Jimmey Leblanc & Emma Tuccillo
A Ghent Farm Provides Farm-to-table Authenticity At Its Bushwick-based Restaurant
Northeast Kingdom | Bushwick, Brooklyn & Ghent, NY
Farm-to-table. Free range. Foraged. These terms have become so ubiquitous in the New York dining scene that they’re often discounted as lip service. But, husband-and-wife duo Paris Smeraldo and Meg Lipke, are intent on putting meaning behind this ethos when it comes to their Bushwick-based restaurant — Northeast Kingdom.
Northeast Kingdom opened in 2005, well before the neighborhood had undergone such rapid gentrification. “There was nothing there, no stores, no coffee shops,” Paris recalls. Yet, the couple had a vision: “to create a neighborhood place, an oasis, an outpost; to have an impact on the community.” In 2013 they began directly participating in the farm-to-table movement, purchasing their first plot of land in Ghent, truly becoming their own suppliers. “It wasn’t a farm when we bought it,” Paris says, referring to the property. “We’re converting the land that was formerly lawn or pasture, adding fertility to it, making the land ‘ready.’ It’s easy to say the words ‘foraged’ or ‘free range,’ but we wanted to be doing it ourselves.”
Brooklyn restaurant has Vermont roots
BROOKLYN – Past the rugged brick buildings housing iron and steel warehouses, beyond blocks and blocks of corrugated metal fences and abandoned buildings waiting to be refurbished, lies a cozy, farm-to-table restaurant meant to evoke the relaxed comfort of woodsy Vermont.
The Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick seems to have little in common with the region of Vermont known as the Northeast Kingdom. One is an industrial setting in the largest city in the United States; the other is the most rural pocket of one of the most rural states in the union. They share a similar geography, however; both are tucked in the northeastern corner of their respective regions and feel like remote places that are obscure to outsiders but a cool discovery for those in the know.
They also share this: That restaurant in the northeastern corner of Brooklyn, the borough of New York City also known as Kings County, goes by the name Northeast Kingdom.
“At the time we opened it was really kind of a desolate area,” said Paris Smeraldo, who in late 2005 unveiled Northeast Kingdom with his wife, Meg Lipke. “I wanted this place to feel like you came across a warm cabin in the middle of the woods.”
Smeraldo and Lipke know about that Vermont vibe. He spent most of his childhood in the Middlebury and Rutland region and attended the University of Vermont. Lipke went to Burlington High School and UVM. They knew each other in high school and reconnected after both relocated to Brooklyn in the 1990s.
Smeraldo lived in Williamsburg at the time, which became the go-to spot in the renaissance of Brooklyn as a well-to-do hipster haven. He called the gentrification of Williamsburg “harsh,” noting that artists who had begun the renaissance “just got steamrolled” when the money started pouring in to that neighborhood just across the East River from Manhattan.
He said Bushwick, far enough east of Williamsburg to steer clear of “the whole show-time feel of a restaurant” in that neighborhood yet only about a half-dozen subway stops from Manhattan, seemed like the right place to open the eatery they envisioned. Their friends thought they were mad to go into a neighborhood that wasn’t as hot as Williamsburg, but Smeraldo said he saw potential in the place with ample and affordable housing stock.
“We wanted to carve out our own kind of scene and feel,” he said. “It wasn’t about being pioneers or anything like that. It just happened because we were the only people out there at the time.”
My wife and I spent Memorial Day weekend in Brooklyn visiting our niece, Pati, and her husband, Ed. He drove us through spiffed-up Williamsburg into Greenpoint to see the house where my mother’s father lived as a child, then past those industrial zones of eastern Brooklyn, with the rows of warehouses broken up by the occasional upscale bike shop or coffee shop, on our way to dinner at Northeast Kingdom.
Just as Smeraldo mentioned, the restaurant avoids a showy Williamsburg feel with its unpretentious woody tone augmented by subtle light from arts-and-crafts-styled colored windows. The menu has a Vermont sensibility with its creative comfort food and fresh ingredients, many of which come from farms on Long Island, upstate New York and Vermont and some of which are foraged from their natural settings.
We split two appetizers. The HOG Farm asparagus was served with what the menu proudly proclaims is “this morning’s farm egg” and a dollop of especially fishy trout roe that offset the otherwise smooth flavor. The chermoula shrimp with chick peas was easy-going with a polite spicy kick.
