The story of Grindhaus, located in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood, is testimony to the popular adage about New York: “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” It appears they have indeed made it in this town, as yesterday Pete Wells awarded the restaurant a two-starred, glowing review.
He begins by recounting all the hurdles owner Erin Norris was forced to overcome to open the eatery, originally intended to be a German-inspired sausage restaurant. There were issues with the space’s structural integrity, it was impossible to install gas burners, and there was not enough room to grind and stuff sausages for the original concept to be a success. Norris worked hard to procure large sums of money for funding that was spent down to the last penny numerous times, including the purchase of the best possible equipment that she could justify with her budget for the tiny kitchen. Then Hurricane Sandy flooded Red Hook and Grindhaus in November 2012, but Norris was undeterred by this obliteration of her space and equipment, and refused to give up on her project. Luckily, her perseverance and downright stubbornness has paid off.
Wells makes his respect for chef Aaron Taber very apparent: “He makes the kind of earnest, fashionably austere, handsomely arranged food that is signified on menus by sans-serif lists of ingredients, with no capital letters, verbs, articles or hint of how one thing may relate to the next. In some restaurants, they don’t relate. At Grindhaus, they do.” It’s revealed that Taber works alone in a space “almost exactly the dimensions of the restroom.” The restaurant critic is clearly thrilled to find elevated food in an unpretentious environment, for a change, “Mr. Taber’s style of cooking is often found in druidic, wood-filled restaurants with tasting menus, cupboards stacked with hand-thrown pottery and painfully earnest names derived from natural materials, like Resin. Grindhaus isn’t as high-minded as those places. It has some rock ’n’ roll in its trousers.”
He is least impressed with some of the wine choices on the restaurant’s list, and cautions possible future diners to make sure to try a taste before committing to a bottle, but downplays the significance of this low note, “Wines that didn’t seem quite ready and a slightly undercooked monkfish were the only tastes I regretted.” He would have also liked a choice of desserts as opposed to a single offering, but excuses the chef for this due to the fact that Taber’s performance is a one-man show, enacted in a tiny theatre “I liked it just fine, but the people at my table who didn’t would have appreciated an alternative. Mr. Taber, no doubt, would appreciate a bigger kitchen and someone to share it with.”
Opening a restaurant is difficult anywhere, but it is a particularly arduous undertaking in New York. After overcoming a slew of obstacles that would have stymied most entrepreneurs, Erin Norris and Aaron Taber can definitely be proud of Grindhaus; Pete Wells certainly believes so.