The southwest corner of Irving Avenue and Jefferson Street is unassuming, with glass walls, hardly uncommon, below the fading, hand-painted sign of the last business to occupy the space.
This is General Deb’s at 24 Irving Ave. Awash with bold red neon, General Deb’s is a new restaurant, just two weeks old, serving China’s famous Sichuan cuisine. It is the newest restaurant from Kevin and Debbie Adey, the owners of Faro, the popular joint in Bushwick that does hand-made pasta.
Sichuan cuisine is defined in large part by the dried, red Chinese chilis used in sauces and pastes and Sichuan pepper corns. Together they create what’s usually referred to as a “numbing” heat — you get the spiciness but also a numb-like tingling sensation that facilitates the consumption of more, spicier foods.
Sichuan is a favorite of Kevin’s, something he craves pretty regularly. He began serving Sichuan dishes as family meal — a restaurant staff’s pre- or post-service meal — and began honing his recipes, subconsciously setting the stage for General Deb’s.
The Adeys opened Faro in 2015 and it became the first restaurant in Bushwick with a Michelin Star in 2017. For context, of around 8,000 eat-in restaurants in NYC, only 72 of them have Michelin Stars.
“It was a dream come true,” said Kevin of Faro’s Michelin star, “and it makes us so happy that we could actually do it here in the neighborhood that we live in. That makes me really proud.”
With the star came attention. “[Faro is] now filled with people from Copenhagen, and tourists from Japan, and from all over New York City and all over the country,” said Kevin. “And that is an awesome thing.”
Which begs the question: Why would Kevin split his attention with General Deb’s now that Faro is so much on the rise? It’s a simple reason, and it’s something that I’ve heard from cooks and chefs before.
“All my friends live in this neighborhood and I don’t get to see their smiling faces as much as I used to. I really wanted to have a neighborhood spot again where people that I live and work around can get to come to.”
And a neighborhood spot it certainly is. It’s a modest space, only 35 seats including the bar — so its tight but cozy, not claustrophobic. The neon-red lighting lends a warmth to the space, and it’s a little nod to Sichuan cuisine’s famous spiciness.
The staff at General Deb’s threw off the local vibe a bit. Across the board they were good — but just a little too good, a little too formal, and reminded me of a more fine-dining atmosphere. It brought a dichotomy to the experience: the informality of the space versus the relative formality of the staff.
I’ve never had Sichuan before, so I opted for a “greatest hits” approach to ordering: fried peanuts, pork and chive wontons, dan dan mian noodles, cumin beef, and mapo tofu.
The peanuts came in a little ramekin and were perfect for snacking on throughout the meal. Dusted in the warm spices typical of mala sauce, the rich peanut flavor was at the forefront, bookended with a tiny, spicy kick at the front and a sweet note on the back. The wontons were generously filled, brought a deeply satisfying pork flavor, and the chives were surprisingly, pleasantly present. They’re also delightfully slick with chili oil, so feel free to skip the chopsticks and use a spoon.
The dan dan mian was similarly delicious. The noodles — not yet made in house, though that’s the eventual plan — are substantial and chewy, as they should be. They’re topped with peanuts, pork, yasai (picked vegetables), and fresh, seasonally available greens. Currently these are yu choy, a relative to cabbage and mustard.
General Deb’s serves the noodles traditionally: that is, sitting on the sauce — made with sesame, vinegar, and chilis — for diners to mix themselves. The size of the yu choy, which was served whole, made mixing it difficult; but everything else came together nicely. The dish was deep in pork flavor, warmly spicy, and rich from the sesame. The true stand out for me, though, was the freshly cracked Sichuan pepper corns. I didn’t know what to expect from them, but I definitely didn’t expect its bright, citrusy-lemony, and floral notes, which were simply delightful.
The cumin beef, served under a mountain of cilantro and Sichuan peppers, packed an incredible and mouthwatering aromatic punch. The stir-fried beef holds up in flavor to the deep, complex earthiness of the cumin and coriander. It was perfectly tender.
The mapo tofu, one of the more iconic Sichuan dishes, is exactly what it sounds like: tofu braised in mapo. Mapo is a pork-chili sauce, China’s answer to ragu. The spiciest of the dishes I sampled, General Deb’s mapo is fatty, rich, and silky, and the cubes of silken tofu provide a perfect counterpoint to the spice.
If you’ve noticed a theme to these dishes, it’s either “pork” or “rich.” It’s true that there’s a preponderance of pork on the General Deb’s menu but, if that’s not your thing, there are plenty of other options: the cumin beef, beef head cuts in the niurou mian noodles, rabbit, and fish.
As for the richness of it all, that’s definitely something you’ll want to cut. Don’t neglect to order the seasonal pickled vegetables, smashed cucumber, tiger salad, or potato with vinegar flavor: You’ll need one of these dishes, or a side order of vegetables, so you’ve got fresh and vinegary flavors to balance out the other dishes.
While we talked, Kevin kept coming back to the same point: that he became a chef to nurture and nourish people. With General Deb’s, he and Debbie are doing just that and — judging by the number of smiling faces that walked out the door, including my own — they’re doing it with great success.
First Faro, and now General Deb’s. I suspect this is not the last we’ll be hearing from the Adeys.
Comfortable neighborhood spot serving spicy Sichuan cuisine from the owners of the Michelin-starred Faro.
24 Irving Ave, Brooklyn
(off the Jefferson St stop on the L train)
Mon-Sun: 6:00 pm – 12:00 am
+1 718 417-3300
Follow General Deb’s on Instagram.
Cover photo by Andrew Tobia