For my entrée I ordered pastured chicken that came lightly breaded in a mellow, complementary bed of fresh, fungus-y mushrooms, moist roasted potatoes and those onion-like ramps that back-to-nature foodies dig (literally and figuratively). My wife had one of the night’s specials, clams with bucatini pasta that, like my chicken entree, blended a handful of competing ingredients into one flavorful dish.
Ed had the crispy Clawhammer Farm pressed pork, accompanied by an ingredient not found on the average menu, stinging nettle. (Smeraldo told me in our subsequent phone conversation that the flash-sauteed nettle and the ramps that came with my chicken were both foraged.) Ed is a New Orleans guy who likes hot sauce but said the juicy pork had enough tasty, individually distinct flavors to render additional sauce unnecessary. Pati had a similar opinion about her NEK burger, which came with a mushroom sauce, onions and Vermont cheddar; no need for ketchup, she said.
Our two appetizers and four entrees were great and reasonably priced (the entrees were all $22 or less), and the dessert we split topped dinner perfectly. The double-chocolate bread pudding with vanilla ice cream deftly mixed cool and warm with soft and crunchy.
The praise from our party of four matches many of the critiques that have come Northeast Kingdom’s way in its nearly nine-year existence. I read of the restaurant in the Not For Tourists book series that takes a travel-guide approach for local residents. The 2011 book for Brooklyn said “… higher-class sit-down fare (in Bushwick) is limited to stand-out Northeast Kingdom” and called the restaurant a “cozy, hip ski lodge-style eatery in gritty nabe.” (hip lingo for “neighborhood”) The iconic New York alternative paper The Village Voice last year ranked Northeast Kingdom one of “The 10 Best (Real) Farm-to-Table Restaurants in NYC,” writing that “freshness is perhaps the strongest thread that connects this restaurant to its namesake county (sic) in northern Vermont.”
Some of the ingredients used at Northeast Kingdom come from the small farm Smeraldo and Lipke, who have three children, run in upstate New York. Coincidentally, they live near the increasingly hip small city of Hudson, N.Y., where I was born, in the farm-friendly town of Ghent, where my father was born, and commute to New York City regularly by car or train.
Sourcing food from nearby farms and foraging from nature match what Smeraldo and Lipke aimed for from the start with Northeast Kingdom. Local sourcing minimizes the restaurant’s carbon footprint. Smeraldo said soda contains the only high-fructose corn syrup in the restaurant, and there are no genetically-modified foods on the menu.
“More and more I hope it’s a national movement,” Smeraldo said of the restaurant’s ethic that’s echoed throughout the region of Vermont it’s named for. “It’s a foodie thing but for a lot of other people it’s a social consciousness; it’s political. We don’t tout any of that on our website or with our guests, but it’s what we do, not just because it tastes better but because it’s the right thing to do.”
Contact Brent Hallenbeck at 660-1844 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Brent on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BrentHallenbeck.
If you go:
: Northeast Kingdom
18 Wyckoff Ave., Bushwick, Brooklyn
: Lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner, 6-11 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday, 6-11:30 p.m. Thursday, 6 p.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday; brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; late-night menu 11 p.m.-1 a.m. Saturday-Sunday; bar open until 1 a.m. (2 a.m. Friday-Saturday)
: (718) 386-3864, www.north-eastkingdom.com.
by Sarah Zorn 8/14/14
Complete this sentence. In the spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of…
You better believe it.
Who knows how or why the delicate, perennial leek, which grows wild throughout much of the Eastern United States and Canada, suddenly became the venerated darling of the food world — the undeniable king of spring in an already stacked deck including asparagus, sweet peas and soft shell crabs. And yet, the fleetingly seasonal allium (ramps only stick around for a few brief weeks) has become something of a prestige item on restaurant menus, with eateries scrambling to be the very first to get their hands on some.
Unfortunately, since ramps can only be foraged for, and not cultivated, the onion obsession is causing a real strain on the native population. Especially since they’re often removed from the ground bulbs and all, robbing ramps of the opportunity to regenerate. And that’s just one of the reasons we love Bushwick’s Northeast Kingdom, which instead of rushing to buy from opportunistic ‘foragers,’ doesn’t add ramps to their menu (or any other forest-dwelling item, for that matter) until they’ve traipsed through the woods with pocket knives and cutting shears themselves. And of course, they only ever take the leaves, which you’ll find incorporated into five unique dishes (taste ‘em all for only $60!) during their annual RampFest, currently scheduled for this Friday and Saturday.
