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The Restaurant Next Door

Big-name chefs open small-scale restaurants where you’d least expect: right next door


Chefs are expanding their portfolios with experimental side projects—often right down the block / Matt McCue

When diners can’t get into a buzzy restaurant these days, often all they have to do is walk a few feet away for Plan B: a menu produced by the same chef they intended to sample in the first place. Some of the country’s most renowned chefs and restaurateurs have opened sister outposts—next door, across the street, a few doors down—that serve as laboratories for their flagships, places the culinary teams can experiment more freely, test new dishes and generally play by their own rules.

In Chicago’s burgeoning Logan Square neighborhood, for example, chef Jared Wentworth turns out refined fare at his Michelin-starred gastropub Longman & Eagle. At the adjacent Off Site Bar (or OSB at L&E), he debuted weekend-only pop-up menus featuring tricked-out sausages and doughnuts with beer pairings. “We’ve been following our whims as they come,” says Wentworth. You can expect unusual but comforting dishes, such as cheddar brats topped with fried clam bellies, chased with a cinnamon cruller and a frosty porter. “There are no real rules for OSB—none of us really do all that well with them.”

In San Francisco, the team behind 2012 James Beard semifinalist AQ opened TBD two doors down. The space was designed as a culinary challenge: The kitchen consists of a single wood-fire grill that is the sole means of cooking a nightly four-course menu. “We designed the restaurant to be limited to wood-fire cooking in order to promote creativity, rather than limit the options,” says owner Matt Semmelhack. “The kitchen crew is forced to come up with creative solutions.” Lamb is roasted directly in the coals, tri-tip beef is smoked, and pots of seafood tagliatelle with lobster and sea urchin sauce bubble over the roaring open fire.

Aside from the creative breathing room these new spaces offer, neighboring canteens also make smart business sense. With wait times at trendy no-reservation restaurants often reaching two or three hours, chefs need a place to hold, and ideally feed, their overflow. Chef Aimee Olexy followed up her perpetually packed Talula’s Garden, in Philadelphia’s Washington Square, with Talula’s Daily—a café and market by day that dims its lights to serve a rotating five-course supper club menu by night. “If you are coming to Philly, you can dine with us at night, come back in the morning for coffee and a scone and see us later for a pear cocktail and a cheese plate,” says Olexy.

In Brooklyn, chef Andy Ricker is turning the Columbia Street Waterfront into his very own culinary thoroughfare. After achieving immense critical and popular success in Portland, Oregon, with Pok Pok, he brought his authentic northern Thai cuisine to the East Coast in 2012 with Pok Pok NY. A year later, he followed up with Whiskey Soda Lounge next door, which serves Southeast Asian–inspired cocktails and bar snacks. And last October, the team moved its crowd-pleasing noodle shop, Pok Pok Phat Thai, from its location on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to a space just a few doors down on Columbia. “The No. 1 reason for opening near a flagship is to capture spillover,” says Ricker. “But being comfortable in a neighborhood and investing in it also has a lot to do with it.”


Give Peas a Chance

Vodka distillers are thinking outside the potato with unique ingredients like black-eyed peas / Ramona Flume

FORT WORTH, TEXAS – In 2010, Trey Nickels witnessed firsthand the effects of a historic West Texas drought on his family’s black-eyed pea farm. There wasn’t enough water to plant his crop.

“Mother Nature just wasn’t cooperating,” Nickels says. “I found myself constantly thinking of what in the world I could do with all these black-eyed peas.” Late one night, sitting on a combine amid his family’s fields, Nickels had a lightbulb moment: Why not make vodka? After heavy rain, he had noticed the way peas naturally fermented in his combine bins.

“I knew what the smells were and what the taste would be,” he says. “I knew it could be done.”

After four years of experimenting with an ancient Chinese mung bean–distilling method, TreyMark Vodka was born. “It’s definitely unexpected,” he says, “but it’s a vodka that puts a smile on your face.”

Nickels isn’t alone in his quest to craft artisan vodka from unusual sources. Brooklyn’s Industry Standard Vodka is distilled from beets, while the U.K.’s Black Cow Vodka is made out of the milk from 250 grass-fed cows from a West Dorset dairy farm. (Curds become cheddar cheese; whey is turned into a beer and then distilled and triple filtered.) And before you dismiss alternative vodkas as mere novelties, you have to try them. TreyMark, for one, boasts a subtle, earthy flavor with a hint of nuttiness and a smooth finish.


Bubble Trouble

Taiwanese boba tea grows up / Juston Goldman

SAN FRANCISCO – By now, you’ve probably tried boba, the Taiwanese iced-tea drink loaded with tapioca pearls, which are slurped through a wide straw and chewed like gummy candy. Bubble tea, as it’s often called, has become increasingly popular with young Americans. Now, a few evil geniuses have turned this kid-friendly drink into an over-21 experience.

One of the pioneers of the boba cocktail is Danny Louie, bar manager at San Francisco’s Chino. When the noodle and dumpling spot opened last May, he bought a slushie machine and began adding liquor and boba to his creations.

“It’s something that should have been done a long time ago,” Louie says. “It is a little bit of a novelty, but it’s fun.” The flavors, of course, are decidedly more grown-up. The Boba Fett (get it?) is an icy concoction of vodka, apple, ginger, Thai basil and lemon that is subtly spicy and sweet. And like the silent-but-deadly Star Wars bounty hunter that inspired its name, the drink packs a surprising punch.

“[The tapioca] adds texture,” Louie says. “A lot of people like that chewiness.” In fact, the boba cocktail trend has begun to spread across the country, from New Orleans’ MoPho to Boston’s Limoo Tea Bar to LA’s Boba 7. It doesn’t look as if this bubble will burst anytime soon.

Boba Fett Boba Slushie Yields 4 drinks

  • 5 cups vodka, such as Tito’s
  • 5 cups apple juice (fresh-juiced Granny Smiths)
  • ½ cup ginger shrub (recipe below)
  • 1 bunch Thai basil
  • ½ cup freshly squeezedlemon juice
  • 1 cup black tapioca balls
  • 5 cups ice

Place all ingredients in a blender except the tapioca balls, and blend until smooth. Divide tapioca balls evenly into four 24-ounce glasses and pour the slush into each one. Serve with a wide straw.

Ginger shrub

  • 12 cups sugar
  • 12 cups water
  • 8 slices peeled ginger
  • 4 cups apple cider vinegar

Put sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until sugar dissolves. Add ginger and simmer for about 40 minutes. Let the mixture cool, then strain. Add vinegar to the syrup and mix well. Store in a glass container in the refrigerator.

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