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.
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!