The owners of Circles Café (310 Bay Ridge Avenue), a neighborhood staple for 32 years that served everything from pasta to falafel, are about to complete a total revamping of the restaurant’s space that will split the building in two: one part the old Circles Café, which locals have held onto for dear life, and one part the new Gulf Coast, a small bar serving “inspired Island cuisine.”
The new space has been designed to feel like an island shack, and the owners are taking the theme extra seriously. Bob Marley was playing as a server in a Hawaiian shirt served me some (delicious) jerk chicken. There are ropes, string lights, and fishnet hanging from the tin-lined ceiling, with pops of blue and orange everywhere. But somehow it doesn’t feel too gimmicky; it’s a warm and inviting spot with some character.
I crashed the friends-and-family opening last night, and was able to get a taste of the new dishes. One of the owners, Pierre Salameh, told me the food “runs the gamut from Louisiana to Venezuela “ in what I find to be true to Circles’ exploratory approach to menus. There’s evidence of this in the coconut shrimp, empanadas, jambalaya, and bayou wings that show up on the menu. Though the food all comes from the same Circles kitchen, the dishes I tasted had a little more finesse.
Pierre told me that the concept emerged after some soul-searching about what Circles, and what the neighborhood, was missing. “Circles’ business had primarily become takeout and delivery, so we had 75 extra seats!” he said. “We started to investigate what’s lacking in Bay Ridge.”
Thus: island/Caribbean/bayou cuisine. Yes, there will be inevitable comparisons between Ho’Brah and Gulf Coast in terms of atmosphere. But the menu is unique to this neighborhood. Plus, those of us who live above 80th Street could use our own little island shack, thank you very much.
But what I find really interesting about all of this is: why split up the building? Why keep Circles in the first place, and not go all out? Pierre made this very clear: it’s a loyalty thing. “It’s hard for us to change Circles,” he said, noting the stalwart support of his customers, which has shaped the menu and the café over the years. “But we wanted a new focus for the corner.”
So though walking from Circles into Gulf Coast via the small swinging door that separates them can feel a little schizophrenic, there’s something totally charming about how this physically embodies Bay Ridge’s slow but gradual change. Pierre and his fellow owners are bridging old and new, with neither the worse for wear.
Gulf Coast will have another soft-opening Friday, August 7, during the Summer Stroll. It will officially open the following week.