Rethinking the Restaurant

Resourcefulness and enterprise
feed local appetites

rethinkRest
Curbside service at Market North

PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROY GUMPEL

David Chang is doing delivery. This fact alone should tell you that something is afoot in the restaurant world. Maple, Chang’s meal delivery service (in which he is both major investor and chief culinary officer), launched in Manhattan last spring, with a commissary kitchen overseen by an ex– Le Bernardin chef. Chang, winner of a couple of Michelin stars and countless other accolades, heads the Momofuku Group, an octopus of food enterprises that includes an international roster of restaurants and bars (plus, a sandwich joint, a sweetshop and the food enthusiast quarterly Lucky Peach). With Maple, Chang is dipping into a sector of the restaurant industry in which, historically, food quality has been sacrificed in the name of economy and quick transport. Of course, Chang is sourcing excellent ingredients and employing a cutting-edge app that calculates travel distance but also factors up-to-the-minute traffic conditions. Chang is not alone: Throughout the dining world, elite restaurateurs have found unexpected ways to expand while staying true to their culinary ideals.

At Market North in Armonk, the recent offshoot of Restaurant North, chef Eric Gabrynowicz and owner Stephen Mancini have done Maple one better. Not only does their app (Market North, powered by ChowNow and available on iTunes and Android) enable customers to order delivery, but Market North will also bring orders out to cars. Says Stephen Mancini, “So, you’re running errands in town, and you have three kids in the back of the car. You don’t want to find a parking spot and get everybody out of the car. With our mobile app, you can place your order and we’ll run it out.” Gabrynowicz adds, with surprising enthusiasm, “There’s a comments section on the app where you can enter, say, red Audi, license plate number X. Pickup in the back.” Like Uber, the Market North app retains their customers’ credit information. No cash need be exchanged in the transaction.

The Market North app is so streamlined that it is virtually idiot-proof. Once customers have logged into the service, they can choose their pickup (or delivery) time within a range of ASAP to up to one week hence. Then, users click through 12 menu sections that include coffee and tea, baked goods, breakfast dishes, soups and bowls, sandwiches and wraps, food to go, house-pressed juices and so forth. There are more than 130 menu options available; the service also offers a virtually endless choice of delivery/pickup times within Market North’s business hours, 7am to 6pm, 7 days per week. What surprised Gabrynowicz most about how customers use the app were the five-minute pickup orders. “We found out that people order on the app so they can walk in and find their coffee ready to go.”

But curb-side pickup? As convenient as it may be, it has the unfortunate tang of a very similar service offered by Applebee’s. It’s jarring to remember that Market North’s mothership is Restaurant North. That restaurant’s general excellence and staunch, Hudson Valley–sourcing snagged Gabrynowicz multiple James Beard Award nominations (and one of Food & Wine magazine’s “People’s Best New Chef” awards). Does Gabrynowicz, who soared through the hierarchies of several of the kitchens in Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, feel compromised by running delivery? Not at all. “I feel like it’s an opportunity,” he says.

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Chef Eric Gabrynowicz of Market North showing
off the culinary bounty of their new concept shop

Throughout the dining world, elite restaurateurs
have found unexpected ways to expand while
staying true to their culinary ideals.

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In Store

We’re sitting in Market North, part café/part gourmet shop, which is located just across Main Street from Restaurant North. It’s an airy, stylishly minimal space whose most remarkable feature is the La Marzocco espresso machine that Mancini had enameled in luminous cerulean blue. Mancini—a rabid fan of the Italian soccer team Forza Azzurri—was careful to reproduce the precise hue of the Italian team’s jerseys. This is the sort of detail-oriented obsessiveness that runs through both of his businesses.

Market North is currently stocked with a variety of local products— Captain Lawrence beers, Sycamore Farms jams, Cocktail Crate mixers and the famed mustard/relish mix used by the venerable Walter’s Hot Dog Stand in Mamaroneck. By the shop’s door (in prime, grab-andgo real estate) there is a refrigerated case loaded with Market North’s proprietary bottled juices and smoothies. Here, clinical-sounding names for smoothies (“P1,” “J3”) belie their wholesome ingredients. “P1” is a blend of coffee, vegan protein, toasted almonds, almond milk, coconut water and organic quinoa; “J3” contains kale, spinach, romaine, celery, cucumber, basil, jalapeño and lemon. In addition to these, you’ll find some shelf-stable items like spice mixes, seasoned bread crumbs and the gluten-free flour that Gabrynowicz formulated for use in North’s popular gluten-free pastas and baked goods.

