Pies ‘n’ Thighs—TASTE Williamsburg Greenpoint Interview Series

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TASTE WG interviews participating bars and restaurants. Here is Carolyn Bane, Chef and Co-Owner of Pies ‘n’ Thighs. TASTE Williamsburg Greenpoint is on September 9th. For more info go to www.tastewg.com. 

By Shayna Makaron / Photos by Les Brown

What will you be preparing for TASTE?

We’re going to do a pimento cheese spread on homemade cheddar cheese crackers. And the crackers are awesome—they kind of taste like Cheez-Its and look really beautiful.

Awesome. So you’ve been a participant in TASTE before. What brought you back?

Well I think it’s really important to support the community that you live in and work in. And it’s nice to be a part of something that other local businesses are coming together for.

Speaking of supporting the community you’re a part of, how long have you been in Williamsburg?

I moved to Greenpoint a year and a half ago, but I lived on Metropolitan Ave for 10, 12 years before that, so I’ve been here since 1999.

And professionally?

I started cooking in 2004 at Diner. I was there for 3 years, and then made a brief jaunt into Manhattan and worked at The Spotted Pig. But then came back for Pies ‘n’ Thighs, and even during our hiatus I went back to Diner, and Marlow & Sons, and spent a year there, and then actually worked at Roberta’s in Bushwick. But I’ve pretty much been on the Southside for the length of my culinary career.

Well that’s an all-star list right there.

Yeah, it’s definitely been great.

And how would you say the neighborhood has changed since you’ve been here?

Well I think mostly it feels like it’s grown up. There are a lot more bars and restaurants than there were, and there are fancy places that didn’t used to be here—you’d have to go into Manhattan for that. And it seems more densely populated than it used to be. And it’s expensive. It’s expensive for people to live here and it’s expensive to go out to eat in this neighborhood. Pies ‘n’ Thighs tries to make it affordable so that anyone can come in for lunch on any given day. But I think in general, Williamsburg is an expensive neighborhood to live in.

How do you think that’s affected the neighborhood as a whole? 

I think that it’s pretty diverse right now, and I think that has been a positive change. Now people come to Williamsburg as a destination for entertainment where I don’t know that they did that 10 years ago. It was more like, if you lived here, there was plenty of stuff to do, but you also went elsewhere. And now tons of people are coming here. It’s like the new Lower East Side.

So when you were first coming up with the idea for Pies ‘n’ Thighs and as it has evolved throughout its existence, how has being in Williamsburg influenced the restaurant in terms of food or atmosphere, for example?

Well it’s definitely pretty casual. And when we had our old location, that was really great because it was a real dive, and people love that kind of thing. And since we’ve moved, it’s still a casual restaurant and I think that people really respond to having just a cheerful, casual environment. People bring their kids all the time to brunch, or early dinner.

You mentioned that there are a ton of bars and restaurants in the area now. Where do you eat or drink when you’re not at Pies ‘n’ Thighs?

Carolyn Bane, Chef and Co-Owner of Pies ‘n’ Thighs.

I love Allswell on North 10th and Bedford, and I love Bellwether by McCarren Park. And Saltie, of course. Those are my top three. And I love Diner and Marlow, too, of course. But I actually don’t go there as often as I go to the other places.

If you could collaborate with any other chef in the area, who would it be?

Definitely it would be the women who run Saltie, because they’re amazing. Everything they do is delicious.

What would you say is your favorite seasonal ingredient to work with?

Tomatoes!

How’s tomato season this year?

Tomato season is good! We have a seasonal salad on the menu, we’re running a really delicious gazpacho for a while. It’s been a good one.

I paid $4 for a tomato at the farmer’s market last week.

Oh, I know! That’s the crazy thing. You really have to make it the focus of the dish rather than take a slice and put it on a sandwich. But they’re so good for you, and regular tomatoes really don’t compare so you’ve got to eat them while they’re good [and in season].

Absolutely. So to change the subject…I heard that you were on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.

Oh my god. [laughs]

What was that like?