We had the unmitigated pleasure of heading to the Hudson Valley with chef Kevin Adey and owner Paris Smeraldo, to track down the elusive ramp (we’re not giving away the coordinates!) chat about sustainable foraging practices, and yes, grab a few of the gorgeous, garlicky greens for ourselves.
18 Wyckoff Ave., (718) 386-3864
A Food And Drink Tour Of Bushwick’s ‘Jefftown’
Northeast Kingdom: This is the place that kind of started it all, if you wanted to drink or eat out in this area around 2010 this was one of your few choices, a necessary haven with cabin-inspired charm in an otherwise desolate area. Luckily, it’s still there, even as the environment around it changes. And it’s still the same… though you may have to wait a little longer for a table during prime time. (They’ve got a bar, and a downstairs area, aside from their dining tables.)
Their “chalkboard” wines still costs 5 bucks, and their rotating menu keeps things fresh, they do have their own farm upstate, after all. There they grow their own vegetables, raise hens and bees, press apples, and make beer. And in keeping with their seasonal approach to thing, they’ve got their own Ramp Fest coming up next weekend (May 9th and 10th). They’ll be offering a ramp tasting menu featuring the foraged item pickled, sauteed, roasted, and raw; there will also be a special cocktail (you’ll want to call for reservations for this one).
How much will you spend? Entrees range from $15-25, sides start at $5, and appetizers are around $7-15. And if you’re too good for that chalkboard wine (it’s good!), then cocktails start at $8, and beers at $3. (Jen Carlson)
18 Wyckoff Ave between Troutman and Starr Streets (718-386-3864, north-eastkingdom.com)
by Sarah Zorn 4/14/14
Northeast Kingdom’s Stinging Nettle Soup: Since Northeast Kingdom is staunchly committed to sourcing their ingredients locally (or foraging for them with their own hands), spring produce is just beginning to find its way onto the menu. But a stinging nettle soup serves as an excellent teaser for dishes yet to come, the luminous greenness broken only by a yolky oblong of halved egg and a swirl of crème fraiche.
18 Wyckoff Ave., (718) 386-3864
Brooklyn Chef’s Table is here. Check out our pigs head terrine recipe and tips on foraging
Dinner $$$: Northeast Kingdom
You can almost smell the Vermont pine trees upon entering Northeast Kingdom, Bushwick’s contemporary American tribute to New England farmland. Since opening in 2005, it’s become a neighborhood institution, and with good reason. Kevin Adey‘s seasonal menu changes regularly, supplemented by a sizable list of specials advertised from mounted chalkboards. Intelligent, impeccably executed dishes celebrate local—often foraged—ingredients and nose-to-tail preparations of organic meats. You can’t really go wrong with your order, but my personal go-to is the scallops, most recently served with tender cipollini onions, tart crab apple, smoky bacon, and a garnish of hazelnuts and greens (pictured above). If you’re craving the red meat they’re best known for, though, go for the burger—you won’t regret it.
It’s also worth noting that by $$$, I mostly mean that this is the kind of restaurant you’d take your out-of-town middle class relatives and kill two birds with one stone—a great meal for free and an environment that won’t totally freak them out or leave them muttering about the sh*thole you live in (true story). In reality, you can get away with spending under $40 a person, including drinks, if you order wisely.
#8 Northeast Kingdom’s Stone Cut Oat Porridge
No. 8: Stone cut oat porridge from Northeast Kingdom (18 Wyckoff Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-386-3864)
Porridge might be a breakfast basic, but on the dinner menu at Northeast Kingdom, it gets special treatment–and it should not be missed.
Bushwick’s Northeast Kingdom celebrates humble ingredients, and on the ever-changing seasonal menu here, you’ll find many fine specimens of local produce, seafood, and poultry basking in glorious simplicity, the true essence of each item showcased by a supporting cast of garnishes that’s pared down to just what’s necessary. With that context, porridge doesn’t look out of place on the dinner menu, even if you’d be inclined to think of it as a proletariat breakfast dish elsewhere. Order it and be further convinced that it belongs–the hearty bowl of soft-cooked oats is as rich and savory as a winter stew, and it’s bolstered voluptuously by a runny-yolked egg and the earthy paper-thin slices of crispy sunchokes. It’s comfort food and immensely satisfying, and it works as a precursor to a heftier meal–perhaps you’ve come for NEK’s killer burger–or as the main event if you add a plate of simply dressed greens on the side.