If you haven't spent time in the dockside community of Red Hook, Fort Defiance is an excellent place to begin your acquaintance with the neighborhood. Here locals gather for coffee and breakfast sandwiches in the morning, and cocktails and burgers at night. It's like an old café or diner where you'd see the same faces day after day — only made current with thoughtful dishes, careful sourcing, and excellent drinks. The staff and crowd give a nice overview of what this neighborhood is like: close-knit, friendly, and more laid-back than the rest of New York. Writer and bartender St. John Frizell opened Fort Defiance in 2009, rolling out an eatery that was part bar, part café, and open all day, every day. He brought in eggs and produce from Pennsylvania, and he picked up his meat and bread from a local butcher and baker. Dishes are straightforward, especially at breakfast and lunch, when you can choose from classics like huevos rancheros, a turkey club, and a cult-favorite muffuletta, a tribute to the time Frizell spent in New Orleans. At night you're likely to find a skirt steak, a whole roasted fish, and, scattered through salads and appetizers, seasonal vegetables — unless you come on Thursday's “Tiki Night,” or on Monday, which is burger night. (The former features specially priced Polynesian food and drinks while the latter flaunts a fat, ground-chuck patty topped with grilled onions and Gruyère if you'd like, or bacon and eggs.) Any time after 3 p.m., follow the crowd's lead and begin with some oysters and at least one of Frizell's cocktails. He makes an excellent martini (and breakfast martini, if you like to booze before noon), a perfect Irish coffee, and a number of original creations well worth sipping. In 2012 Fort Defiance was nearly wiped off the map by Hurricane Sandy. Faced with feet of water in its dining room, a lesser establishment would have folded. But Frizell was so determined to return to feeding the neighborhood that, with help from the community, he rebuilt in a month. Fort Defiance is nothing if not a labor of love.
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