The wine is in plastic cups, the view of flaking paint, vinyl siding, a tin tub of flowers and graffiti 10 feet tall. It is so quiet on the roof, for a moment we wonder if the people working the cash register downstairs have forgotten we’re up here and have gone home. None of us are in a hurry to find out.
There are prettier outdoor dining spaces in the city, but few with quite the juxtaposition of serenity and grit as the rooftop at Brooklyn Ball Factory, a Japanese comfort-food joint and coffee shop that opened last fall in East Williamsburg. The single-story building was once a warehouse for beer cans awaiting recycling. Makoto Suzuki, the owner and chef, had the smart idea to take out a skylight and put in a staircase with a glass peak. Climb it at noon and the light stuns; you swell like a hothouse flower.
Mr. Suzuki built the roof deck himself, out of plywood, with a high fence that hides the street and doubles as the back of a long bench. His wife, Kanako, has adorned it with the kind of blooms that spring up in abandoned lots. You dine at spindly-legged tables, next to barred windows fringed with ossified insulation foam.
As for the brief menu, on which nothing surpasses $12, the ingredients are not extraordinary, the preparations not complicated. They don’t need to be. The titular meatballs are hulks of beef chuck roll and short rib in a sweet-sour sauce of apples cooked in soy, then mixed with apple skin and left to ferment. (Mr. Suzuki hopes to sell this by the jar someday.) Pork comes in nearly translucent, chewy ribbons, boiled shabu-shabu style, and in thin slices of belly, grilled until approaching crispy and slopped with a meld of ginger and soy as slow-moving as barbecue sauce. Salmon emerges delicate from two nights in a bath of white miso, rice syrup and dashi; chicken, given a more robust marinade, teases the line of too sweet.
Each of these may be prepared as a sandwich, on ciabatta from the nearby Napoli Bakery, unwieldy and treacherously oversauced, or, more expansively, as a bento. This set meal is presented in a plastic box with compartments for sesame-dusted rice; a simmer of burdock and carrot strands; excellent pickles of beet-juice-stained celery; a tiny salad dripping with creamy ginger dressing; and a bright heap of cherry tomatoes, yellow squash and still-crunchy red peppers and brussels sprouts. Also included is a small cardboard cup filled barely halfway with a miso soup so light that it tastes like a ghost of itself, leaving a faint imprint of kelp powder and shio-koji (fermented rice malt).
There is a likable Japanese curry, too, thickened with beef stock, butter and Indian spices, so it blankets the rice and doesn’t quite soak through. It is mild but significantly less sweet than other versions in town, to its advantage.
Of all Mr. Suzuki’s restaurants (he runs Bozu and Samurai Mama in Williamsburg and is a partner in Momo Sushi Shack in Bushwick), Brooklyn Ball Factory may be the most spartan. Heavy steel doors open on a room at once industrial and demure, with rough concrete floors, reclaimed wood tables and a metal counter along a plexiglass barrier, behind which the staff assembles, without haste, your meal. If there are more than two people in your party, the kitchen will be slammed.
You fetch your own chopsticks, spoons and filtered water. Sodas are stowed in ice in an antique basin. In the back, unseen, is a larger kitchen, which workers sometimes refer to as “the factory.” There Ms. Suzuki preps the desserts, which include shave ice sluiced with condensed milk and loaded with strawberries cooked down with sugar until Ferrari red and forbiddingly sweet.
But I loved the milky toast, crusty strips of baguette saturated with butter and condensed milk and shoved in the oven, and a croissant — baked on the premises, unpromisingly from premade dough bought at Restaurant Depot — slashed open and stuffed like a sandwich. The filling looks like squares of hard chocolate but yields under the teeth: ganache. How comforting that such a simple thing, unartisanal, unslaved over, should taste so good.Continue reading the main story