It was honestly one of the worst days of my life. It was horrible. So I don’t think you should write anything about that because it was BAD.

Alright well I won’t pry there! So you know about the Northside Town Hall and Community Center. Do you have any ideas about how a food component could be worked into the space?

Oh! I think they should have cooking classes for kids there—I think that would be really fun. When I was a kid, I took a candy-making class, and it really lived large in my head for a long time.

It was that transformative?

Yeah, I was just like, “Woah, these chocolate lollipops are amazing!” And I think it’s fun for kids to make something like a tortilla—something that they can see a lot of, but it’s like the transformative process. It’s better than cutting up vegetables, which you can’t really have kids doing.

Yeah, that wouldn’t be a good idea. Do you feel like the local restaurant community would be into getting involved with that?

Yeah, I think people like doing that kind of thing. I think it can be maybe intimidating the first time, but it’s fun. And you know, everyone eats.

Last question – any new ventures in the works?

We’re always looking for the next thing, and I think it’s definitely in the near future rather than the far future, but nothing specific. I think someday there’ll be another Pies ‘n’ Thighs, but we have no definite plans

 

 

 

 

 

Café Colette—TASTE Williamsburg Greenpoint Interview Series

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Grilled ricotta toast with blistered peppers. Photos by Les Brown

TASTE WG interviews participating bars and restaurants. First up is Erin Gerken, General Manager and Co-Owner of Café Colette. TASTE Williamsburg Greenpoint is on September 9th. For more info go to www.tastewg.com. 

By Shayna Makaron / Photos by Les Brown

What will you be cooking up for TASTE this year?

We’ll be making grilled ricotta toast with blistered peppers, garlic, capers, anchovies, and preserved lemon.

That sounds amazing and it looks beautiful. You were a participant at TASTE last year—what’s bringing you back?

Well, participating in a community event like this is important to us. It’s for a good cause. It’s also nice to do things with other restaurants, and to do things that help build community in the neighborhood as far as this industry goes.

How long have you been in the neighborhood, either personally or professionally?

Personally, I’ve been here for 12 years. I started working in Williamsburg in 2004 or 2005 as a bartender, and then kind of went back and forth between places in Manhattan and Williamsburg. And then I became full time when I started managing Hotel Delmano, and then after that we opened Café Colette.

Erin Gerken, General Manager and Co-Owner of Café Colette

How have you seen the neighborhood change since you’ve been here?

It’s changed a lot. I lived on the Southside when I first moved here and at that time, the Northside was where all the restaurants and things were. And that kind of shifted—a lot of growth happened on the Southside. And I think there’s a resurgence now in the Northside, so it’s kind of spreading out. It’s really amazing to see all of the effort going into the neighborhood as far as bars and restaurants go.  The design is really elevated and people who are really invested in their projects are here. It’s very competitive but also people are serving great food.

So you were at Hotel Delmano with Zeb Stewart and then you opened Café Colette. Why did you guys stay here?

It just started as an idea like, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a place to eat close by?” And so we just thought, “Oh! We’ll open a restaurant,” and then it went from there. As far as going elsewhere, I guess there’s always the possibility but right now we’re not striving to grow. We’re focusing on what we’re doing here.

Speaking of all the other restaurants in the area, where do you personally like to eat and drink when you’re not working?

I have so many places that I like to eat in Williamsburg but I go to 1 or 8 a lot, and Samurai Mama also. I’ve been going to Marlow and Diner for years and lately I’ve been going to Reynard’s. I also go to the Wok Shop…there are a lot of great places.

What would you say is one of the best kept secrets or hidden gems of Williamsburg?

Hmm. It’s hard to say – I feel like now everyone knows about everything! But I will say that eating Japanese food for brunch is my secret weapon. I think maybe not a lot of people do that so there’s hardly ever a wait, and you can go in and eat sushi in the morning, which I love.

That’s a good one! Do they have special Japanese brunch items or is it just your standard Japanese food that you’re eating in the morning?

