Food and Local Business Editor
Ridgewood’s beloved “Good Pho-King Vietnamese Food” restaurant Bunker Vietnamese is preparing to relocate to a big, beautiful new space in East Williamsburg, where the eatery will eventually feature indoor and outdoor seating for more than 100 patrons, a roof deck and a general store.
Bunker’s new address will be 99 Scott Avenue, Unit D; the entrance is located on Randolph Street, just a short walk from the Jefferson Avenue stop on the L train.
The building recently and notably housed the “seasonal event space” Brooklyn Mirage, and Bunker’s new neighbors include meadery Enlightenment Wines, Enlightenment’s tasting room Honey’s and Pacific Northwestern coffee roastery Caffe Vita.
The new Bunker space has been under renovation for the past six months, and Bunker’s anticipated November 29 grand opening date is just over a year from the 2015 date when news of the East Williamsburg location was reported.
When the original Bunker opened in 2013, The New York Times proclaimed its offerings “some of the best Vietnamese street-style food in New York.”
Bunker’s Metropolitan Avenue location in Queens will close on November 15, two weeks before its debut in East Williamsburg.
The big move isn’t the only excitement at Bunker these days. In the coming months, Bunker will also start running a small general store next to the restaurant, and in March, Bunker will be serving pho and banh mis at The DeKalb Market Hall in downtown Brooklyn.
When Bushwick Daily stopped by the new Bunker, General Manager Soraya Odishoo was already interviewing candidates for jobs at the new restaurant.
Bunker’s owner Jimmy Tu and head chef Jeremy Culver, who are longtime culinary colleagues, sat down with Bushwick Daily to share some exciting details about their new East Williamsburg expansion, revealing that collaboration is central to their plans at the new Bunker.
“We grew up in the kitchens of Manhattan,” Culver reminisces. Culver and Tu met working at a farm-to-table restaurant located inside of fashion designer Nicole Farhi’s now-closed store on the Upper East Side. Years later, they remain fast friends.
They’ve created a beautiful enterprise together, both figuratively and literally! A front red door hidden behind bamboo stalks gives Bunker a feeling of oasis amongst the vast industrial warehouses it surrounds. Inside, there’s a playfulness to the decor. Bright splashes of color, Japanese scroll paintings, a faux grass top lined bar with a curb running along the bottom (in homage to Tu’s skater boy days) are key design elements.
“We want to serve serious food in a fun environment,” smiles Tu.
In the Spring, the new space will have an outdoor seating area complete with a garden, and a perfect sunset viewing roof deck. Bunker will be able to host three times as many patrons as it could in its old home with this outdoor seating included!
“We were limited by that space in Ridgewood,” explains Tu.
In addition to Bunker’s new spacious digs, their new Vietnam-born sous chef Nhu Tom has advised both Tu and Culver with a reworking of the delicious menu with the goal of keeping the offerings as authentically Vietnamese as possible. “We learn a lot from [Tom] about the food in general – I’m not Vietnamese, so it’s nice to have somebody that has real cultural background,” explains Culver.
The new menu is larger than the old one. Smaller plates are in the $15 range, and larger sharing plates start at $20.
“We’re going more ‘street,’ more authentic, and [we’re] able to offer a better balance, better options— we’re working with more local farmers,” elaborates Tu.
Bunker isn’t a “chef-driven restaurant.” Tu philosophizes that, at least in his opinion, Bunker is about “executing great cuisine, great Vietnamese food, and just showcasing that … I feel like a lot of people aren’t aware or even have knowledge about [Vietnamese cuisine].”
The menu features delicious beef pho and bahn mi sandwiches that will be familiar to longtime patrons. Bunker will also offer bun cha, a grilled pork and vermicelli noodle soup which is said to have originated in Hanoi, Vietnam: “[it’s] What Obama ate with Bourdain in Vietnam,” smiles Tu.
Tim Gagnon of Chambers Street Wines is in charge of Bunker’s wine program, which will be focused primarily on biodynamic, natural wines. Appropriately, Bunker was on deck at this past weekend’s Raw Wine Fair, which was conveniently held at 99 Scott Avenue’s event space.
The recently opened Kings County Brewing Company on Troutman Street is developing a special brew for Bunker, too. KCBC’s concoction will be a take on Vietnam’s popular light, low alcohol beer Bia hơi. “People can hang out, eat, drink … and people can drink a lot more!” laughs Tu.
In addition to Bunker’s signature suds, KCBC will also make two out of their four draft handles (the final draft will likely be a Japanese craft beer).
Bunker has also been working with Caffe Vita Coffee to come up with a special Vietnamese coffee blend to be served primarily at Bunker.
Commenting on how Robusta coffee beans come with a “bitter tone” in Vietnamese coffee, Tu explains that “the main thing is that [traditional Vietnamese coffee features good] the condensed milk.”
Vietnamese coffee is traditionally served over ice, but Tu adds that Bunker’s signature blend will include both hot and iced. Further down the road, they plan to bottle and sell it for wholesale.
Bunker has also been working with next door neighbor gourmet mushroom operation Smallhold constructing shipping containers so that Bunker can grow their own mushrooms on premise. “We’re going to start with shiitakes and king oysters,” reveals Tu.
Suffice it to say that Bunker has something truly special in store for East Williamsburg – be sure to stop by its November 29 opening, Bushwick!
Featured Image: Bunker’s beloved first location. Photo courtesy of Bunker Vietnamese.