She sets up the stall, the grill, and tapes the one-page menu to the metal railing of a fence. Already a line has started gathering, a quickly growing five, six, seven people now spending a valuable part of their Friday evening still waiting for the banh mi baguettes to finish roasting.
In jeans and a pink t-shirt displaying the face of a melancholy pig, Sadie Mae Burns looks on contemplatively from behind a pile of fluffy Bánh patê sôs that bring to mind small spaceships made of bread. Nearby, her partner, Anthony Ha, lets strips of pork sausage roll on the grill of Ha’s Dac Biet, their new month-old pop-up project that sets up regularly outside the Sundown and Forêt Wines, a recently-opened bar and wine store respectively.
It’s a hectic evening. Orders soon clog the counter.
Inspired by a trip the two took to Vietnam, where Ha’s family hails from, Ha’s Dac Biet is meant to evoke the widely-liked street food of Hanoi. (Burns says, yes, she has watched the episode of “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” where the show’s late host takes President Obama to one of these.) The phrase refers to a kind of sandwich popular among these carts in the Vietnamese capital and has been readily adapted by the sandwich-friendly in Brooklyn, there are at least six varieties on the lunch menu at nearby Bunker.
Burns and Ha met four years ago while both working the kitchen at Danny Bowien’s Mission Chinese in the Lower East Side. Burns had been moving between the kitchens in the New York restaurant game and Ha had started in the kitchens at Mission. Both now work elsewhere: Ha at Frenchette on the other side of lower Manhattan and Burns at Roman’s in Prospect Park.
With a kind of quiet grace, Ha takes over the grill during our conversation, as its high flames gust into the air above Forest Avenue.
True to the idea of street food, the menu at Ha’s Dac Biet is minimal. Their banh mi ($10) comes in one variety and it is, overall, fluffy and rather satisfyingly chewy. The sausage is lined tightly with a gentle mayo-and-cucumber salad. It can be eaten with hands with no spilled grief.
These run fast. Burns says that most weeks they run out entirely within two hours. Within one, the banh mis are being rationed to last numbers. Other options include fresh orders of rice noodles that come with enough greens to be a salad, bun thit nuong ($8); the aforementioned bánh patê sôs, which are an incredibly flakey pastry filled this evening with ground pork ($7).
It’s hard to imagine that even Bowien’s kitchen can be less stressful than here on a Friday night where the orders keep coming and the waiting eyes follows the the flip of each bun. But Burns says there’s a kind of joyous care to doing this kind of thing. She and Ha take their time with each one before sending it off into the world.
Cover photo courtesy of Ha’s Dac Biet. Other photos by Andrew Karpan for Bushwick Daily unless otherwise specified.
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