Well, yeah. My boyfriend is always like, “Who eats Japanese food for brunch?” And I’m like, “Japanese people, like me!” But they serve this dish called chirashi, rice with a bunch of fish on top and they put avocado, and some fish eggs, and some seaweed pieces, sometimes a little egg, so that’s what I’ll eat.

What would you say is one of your favorite food or drink trends of the moment?

I like this kind of simple food that people are doing that has a rustic approach. I think it’s an easy and fulfilling way to eat, and also pretty elevated as far as ingredients and what people are sourcing. Being able to serve a really simple dish is nice because you’re letting the ingredients speak for themselves. Also, I think it allows for some whimsy, maybe not taking yourself so seriously and crafting a dish so perfectly. So I like that, a light-heartedness in food that is grounded with a lot of care.

That happens a lot around here.

Yeah. Another trend that I’ve seen that I’m really intrigued by is how some people are combining sweet and savory using fruit. I had a dish with shrimp and blackberries last week. I’m not quite sure I totally got it, but I was intrigued by it.

Yeah, both great ingredients, but definitely an unusual pairing. Speaking of ingredients, what’s your favorite seasonal one?

Right now? Well I’m from Ohio so I’d have to say corn and tomatoes. Those are my two favorites right now. We’re serving a lot of heirloom tomatoes.

Okay, ultimate North Brooklyn question: L train or G train?

[Laughs] J train!

Do you live in Bushwick?

I do live in Bushwick. I live off of the J train.

So you know about the Northside Town Hall and Community Center. Do you have any ideas about how they could incorporate food into the town hall?

Right now everyone is into food…food stands and food trucks, homemade ice creams, pickles and hot sauces. I just think that anything you do would be well accepted, and would flourish in there.

Do you feel like the local restaurant community would like to get involved?

Absolutely, especially with the work that is going on now that is obviously already linking the restaurant community with the Town Hall project. I think it’s out there that it’s connected, so to me it already appears that the Town Hall is supported by the restaurant industry. So I think more of that would be right for it.

Last question: Any new ventures in the works?

Hopefully a vacation!

F-O-O-D!!! T-R-A-S-H!!! Volunteer Opportunities

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VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES BROUGHT TO YOU BY BURNEDGREEN.

There are two amazing upcoming food-related volunteer opportunities in North Brooklyn, and each involves a fundraiser for a worthy cause in our community. The first is tonight at the Greenpoint Reformed Church where the Greenpoint Soup Kitchen Supper Club will be hosted. Proceeds from the supper club will help benefit Greenpoint Reformed Church’s soup kitchen and food pantry, which serves over a hundred homeless and underprivileged members of the community per week. Click here for more details on this volunteer opportunity.

The second is the third annual TASTE Williamsburg Greenpoint event, a block party-style tasting event featuring of 40 restaurants, breweries and wineries from neighborhood. The event is a fundraiser for the completion of the Northside Town Hall Community and Cultural Center. TASTE will be held on the 9th, but there are volunteer opportunities beginning this weekend and ending on the day of the event. For each volunteer shift completed, volunteers will receive a ticket that gives the ticketholder four “tastes” (food samples) and two drinks at the event. Click here for more details on this volunteer opportunity.

And there’s one other volunteer opportunity to spotlight. It involves trash. Specifically, volunteers are needed to help identify every official Department of Sanitation litter basket in Bushwick, Greenpoint and Williamsburg. (This is for a project that seeks to supply North Brooklyn with more litter baskets.) The details are fluid. So if this sounds like something you might want to participate in, please write to, info@burnedgreen.com, stating your interest.

That’s all for now. There are more opportunities down the pipeline. Enjoy the rest of your month.

Copyright (C) 2012 BurnedGreen All rights reserved

OP/ED: Blade Runner Williamsburg

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By Albert Goldson

One of Mayor Bloomberg’s last political salvos before he leaves office next year is the design competition for micro-units. This insidious pilot program will test the viability of hyper-population density by increasing the residential units in existing buildings by thin-slicing them into micro-units measuring a claustrophobic 300 square feet (sf). The baffling question is why would anyone want MORE people to live in Manhattan?

