New York has long been a food capital, from the upscale kitchens of our finest restaurants to the bagels and sausages on the street corners. But as anyone who has walked around Brooklyn has figured out, the next chapter of New York’s food history has everything to do with the local, “artisanal” food scene that is making its mark on the city. From the rise of greenmarkets and food fairs to the focus on seasonal ingredients, these products embody a DIY ethos that New York City has had from the very beginning.
The New-York Historical Society’s Museum store is introducing it’s A Taste of New-York History collection of specialty foods produced in New York City and State, including jams, savory condiments, and chocolates. One of those vendors is The Redhead, a neighborhood restaurant in the East Village whose bar snack, Maple Bacon Peanut Brittle, became so popular that they started producing it on its own! We spoke to owner Meg Grace about creating a neighborhood space, and the popularity of their snack.
How did The Redhead start? What was your goal behind it?
My partners bought an old jazz bar in the East Village with the goal of turning it into a neighborhood restaurant almost 7 years ago. I did not get involved until almost a year after they bought the place. The goal has always been to have a place that people could get a great burger any night of the week and to also be able to get a nicer meal for maybe a first date or to take your parents when they are in town.
Did you always see yourself as a restaurant owner? Or did you have other goals as a kid?
No, I didn’t figure out I wanted to cook for a living until I was in college. There was no Food Network and there was really just Bon Appetit magazine, maybe the beginnings of Food & Wine….so, I went through multiple majors in college, none of which had anything to do with food. But, once I figured out I wanted to learn to cook, I graduated as fast as I could and moved to New Orleans.
New York, and the East Village especially, has a really long and diverse food history. How did you want to contribute to that?
The initial menu brainstorms for the restaurant were actually pretty reflective of the food history of the East Village, but once we started serving people they started really gravitating toward the more Southern choices. So, things shifted. Honestly, it’s always flattering to just be a part of the conversation about food in this city.
Where did the maple bacon brittle come from? Were you surprised at its popularity?
The Bacon Peanut Brittles came about because we needed a bar nut to serve people before we started serving a full menu. We actually named it before there was even a first rendition and name has just stuck. And, yes, I was totally surprised at the popularity. It never occurred to me that we would be making it for anywhere other than the restaurant.
Do you have any tips for people wanting to start their own restaurants/food business?
Learn how to do all the jobs in a restaurant– wash dishes, take out the trash, wait tables, bar back, bartend, host, etc. You need to be able to see your own business from your employee’s perspective.