While Market North offers the bling of a high-tech app (and the cachet of much critical praise), other local restaurants have also rejiggered their businesses to offer retail components. This past winter, Duo Bistro was in the midst of renovating its Kingston space; the restaurant’s redesign, which greatly expands the space into the corner lot, will include a market that chef/owner Juan Romero calls “The Pantry.” Here, Romero will offer for retail many of the local products that he uses in his kitchen. These will include the aforementioned shelf-stable products (and the breads he bakes in the restaurant), but, also, the Pantry will offer the fresh meats and dairy products Romero buys from local farms. Romero hopes that having an additional sales platform at the Pantry will enable him to make more adventurous choices on Duo’s menu; what he doesn’t sell in his bistro can be repurposed at the Pantry.

Both Market North and the Pantry represent the struggle of modern restaurateurs who are increasingly squeezed by the business’s tight profit margins. Currently the industry is undergoing a revolution prompted, in part, by mandated hikes in minimum wage for tipped workers in New York State. This is compounded by increased competition in the industry and always-rising real estate prices—factors that leave many restaurateurs in an untenable position. Luminaries like Thomas Keller, Tom Colicchio and Danny Meyer have eliminated customary tipping within their restaurants; essentially, this rewrites the curriculum that most restaurateurs have learned on the job, in business school or at the Culinary Institute of America.

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Mimosa on tap

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Says Mancini, who earned a business degree from NYU (while simultaneously acting as the youngest beverage director in a Zagat number-one-rated restaurant, Meyer’s landmark Union Square Café), says: “The thought process behind the market is to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that we currently can’t take advantage of at the restaurant. We saw a chance to diversify while staying true to our DNA. Here, we’re able to serve responsibly sourced ingredients, to continue to move in a direction that we feel is important to our food system but make it more approachable to the masses.”

While Market North bears a full liquor license, there is no bartender on staff. North pre-mixes its cocktails, which are either served bottled—or, in the case of mimosas—tapped from a pressurized Cornelius keg (Scott Vaccaro of Captain Lawrence Brewing Company in Elmsford taught Mancini the kegging technique, which is more commonly used for beers and sodas). Market North uses the same hyperlocal sourcing as Restaurant North, but there are key differences between their menus. There are a lot of casual, healthy soups and sandwiches at Market North, though the tuna tartare served here is identical to the one across the street. Says Gabrynowicz, “If you look at Maple, or the Seamless menus, or any of the things restaurants serve at the higher end of restaurant delivery, they’re not offering their entire menu. That’s the same thought process that we’re using: How can we make dishes more casual and make them travel better.”

With Market North, Mancini and Gabrynowicz are also tilting at our American love of coffee, which, on these shores, is oftener sipped from cardboard rather than from ceramic demitasse cups. They’ve collaborated with John Steverson of Path Coffee in Port Chester to offer an ambitious program at Market North. Not only does espresso hiss out of that aforementioned blue La Marzocco, but, it’s also offered as a pour-over, or hand pressed from an Aeropress. (There’s also nitro-infused iced coffee). Mancini, who The New York Sun labeled “The Mad Scientist of 16th Street” for his basement experiments in Limoncello at Union Square Café, has approached coffee service with his signature geeky zeal. At Market North, each of the four extraction methods are classified by their own distinctive, sensual attributes—the Aeropress, customers are informed, yields a less acidic brew. Then there is the idea collaboration that is so bred into the bone at Restaurant North. “Our relationship with Path is an honest one. The great thing is that Johnny’s here, teaching the guys to foam milk. Johnny’s here saying, ‘Yo, let me try one of those espressos.’”

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The thought process behind the market is to be
able to take advantage of the opportunities that we
currently can’t take advantage of at the restaurant.