The developers are pre-positioning themselves by digging under the [legal] foundation by circumventing those pesky zoning changes, height limitations and the local CB gauntlet to re-purpose existing buildings into whatever the market demands. This pilot-program is the Trojan horse to legally overturn the 1987 law requiring a minimum of 400 sf for residential units.

Though their official purpose is for residential use for young professionals, other potential micro-unit functions include detention centers, housing for recovering addicts or homeless shelters  This concept is chameleon construction—the function can vary but the unit remains unchanged.

There are two recent nightmarish examples: The first is the Brooklyn House of Detention in Boerum Hill on Atlantic Avenue, closed in 2003 then re-opened in spring 2012. According to a February 3, 2012 New York Times article, during its vacancy, buyers purchased units in six newly constructed nearby condos based on real-estate agents informing them that the detention center was probably going to be converted to condos.

The second was the August 11, 2012 New York Times article about NYC utilizing (on very short notice) two city-owned properties as homeless shelters in the Upper West Side to accommodate the burgeoning homeless population much to the chagrin of the neighborhood.

The existence of micro-units in Williamsburg will result in the explosion of an ultra short-term transient population in a nabe whose infrastructure is already at the breaking point. It will destabilize the community and jeopardize the quality of life. For property owners these factors will significantly reduce real-estate values. Just imagine a residential skyscraper with hundreds of regular size units converted into micro-units resulting in a super-sized, 21st century Hooverville.

Even the economics don’t make sense. At 34 Berry Street, half the units at a 142-unit rental building are studios. One tenant lives in a 466 sf unit and pays $2200/month which is $4.73/sf.

The micro-unit pilot program in the Kips Bay nabe seeks a rent of $2000/month for a 300 sf unit which is $6.67/sf. The square foot rent is 41% greater than the larger Williamsburg unit for a unit that’s 36% smaller. Where’s the value?

According to the real estate industry, one measurement of financial qualification states that the tenant’s gross annual income divided by 52 (weeks) is the monthly rent s/he can afford. To qualify a $2000 monthly rent requires the household to pull in $104,000.  How many young professionals pull in that kind of money to live in a glorified prison cell?  Is this the New York of the future for young people?

Real-estate trends and changes are inevitably considered and applied to Williamsburg because it has more land for development that makes it a prime target for such pilot programs. Micro-units are bad for the community and bad for business. For this reason one must apply the utmost vigilance to the “progress” of this pilot program and vigorously oppose any proposal to introduce it in Williamsburg.

agoldson888@gmail.com

Albert Goldson is an Architectural & Engineering Contract Manager specializing in transportation mega-projects, energy matters and urban planning.  Mr. Goldson is a 10 year Williamsburg resident, internationalist and avid jazz aficionado.

OP/ED: The Williamsburg Experience—Gone in the Blink of an Eye

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By Albert Goldson

There are particular windows of opportunity in one’s life that are narrow, notably the once in a lifetime sweet spot that youth doesn’t realize or appreciate until years after the fact. It’s the period of time between college graduation and mid-20s, between dating and family commitment. It’s similar to the theme in the cult movie “The Girlfriend Experience” (2009) starring Sasha Grey whose character is an ultra high-priced escort whose opportunity to make obscene bucks has an extremely short shelf-life based solely on her youth and looks.

Manhattan. The geographically small island boasts astronomical rents where recent graduates are willing to pay for the Manhattan Experience. It represents extreme luxury on a small, 13 mile long Fantasy Island slightly larger than a gigantic luxury yacht with two heliports.

These non-trust fund graduates want the experience of Manhattan-style living. To accomplish this they toil at entry-level jobs earning just enough cover basic expenses, hanging out and partying at night, and living in a prison-size unit that serves as nothing more than a crash pad.  But as NY Times Holland Carter wrote in the June 8, 2012 Art Review section, “NYC has always had unaffordable neighborhoods. Now it has an unaffordable borough – Manhattan.”

