Memes Place – MeMe’s Diner Is Brooklyn’s Delicious, Delightful (and “Very, Very Gay”) Place to Be
If the theme of MeMe’s Diner, which opened in November, in Prospect Heights, is the subversion of norms—its owners, Bill Clark and Libby Willis, recently described it as a “very, very gay restaurant” in an interview with Jarry, a magazine that “explores where food and queer culture intersect”—the proof is in the literal pudding. One of the best things on the menu is a brunch dish called Milk and Cereal, which reimagines not only that archetypal combination (it’s a dome of luscious, tangy yogurt panna cotta so shiny that you can see the overhead lights reflected in its surface, ringed by supremes of pink-fleshed Cara Cara orange, wedges of kiwi, and a scattering of Corn Pops) but also the concept of brunch as a whole. At most restaurants, brunch is an afterthought, an easy way to make a high return on eggs and mimosas; for those dining, it’s often hell. At MeMe’s, it’s a wellspring of inspired delights, beginning with complimentary bowls of mixed junk-food cereals—Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Froot Loops, Lucky Charms—to snack on while you decide what else to eat.
Anything here that began as dough is an especially good bet: Clark and Willis, who oversee the dining room and kitchen, respectively, met while working at Ovenly, a bakery in Greenpoint. The Everything Bagel Babka looks more like a popover—but who are we to say what babka is supposed to look like? What matters is that it’s absolutely delicious, coated in the classic garlic-and-seed mixture, which goes flying like confetti as you tear off the crusty top to reveal flaky layers of pastry marbled with scallion cream cheese. Willis is a whiz with eggs, too: gently boiled and mashed into a silky salad, then topped with cherry tomatoes, nubs of blue cheese, and bacon, to be scooped into crisp leaves of iceberg; sunny-side up, on a shallow pool of yogurt strewn with kale and encircled by a moat of chili oil spangled with peanuts, pepitas, and sunflower seeds; scrambled, Texas migas style, tossed with salsa verde and julienned radish inside a snipped-open bag of Fritos. Throw in a side of deep-fried breakfast potatoes, doused in spicy maple syrup—or, for the health conscious, a bowl of warm multigrain porridge finished with a dollop of creamy chia pudding and nibs of caramelized pineapple—and brunch is made great again.
Part of what makes MeMe’s a “queer space,” and part of what sets it apart from many other New York City establishments, is Clark and Willis’s commitment to making it as welcoming and inclusive as possible, for both staff (many of whom identify as queer) and customers. Later this month, they’ll host an event for L.G.B.T.Q. people who work in the restaurant industry. On a recent Sunday, brunch was a family affair, with Clark’s boyfriend, a friendly hunk with a Tom of Finland moustache, playing host, and Willis’s mother, in town from Ohio, waiting tables. “This is the closest thing I have to a grandbaby,” she announced proudly as she dropped off a beautiful, plate-size cocoa Dutch baby garnished with brûléed bananas, melty dulce de leche, and chopped bacon. (Later, a joker waiting for a table rearranged the letters on the sidewalk message-board sign so that it advertised a “butch baby.”) The coffee was topped off swiftly, the soundtrack anchored by women-fronted post-punk bands from the seventies and eighties. “This place is la bomba,” an Oberlin alum declared.
At dinner, MeMe’s earns its designation as a diner. The menu veers toward comfort food as camp, in homage to Willis’s native Midwest and to Clark’s grandmother MeMe, for whom the restaurant is named. The snack bowls are filled from a tub of radioactive-orange spherical cheese puffs kept behind the bar, which is lined with stools upholstered in green vinyl. MeMe’s Manhattan—according to Clark, the original MeMe drinks one daily—goes down easy, as do MeMe’s BBQ Meatballs, juicy little orbs dripping with a sweet, hoisin-based sauce and served in a seventies-style ceramic crock with toothpicks. There’s an excellent patty melt on buttered marbled rye; mac and cheese made with pasta shells and sprinkled with Ruffles potato chips; a bountiful salad coated in Green Goddess dressing and topped with crunchy-skinned Buffalo fried chicken; an impressively fluffy meatloaf that’s somehow gluten free. Cakes beckon from pedestals; one with yellow layers soaked in ginger syrup and rum, its glossy marshmallow frosting speckled with coconut flakes, was so good that I ordered an extra slice to go. It’s food meant not to impress you, only to bring you joy. The best part is, it does both. (Entrées $8-$20.) ♦