Sweet Baby James

James is the one you want on your corner

Last month, Tasting Table asked readers for their favorite neighborhood gems. Now though December, we'll highlight five picks from across the city.

Bryant Calvert, owner of Prospect Heights' beloved James, has an overflowing bathtub to thank for leading him to the restaurant's now-classic Brooklyn aesthetic of exposed brick, plaster moldings and an original pressed-tin ceiling.

At the bar | Deborah Williamson

Calvert, who in true mom-and-pop fashion lives with his wife Deborah Williamson above the jewel box of a restaurant, explains: "One time my bathtub overflowed, and when the plumber took a panel off I thought I saw an original ceiling. So when I took over the space I ripped the wall down one night at midnight and uncovered a pristine tin ceiling. I woke the neighbors up with the noise."

Calvert, who started his restaurant career at 14 as a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant, has always set out to create a neighborhood institution that could serve as a stop for a wonderfully simple grass-fed burger with cheddar ($16) with a side of kale salad ($12), or a sophisticated post-BAM meal that might start with celery root soup with smoked trout and wasabi sprouts ($12).

Hangar steak with creamed swiss chard | The kale salad

James, which is charmingly located among residential brownstones, opened in June 2008. That it managed to protect itself from the ensuing recession is a testament to one restaurant that is able to shape-shift to be many things to many people for many occasions.

Apple Charlotte

It's a hard-won (but delicious) victory; Calvert says, "For the first three years I worked the line every single night, seven days a week."

Our Other Favorite Prospect Heights Neighborhood Gems: Franny's, Kaz An Nou, Chuko and 606 R&D.