However Big Apple economics in the 21st century have created new social opportunities. Brooklyn is now cool and hip which is why everyone wants to move to Williamsburg. Nowadays Williamsburg is the new Manhattan and can be aptly named “The Williamsburg Experience,” expensive but not yet completely unaffordable, an urban Bohemia where aspiring artists cannot afford to live, but where they can still afford to hang out.

You can crunch the numbers all you want but real-estate marketing is driven by perception and emotion. This young generation has already made their decision to live in Williamsburg and is willing to pay the exorbitant rental rates. To paraphrase the sage comment the Oracle tells Neo in The Matrix Reloaded, “You didn’t come here to make a choice because you’ve already made a choice. You came here to understand why you made that choice.” The “why” is simple—cool, chic and hip.

Additionally the mainstream media has romantically and nostalgically promoted Williamsburg as the latest darling of a bygone, urban, blue collar Americana.  And since local “tourists” from New Jersey, Westchester and Long Island began arriving not long ago, Williamsburg has become fully gentrified and consequently everyone’s destination.

We’re paying the price of being a celebrity nabe replete with the overwhelming wave of tourists, boutiques, bar lounges and artisanal eateries featured on the front page of publications worldwide. However as a long-time Williamsburg resident noted, one of the downsides to such celebrity status is “slumming” which occurs when visitors (professionals no less) shabbily treat a newly gentrified chic nabe as their personal playground and outhouse without regard for the residents.

The current trend will make Williamsburg as unaffordable as Manhattan sooner than you think. My advice to the new residents: embrace it and live the Inception-like dreamy fantasy as deeply as possible because the Williamsburg Experience will vanish in the blink of an eye.

agoldson888@gmail.com

Albert Goldson is an Architectural & Engineering Contract Manager specializing in transportation mega-projects, energy matters and urban planning.  Mr. Goldson is a 10 year Williamsburg resident, internationalist and avid jazz aficionado.

OP/ED: City Denies Daycare: Let the children play, but where?

Brooke Parker

City Denies Daycare: Let the children play, but where?


Opinion/Editorial by Brooke Parker

By Brooke Parker

Williamsburg parents are branded by their choice of child care: stay-at-home moms or dads, Tibetan or Jamaican nannies, DIY child care collectives, home-schooling (apparently people consider a two-year-old home-schooled), Williamsburg Northside, Mi Escuelita, Williamsburg Neighborhood Nursery School (WNNS). Each option signals something meaningful, with very subtle differences, about who these parents are, how much money they earn (it costs $12-18/hour for a nanny and $15-25K for nursery schools), and what they believe about parenting, be they progressive, ambitious, bohemian, or conservative.

While we complain about the costs associated with each of these options, daycare is rarely mentioned within the span of choices available to a category of Williamsburg parents. Many of us can afford otherwise, or we’re snobs.

Unfortunately, having Williamsburg parents who can afford nannies and nursery schools means the loss of daycare for our most at-risk families.

Last year, Mayor Bloomberg restructured the way New York City subsidizes daycare centers through an initiative called “Early Learn NYC,” where priority subsidization is given to neighborhoods with high-density poverty as identified by zip code. Many Williamsburg families will be brutally punished by gentrification, which has decreased the density of poverty in Williamsburg. Several of our daycare centers will be forced to close their doors.

Within the East Williamsburg community, Small World is famous for the homey Italian grandmas who cook three hot meals a day from scratch for their charges. Some of their teachers, with advanced degrees in early childhood education, attended Small World themselves, lending the school a unique and cozy ambience. Families boast of the loving care their children receive and of the crucial service they provide for single parents and working families. Like any of our posh nursery schools, Small World provides Williamsburg children with all of the benefits of early childhood education: robust language practice through stories and songs, social learning through play and pretend, hands-on learning with art and materials, and opportunities to engage with nature through gardening and field trips. Mobiles hang from the ceiling, and the walls are decorated with art projects.