Raising the Dive Bar

Further north, Zak Pelaccio—chef/owner of Fish & Game in Hudson (and former head of the Fatty ’Cue/Fatty Crab empire)—is taking a different tack. With his new venture, he’s reinventing the dive bar. Backbar, on Hudson’s Warren Street, is long and narrow; and with its scarred concrete floor, it’s only a few dinged-up decor elements away from its gritty past as a service station. Its playlist is decidedly non-ambient and features alt-rock and punk classics, while its clientele is a cheerful mix of off-shift restaurant workers and locals with a smattering of tourists. This past winter, the bar was fronted and flanked by a graveled patch of dirt that had once been the home to Hudson’s three-unit food truck park.

Backbar’s cash-only menu was all of eight entries long. Nevertheless, it held dishes like braised collards over rice with pickled vegetables and soft poached egg, and a smoked ham sandwich with cheese and mustard on a pretzel roll. Says Pelaccio, “What I can tell you is that we’ve had a very simple and light food program. You know, the bread that we bake over at Fish & Game, we send to Backbar for sandwiches. We’ll take fish belly and trim from Fish & Game and turn it into a spicy escabeche and serve it over a bowl of rice, just cool little bar food like that.”

For all of its dive bar charm, Backbar doesn’t sling cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and no-name shots. Says Pelaccio, “The Fish & Game bar program is a little more deliberate and, you know, it’s more costly because of that. There are several things at Fish & Game that take a lot of time to produce, or that we produced in small quantities—we might have enough to make 30 cocktails. But Backbar is a bar, so we have to make things in greater quantity. That said, a lot of the liquor curation at Backbar is very similar to Fish & Game’s. We have anywhere from four to eight wines on Backbar’s menu, and they’re all natural wines, just like at Fish & Game. We share the same ethos.”

Backbar resides a few blocks from Fish & Game, which—in contrast to Backbar’s funkiness—is so visually stunningly that it snagged a 2015 James Beard Award nomination for Outstanding Restaurant Design. Miraculously, the same architect, Michael R. Davis, is behind both ventures; he owns 3FortySeven, a gallery of furniture, lighting and decorative objects adjacent to Backbar. The two businesses, both at 347 Warren Street, share a glass wall.

Besides changing upon an old wooden bar, which Davis purchased, that fit perfectly into the space, Pelaccio gives his bar project a greater reason for being. “Backbar seemed like a logical spot for us to take some of the trimmings and offcuts from Fish & Game,” he says. These appear in Backbar’s charcuterie or the above-mentioned escabeche. “I mean, we use our by-product and recycle it into food at Fish & Game, but there’s still by-product of by-product. Backbar is a great way for us to take in whole animals, use them and then continue to spin off that product. We’ll serve it in a different format at Backbar where maybe it doesn’t demand the same price as at Fish & Game. For us, the bar is a way to have the same dedication to Columbia County products that’s been so remarkable about Fish & Game, but bring it over there and sell it for a lower price.”

Soon, as spring turns to summer, the graveled strand that surrounds Backbar will be fenced in and landscaped, and Backbar’s glass garage doors will open to an outdoor space. Pelaccio is planning a lantern-lit garden populated by picnic tables that will ultimately accommodate many times the 40-odd diners seated at Fish & Game. Still, Pelaccio is not worried that Backbar will compete with Fish & Game, whose format offers a multi-course tasting menu priced at $96 per person (beverage pairings are available for an additional $84). “You know, we’ll continue to make the food different enough so it won’t compete stylistically, but, also, Backbar is a funkier joint; Fish & Game is a cozy, firelit, sophisticated environment.”

He continues, “We just installed full ventilation and we’re just specking out equipment. We’re gonna have full restaurant kitchen at Backbar, so we’ll have a more robust food program once the spring comes. And that’s gonna be interesting.”

Market North
387 Main Street, Armonk
914.273.3773
mktnorth.com

Duo Bistro
50 John Street, Kingston
845.383.1198
duobistro.com

Back Bar
347 Warren Street, Hudson
518.610.1702
347backbar.com

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