The rise of the Gastrotaverne
Inga’s Bar in Brooklyn Heights.
Photo: Richard Tuschmann
I’m sick of the food stuff,” says Sean Rembold. “I’m sick of it only being about food or someone’s name.” Hardly the feeling you’d expect from a New York chef who recently opened his first restaurant after decades of climbing the culinary ladder, culminating in an 11-year stint at the helm of the locavore kitchens at Williamsburg’s Diner, Marlow & Sons and Reynard. . He left that role in 2017, fed up with the grind of the volume-crazed restaurant group. But on a family trip to the Irish coast, he found new inspiration for pot prawns and raw oysters at a local haunt called Nancy’s, a quintessential pub where the food – “So simple, so good” , says Rembold – mattered less to him. than the spirit of good neighborliness and the true sense of community.
“I was like, Why can’t we just create a tavern like this where everything can please everyone? ” he says. “If you want to stop by after work for a drink with friends, so be it. If you want to eat at the bar, so be it. And if you want to come for a big celebratory dinner, so be it. After extensive space scouting and the inevitable pandemic-related delays, Rembold and his wife and business partner, fashion designer Caron Callahan, have opened the New York tavern of their Nancy-inspired dreams in March to a quiet corner of Brooklyn Heights.They named it Inga’s Bar (66 Hicks St., in Cranberry St.) after Rembold’s great-aunt whose home in Louisville, Kentucky, was where his extended family gathered to “play cards, drink tons of bourbon and basically party,” he says.
Rembold isn’t alone in recognizing the tavern’s enduring appeal or identifying his business as such. Some of the city’s most acclaimed chefs draw their design and culinary inspiration from the distant past, signaling a new appreciation for simplicity in food and atmosphere as well as a certain low-key, unassuming hospitality that seems much in demand. in the age of COVID New York. In the West Village, Rita Sodi and Jody Williams call the cozy bar at their Shaker-inspired Commerce Inn the “tavern,” where patrons can munch on spoon bread and bone marrow in cozy wooden booths. Around the corner, according to liquor license paperwork filed with the community council, the former Chumley space will soon be reborn as an upscale American Tavern (working name: Froggy’s), marking the return to town from Mimi’s opening chef, Liz Johnson, and her husband and partner, Will Aghajanian. (Johnson says it’s too early to share details.) And in Dutchess County, King’s co-owner Clare de Boer has converted a former French restaurant in the 18th-century Stissing House inn into a tavern of countryside, where she roasts aged pheasant in a wood-fired hearth. We now have a self-proclaimed Japanese-Western tavern (Hall, a Wagyu-burger-and-cocktail restaurant in the Flatiron District) and a Korean-Chinese tavern with tasting menu (Joomak Banjum in Koreatown, where the stated mission is simply to bring together people).
And then there’s Emmett’s on Grove, described by owner Emmett Burke as a Midwestern tavern, whose signature dish is a round thin-crust Chicago-style pizza that’s cut into small squares instead of the usual giant triangles – a technique which has a considerable fan base and its own nomenclature: tavern-cut, aka party-cut. Before there was Emmett’s, of course, there was Lee’s Tavern, a Staten Island pizza institution. Not to mention, beyond the realm of pizza, Pete’s consecrated former barrooms at the Ear Inn, places where you can practically smell history.
The simple definition of a tavern is a place where you can have a drink and maybe a bite to eat. But the ultimate goal of a tavern is to make everyone, regardless of background, feel completely at home, to serve as a home away from home. What sets the new breed apart from its ancestors is the focus on food and ingredients. If the Spotted Pig ushered in the gastropub era in the 2000s, Inga’s and its ilk represent the rise of the gastrotavern, despite Rebold’s protests to the contrary. He could claim he’s “so much more” than the food (and the food critics: “I’m really against them at this point,” he says. “We want to be there for the community, not for any other reason. “) But what comes from his cooking says otherwise: Scotch egg with runny yolk in homemade lamb sausage, a version of the San Francisco classic Celery Victor that evokes a braised Caesar, a fillet of Spanish mackerel perfectly cooked with soft potatoes on a vibrant mint sauce. Yes, there’s a cheeseburger, but it’s constructed from two dry-aged patties, and the pickles and mayo are homemade.
Rembold built his reputation in the local and seasonal school, but at Inga he draws influences from as far away as Ireland and Wisconsin, where he sources his liver sausage. Turns out he’s as much a connoisseur of the stuff as he is of neighborhood taverns and is a particular fan of the version served at the Old Town Bar. “The liverwurst sandwich is amazing,” he says, momentarily switching to food parlance. “It’s a religious experience.”
Want more stories like this? Subscribe now to support our journalism and gain unlimited access to our coverage. If you prefer to read in print, you can also find this article in the April 11, 2022 issue of new YorkMagazine.