Tuition at Small World is on a sliding scale ranging from $15 to $140 per week, but the majority of families who use the service are “working poor,” which is defined as having income below 200% of the poverty level, or as earning $36,620 for a family of three. Small World’s hours are manageable for working parents, allowing pick-up at 6pm, something impossible to find in Williamsburg nursery schools.

Kimberly Sevilla, floral designer and owner of Red Rose and Lavender, reluctantly considered Small World when she was wait-listed for private nursery choices. “It turned out to be a godsend. As a small-business owner, there was no way I would have been able to start my business without Small World caring for my daughter. It will take years to break even, but having affordable child care allowed me to hire employees and grow my business.” Sevilla’s description of her daughter’s experience at Small World echoes how I described the experience my daughters had at WNNS: devoted teachers who are knowledgeable and experienced, and the feeling that I’ve left my daughters in the hands of people who would care for them as though they were family.

For Sevilla, losing Small World as an option would mean having to hire a nanny, and consequently lose an employee. Many of the Small World families are far more economically vulnerable. When asked what she would do if Small World closed, Julie Torres, a Williamsburg native and single parent of a three-year-old boy said, “I seriously don’t know. I don’t have any babysitter. I couldn’t afford it. I’d have to go on welfare.” Torres has high praise for Small World’s impact on her son, and concern for what a babysitter could offer even if she could afford it. “All a babysitter will do is
let him watch TV all day. Small World is giving my son a head start for elementary school. He wasn’t social before he came here and now he’s learning how to talk and read.”

That parents like Torres will be forced to either leave the workforce entirely or pursue dangerous illegal underground daycare alternatives should worry us deeply. Underground daycares prey upon parents like Torres who are in dire need of affordable child care. A quick search on Craigslist and you’ll find people willing to care for children in their home for $150 week. Laws were put in place to regulate daycares to prevent unsanitary conditions, like undisposed feces or cockroaches and mice in kitchens, and to ensure background checks that prevent sexual and physical abuse; and that’s before we consider the training involved in certifying early-childhood educators. An underground daycare in Queens was in the news recently when a child drowned in a mop bucket. At the bare minimum, regular oversight certainly could have saved the child who died from choking while eating a carrot because no one was trained in CPR.

The negative ripple effect of Small World’s closing will reach 100 children Small World currently serves and over twenty staff members who will lose their jobs. Small World’s after-school program suffered from a slashed budget, as well, when a similar Bloomberg initiative cut funds to IS 318’s national-award-winning chess team, among numerous other after-school programs with vital community importance. Also, two thirds of the rent for Small World’s building comes from Small World, which puts the Swinging Sixties Senior Center, on the ground floor, in peril.

This isn’t the first time the mayor has made big cuts to daycare and after-school programs. In previous years, City Council budgets have  made up the difference. This year may not see that solution, as a new law only allows the City Council to restore funds to organizations rather
than front them money. Small World would need to raise enough money to pay 30-40% of its costs up front in order to qualify for reimbursement. None of our daycare centers are in a position to do that. The mayor is playing a dangerous game of chicken with City Council funds, and our children will lose.

Small World’s closure, along with many other Williamsburg daycare centers, represents how the influx of wealth has rendered poverty invisible here, at the expense of our most at-risk families. When we read the inevitable news stories of children killed in illegal daycares or the horrifying consequences of children left home unattended, we have only ourselves to blame if we don’t speak up for the families that gentrification has displaced.

Small World teachers are hopeful that spreading the word about this crisis will help their cause. There is still time to urge the mayor to reconsider his ill-thought-out and dangerous policy. Support your neighbors and sign the petition through Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York (cccnewyork.org) or call 311 and let the mayor know that you want subsidization restored to Williamsburg’s daycare centers.

You can also join the Small World Day Care community at their Annual Carnival on Friday, June 29th, from 10am to 4pm, at 211 Ainslie Street. I’m sure the food will be delicious, and the kids will be delighted. For those in need of child care during the school break, Small World is open all year long!

Visit the Facebook community page “Save Small World Daycare & Universal Pre-K” for more information, and/or to get involved.