The Foragers of Bushwick: Dinner at Brooklyn’s Northeast Kingdom
Long before René Redzepi became famous, Paris Smeraldo and Meg Lipke were traipsing through the Hudson Valley to stock the larder of their Brooklyn restaurant.
The husband-and-wife restaurateurs opened Northeast Kingdom in Brooklyn way back in 2005, inspired by the farming communities and deer camps (hunting cabins) of their native Vermont. From the start, they’ve farmed and foraged much of the restaurant’s produce themselves. (Most restaurants hire a forager.) “My parents were kind of back-to-the-land hippies,” says Smeraldo, “so I learned about fiddleheads and wood sorrel as child.”
Just as they were ahead of the curve on the foraging trend, they were pioneers in real estate, choosing Bushwick for its vibrant artist community and “bombed-out” aesthetic. “We wanted to create an oasis in this neighborhood full of factories.” And indeed they have: Lipke designed a cozy, low-lit dining room filled with reclaimed wood and quirky antiques.
Foraging, Smeraldo explains, makes for the ultimate seasonal cuisine. “Spinach says, ‘It’s warm out,’ but it could be April or July. Ramps mean it’s April.” And living and farming in Hudson allows them to be in touch with the microseasons—and to grow more produce than any city rooftop garden (and minus that BQE-smog-tinged urban terroir.) They and their chef, Le Bernadin alum Kevin Adey, have also cultivated “meaningful” relationships with many organic farmers.
When we visited, spring asparagus was coddled under an eggy grebiche sauce, fluke ceviche got a spicy-sweet kick from spring onions and strawberries, and fresh lemon balm was used to a refreshing effect in a cocktail. (Okay, so this isn’t exactly health food, but you can assemble a meal here without torpedoing your diet.)
This summer, they’re flaunting a daily menu (entrees: $14–$24), which Smeraldo says, “is more reflective of us and our ethos,” and will allow them to do more whole-animal butchery. Serving an entire pig over the course of a week makes people more conscious of how they’re using animals and “is more honest and respectful than just ordering some pork loin.”
If butchery’s not your bag, book a spot anyway. These under-the-radar foodies are hand-picking bouquets of microgreens, mushrooms, and edible flowers that make for a beautiful summer supper. —Ann Abel
Northeast Kingdom, 18 Wyckoff Ave. at Troutman St, Bushwick, Brooklyn, 718-386-3864, www.north-eastkingdom.com
Photos: Adam Morganstern