. Everything here is cooked using woodfire, either a grill or a stove, and I’m now a convert that woodfire might be the only way to cook. We got the grilled octopus and I have never had a better octopus in my life. And I mentioned Southeast Asia above for a reason, because I’ve spent my fair share of time there and they eat all the seafoods there. And even still, this was the best octopus. It’s not rubbery, it’s not tough, it’s not chewy, and it won’t make my sister throw up upon first bite like that octopus she tried in Japan that one time. It’s got all of the great flavors of octopus without that weird, chewy, ouch-my-jaw-hurts mouth feel that you might sometimes get.

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It’s pizza by candlelight. Say “I love you” with two full pizzas.

Obviously, the good food doesn’t stop there. I’m a sucker for eggs. On everything. So when I saw the Kind Brother on their menu, complete with a farm egg, wild mushrooms, smoked mozzarella, and sage I was like, “Check please! But first give me that pizza and then I’ll order one more pizza and then a couple more beers and then…I’ll take the check!” In short, I was excited and metaphorically shot my wad. Is that too much? I don’t know anymore, it’s come to my attention recently that not everyone appreciates my lack of a filter and I’m really having an internal struggle over it. Back to the pizza. It was delicious in all the right ways. I love egg and cheese. I have gone days in a row where I’ve later realized that every meal I had was some kind of incarnation of meat, cheese, and egg. So the Kind Brother really spoke to me on a very deep, personal level. And although I easily ate my weight in octopus, egg, pizza, cheese, meats, crust, sauces, etc., they were kind enough to treat us to a branded marshmallow chocolate cake. And when they say branded, they truly mean branded. Like with a branding iron. At your table. And I said, “But I’m so delicate and full!” And then ate the whole thing. Because it was a FUCKING BRANDED MARSHMALLOW. You don’t come by those everyday. And while I think the whole reason we were given the cake was so I could take a picture of it, the only one I got that was even somewhat decent was post branding, as you can see below. Again, this is one of those times where you must learn to trust me, thank you. The art of table-side cooking is usually reserved for making guacamole, but I think Speedy Romeo is on the brink of starting a new trend in table-side branding.

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Marshmallow branded chocolate cake, post branding. Sorry kids, I’m not a photographer. I’m not a writer either, though, and yet here we all are

With your dessert now fully consumed and your belly really testing the limits of the seams on your pants, your hypothetical day has come to a close and you’ve only had to ride the G to two neighboring different stops to experience two very different takes on an old auto parts shop. With the hypothetical day ending so ends this post and my inability to really have that whole hypothetical day as a through line. Oops. Maybe I’ll be better at writing this thing next time. There’s only one way to find out and that’s to-

Keep r-i-d-i-n

-Off the G