Thursday, January 19, 2012

Baker's Dozen #5: Cousin Brett (and the Commons!)

The CommonFolk: From left to right, Matt, Sarah, Sam, and Brett.
HALF of this staff is related to us.

Dear Boo,

This latest installment of our ever-popular Baker's Dozen series (well, I'm a fan, at least), brings us back yet again to our very own family. Naturally, two sisters don't become as obsessed with food and cooking as we are simply by accident. No, the rivulets of butter run deep, and so its no surprise that today's guest - our cousin Brett! - is himself a tad bit, shall we say, enthusiastic. Some might say that opening a cafe dangerously close to where I and other family members live, designed by our cousin Bill, with baked goods homemade by his mother (our oft-referenced Auntie), and managed by his brother (our cousin Sam!), is taking it a little far. I will forgive him the proximity of so many butter-laden treats (not to mention the TO DIE FOR pork sandwich) because I am absolutely thrilled that The Commons was born this year. There is something ever so comforting in the fact that, anxious, sleep deprived, and chilled to the bone on the way to my new job, I can walk into the cozy little cafe and be greeted like family with a nice hot, perfectly brewed cup of coffee. After that, everything goes down a little easier. Now if only they would deliver lunch to my office...

Slow Roasted Pork Sandwich with broiled tomatoes, pickled carrots and habanero mayo on brioche. Holy Crap.

Moving on. I give you, a Baker's Dozen with our cousin Brett, with contributions by Sam and the whole cast of Commons Characters!

1) Where'd you get the name for the Commons? And for that matter, where the heck did you get the idea to open a cafe in the first place?
My partners Sarah Wallace, Matthew Mogil and I all grew up together and went to the same high school. The Commons was the name of our cafeteria and was were we ate lunch and hung out together. The three of us operated Organicoa, a seasonal cafe in the Hudson River Park for two summers. The food, vibe and service was so well received, we knew we would be successful bringing a more fine-tuned version to Chelsea. Once we signed our lease, the brainstorming for a new name began but was short lived. When Matt suggested The felt so right!

2) I can only imagine the kind of hilarious and disastrous antics which would occur if my sister and ran a restaurant. You and your brother are in this venture together. How's that workin out? Honest. I won't tell him.
Honestly, its great. He's taken charge of this gig and is our star GM. He's passionate about the operation, and more importantly, our customers. Thats what I love about him! We fight - cause I'm older and always right :) but really, The Commons wins out because we both contribute important, but different perspectives on what is necessary.

3) The Boo and I are slightly obsessed with placing the perfect order at a restaurant. What's the perfect order at the Commons?
The perfect order at The Commons? Breakfast must involve a latte from our amazing baristas (coffee from La Colombe) and a slice of Tortilla Espanola. For lunch, the pork sandwich and a blood orange iced tea. Dessert is an easy one--grab a cup of Organicoa hot cocoa and a chocolate chip cookie from our own Arlene's Bakery.

4) The Husband loves him some Fro-coa, your frozen hot chocolate. What's the secret to its deliciousness?
The Frocoa began during the summer in the park at Organicoa. It is made with the best dairy money can buy (Battenkill Valley Creamery, we love you!) and organic cocoa syrup. We will sell Organicoa Frocoa in The Commons, Summer 2012 - we are currently selling the equally delicious Organicoa Hot Cocoa here at The Commons - come grab a cup!

5) What's your favorite meal your mom, of Arlene's Bakery fame, makes for you?
Besides her dessert skills, she is really an all around amazing cook! Her brisket is top notch...carrot ring on the side and homemade applesauce is hard to beat for a holiday dinner. Spaghetti and Meatballs are perfect too.
What about dessert? As you know, our holiday dinners end with at least 3-4 desserts. All of them are soooo good. I love her Key lime pie and chocolate chip cookies

6) What are your earliest food memories?

Well our grandmother was the greatest cook, so definitely my first memories were of her cooking. A Polish immigrant who first lived in Atlanta, GA, she cooked Jewish food to perfection but also made southern fried chicken, corn fritters w maple syrup and incredible desserts. Honestly everything she made was the best thing I've ever eaten.

7) What was the first meal you remember making on your own?
Really hard to say. I love to cook and have been doing so for a long time. I studied abroad in Italy so I have a soft spot for Italian. Pasta is my favorite, and usually the true test of a great Italian restaurant. It's probably what I tried my hand at first. I actually think I learned a lot of what I know from watching Molto Mario! My eggplant parm is pretty damn good too.

8) Why do you think our family is so obsessed with food?
It goes back to Baba, our grandma - we always ate together as a family and it has still stayed true. It has gone from family holiday meals, to food blogs, restaurants and cafes.....I love it and can't wait to see more of it!

9) You are a real estate magnate by day and restauranteur by night. I'm guessing you squeeze in dinner somewhere around 12am. What's your favorite late night snack?
We are all busy here at The Commons and have built this biz mostly around the cafe and have some local favorites. Sammy's Noodle Shop runs about the best delivery service on this planet - their chow fun, lo mein and moo shoo are pretty damn good. The Dirty Bird to-go recognizes our phone number when we call, lets just say that... Best fried chicken out!

10) Favorite pizza topping?
I have to stick to plain. Sal and Carmines on 101st and Broadway is by far, the best slice in the city

11) Top three places to eat in NYC.
Ellabess in the Nolitan Hotel is run by Epicurean MGT of L'artusi and Dell'Anima fame and is a must try. Sarah introduced me to Diner in Williamsburg and I think its a perfect restaurant. Lupa is an old favorite. We are huge fans of Mario and Lupa is spot on.

12) I'm having this internal debate and I want you to weigh in. Where do you stand on cake pops and sliders? Delicious trend, or annoyingly twee?

Can't say I've ever heard of cake pops! But in general I'm not high on gimmicky food. But I have to admit, sliders are hard to pass up. Locanda Verde does an amazing lamb slider and Joey Campanaro's meatball sliders are perfect.

13) You know real estate and now you know the NYC food world. It seems like the trend is towards smaller, more casual restaurants with no a no reservations policy and amazing food (like your tenants, Torrisi). With rents like the space down the street from us which was reportedly asking 40K a month of its restaurant tenants, I can't help but think real estate prices have a lot to do with this. What do you think?

I love real estate and have had a great time at Veracity Development. We have seen Nolita boom and rents follow suit. Now that rent is such a thorn in my side with the cafe, its easy to understand the struggle of restaurants to keep up with escalating rents. While I play both sides, representing landlords and operating a cafe, I can't help but know that the market moves in a circle. The rents are up, the rents are down. There will always be side streets, new neighborhoods and the occasional great deal. Great operators know the right concept, for the right space in the right time. I like the variety - Torrisi is a special place and they hit a home run with concept/space/time - its a model to follow but it doesn't work everywhere. The best thing about NYC is that we have somewhere to eat for every occasion.

Amen, Coz. And welcome to the 'hood. See you tomorrow morning.

This chicken sandwich has a poached egg, bacon and frisee. Yeah, you heard me.


The Mouse


Anonymous said...

Wow, what a wonderful interview, but of course I am definitely a little biased.......we are blessed with an awesome, hard-working family with great food sense. Bravo to all and thanks for the kudos!
........and now that you've read the interview, go to The Commons and taste everything.....your taste buds will say "thank you"
Love, The Auntie

Anonymous said...

Hey - discovered this place - great stuff. great atmosphere. Good luck