First Bite

A Vacation to Tiny Champions? Plan That Trip

The new restaurant from the folks behind Nancy's Hustle is like a resort ... stay with me on this.

By Timothy Malcolm December 22, 2020

I hoped to bring a companion to Tiny Champions, but during the pandemic we have only one family member to rely on for babysitting, and otherwise I've found it challenging to ask someone to join me for dinner at a restaurant, even outdoors. So, I don't really ask. I'd rather not put that on someone.

So, I drove alone to the East End to spend about 90 minutes at this new restaurant from the folks behind the wildly popular Nancy's Hustle. I was sad my wife wouldn't be able to experience it, especially since a year ago (nearly to the day), I watched her and a bunch of old New York friends stumble into the house at midnight with boxes from Nancy's after spending the day baking Christmas cookies and drinking table cabernet. It was rare to see her so unguarded and stupidly happy.

When I got home from my Tiny Champions visit, she looked up at me and asked what she asks every time I go out for dinner: "So, how was it?"

Tiny Champions was a vacation. I'm not talking about a brief respite from Covid-19, but they did sit me a few miles from anyone else. As in I was an island. Every few minutes another vibrant young person wearing a face mask and carefully curated casual clothing would stop by. Here's a drink list. Here's a drink. Here's the menu. Here's dish one. How's everything? Here's dish two. Did you like dish two? Care for another drink? But instead of taking in the breezy brine that comes with an oceanside seat, I took in the scent of basil and chives while gazing at mom mom's chandeliers hanging above a dining room that's half suburban basement, half romantic hideaway. If Nancy's is the chattiness and cramped coziness of a Manhattan haunt, Tiny Champions is the quiet, familiar cool of a Brooklyn newbie. So yes, I was staying at a resort in Brooklyn.

But that suits me pretty well. The best weekends of my twenties included taking a train into New York City, meeting a friend or two and just drowning in pizza, cheese plates, beer, and wine at some dark place whose name I'd never remember. With Tiny Champions, I can go back to that place as much as I want.

What you should know about the food is that the braised beans will make the whole vacation. Some Mexican lima beans are cooked down so much that they melt in your mouth. You'll want to pack each element of the dish into one bite: bean, sauce, charred pickle, a small dollop of toum for a creamy kick, and a perfectly toasted crouton. I brought a couple spoons home to my wife, whose reaction was basically "Oh. Wow."

The pizza has a thin base that's strong enough to hold toppings, and a browned, crispy crust that should be dipped in the "fancy" ranch (with chives, baby) that you can get on the side. I sprung for the pineapple, speck, and jalapeño pie, mostly because I'm not necessarily a pineapple pizza guy and figured it was time to give it another shot. Result: This worked. The thin-sliced pineapple worked great against the salty dimes of speck, while the peppers contributed heat on the back end. It was even better after drizzling a little chimichurri-like herby oil onto a slice.

Whimsy seemed to hit every dish at Tiny Champions. There was some leaf-green tortellini filled with mortadella and swimming on lemon butter; a refreshing seafood salad of shrimp, squid, and octopus on gem lettuces and pickled red peppers; and almond ice cream with fennel sprinkles that exploded in my mouth. Little happy moments, the kind you get on vacation, the kind that carve out a space in your brain and stay there forever.

Being full to the point of groaning usually doesn't mean one is relaxed, but that's how I felt when leaving Tiny Champions. I ate a lot, took a bunch in boxes for my wife to enjoy, and smiled the whole way home. It was the best two-hour sojourn I'd taken in 2020.

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