Before you go to a restaurant, what do you want — or need — to know most? In our series, The Rundown, we’re sharing all the essentials about newly opened (as well as some of your favorite) restaurants.
This time, we’re looking at Agi’s Counter, which opened in the heart of Crown Heights in November. At the 25-seat café, chef and owner Jeremy Salamon (The Eddy, Buvette, Locanda Verde) serves a modern pastiche of Hungarian, Austrian, and Jewish cuisine, inspired primarily by his grandmothers. While the restaurant started out serving only breakfast, lunch, and weekend brunch, Salamon and his team have recently added a Thursday dinner service, which they eventually hope to expand.
Here’s everything you need to know before you go.
1. Agi’s Counter is an ode to Salamon’s grandmothers.
The restaurant’s namesake is Salamon’s Hungarian paternal grandmother, Agi. She inspired many of the pastries and sweeter dishes like the palascinta, which are rolled crepes stuffed with sweet cheese and blueberry compote. “Growing up, when I’d go over to grandma Agi’s house, she’d always give me palascinta and a big glass of chocolate milk,” Salamon says. They started cooking together in his late teenage years; before then, he says, “She never wanted me to be in the kitchen … I think she just wanted to hide the work part and be like, ‘Here you go, everything for you on a silver platter.’”
Agi’s influence even extends to the restaurant’s floral-heavy décor. “I wanted it to feel like a place that my grandmother might have frequented in her 20s or 30s when she was in Budapest, but also someplace that’s really young and hip,” Salamon says, noting that florals are also a prominent motif in Hungarian folk embroidery.
Meanwhile, his mom’s mom, grandma Arlene, “influenced a lot of the Jewish, Florida country club vibe.” Such are the origins of the Nosh Plate, a snacking platter that features chicken liver mousse, a deviled egg, Hungarian pimento cheese, and massive spelt crackers. “My nana used to take me to this country club in Florida, and I just remember her eating these comically sized crackers that were larger than her head … and she’d schmear all these different cream cheeses and butters and have her little plate of salted tomatoes and an egg white omelet.” Arlene was the one who, Salamon says, taught him how to hold a knife, and bake a chocolate cake, and was even able to make the trip up from Florida for the restaurant’s opening last fall. “It was very emotional. She came in and I just started ugly-crying everywhere,” he says.
2. The menu is a modern twist on Eastern European cooking.
Salamon began experimenting with modern Hungarian food while working as a chef at The Eddy in the East Village. “I wanted to create a modern, young, Eastern European, Hungarian–influenced café. And also, I grew up in Florida around a lot of Jewish diners and Jewish delis,” he says. “Agi’s Counter is a melting pot of a bunch of ideas I had.”
He envisions Agi’s Counter as part of a small-but-growing new guard of Eastern European restaurants and chefs that are popping up around the city. “It’s happening in small pockets,” he says, citing the roving pop-up Dacha 46, and the work of Gage & Tollner pastry chef Caroline Schiff. “If you think about Veselka in the East Village, Wallsé in the West Village, Café des Artistes on the Upper West Side [now closed] — which have been iconic staples for years — all of these places are kind of rooted in that old world, with a very heavy food mindset.”
At Agi’s Counter, Salamon’s more contemporary approach comes through in dishes like a paprika sausage, only available on the weekend brunch menu, which comes served over a bed of soft polenta, finished with puntarelle dressed in an anchovy vinaigrette. “They don’t really eat polenta in Hungary or Austria, but I think that’s our M.O. here at Agi’s; we’re influenced by all these things, but it’s not traditional,” he says.
A Closer Look at Some Dishes From Agi’s Counter
3. Don’t sleep on the pastries.
At Agi’s Counter, executive pastry chef Renee Hudson, who worked with Salamon at Locanda Verde, recreates the Hungarian pastries of Salamon’s childhood.
“Hungarian [and] Austrian pastries come with a lot of layers and different creams and icings,” he explains. “We wanted to blend this idea of this young, modern café that’s in Brooklyn with the elegance of an Eastern European café.” That comes through in pastries like the Ferdinand bun, which is served as individual sticky bun-like creations rather than as a pull-apart cake, as it is in Hungary, though they’re still stuffed with vanilla bean sugar. The gerbeaud cake, composed of layers of walnut, apricot, and chocolate ganache, is also less dramatic and more portable than the traditional Hungarian version. “It’s something you can grab on the go, like a brownie or a cookie,” Salamon says.
4. … or the exclusively Hungarian wine list.
Salamon brought in Athena Bochanis, owner and founder of Hungarian wine distributor Palinkerie Wines, to curate a list of Hungarian wines sourced from primarily mom-and-pop wineries. “I would say a good majority have this really lovely funk to them, kind of like a pet-nat,” Salamon says. For one, he notes, “The Duzsi is this beautiful, approachable rosé that almost tastes like different tropical fruits and smells of chamomile and rose.”
5. And dinner is now on the menu.
Agi’s Counter recently launched reservations for dinner, available only on Thursday nights. “For now, managing the rest of breakfast and lunch and brunch is a lot,” Salamon says, which is why they’re only doing dinner once a week for now. It’s a tight menu, with only about 10 items, primarily consisting of small plates with a few entrees, all of which are shareable. The menu includes ránttot hús, which Salamon describes as a “Hungarian schnitzel,” a thinly pounded piece of chicken served with matchstick fries, and bitter greens dressed in an anchovy sauce, inspired by a recipe Salamon found in an old Austrian cookbook. “It’s super-decadent and delicious and pairs really well with the fried cutlet,” he says. There’s also savoy cabbage stuffed with creamy pearl barley, and sous chef Sara Pagan is working on a Jewish-inspired egg noodle dish. “We’ve done a couple dinners here for special events, and it was a surprisingly sexy vibe — we light all these candles, and it’s a really special environment,” Salamon says, laughing. “I’m excited for people to see that.”
Agi’s Counter is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5:30 to 10 p.m. on Thursdays; and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. They accept reservations for weekend brunch service and Thursday night dinner service.