By Jacque Lynn Schiller
“When I see someone taking a carrot and trying to make it into something it is not, it kind of makes me crazy. It’s a carrot and they’re awesome and there are certain things you can do with a carrot but it should be in conjunction not overwhelming. And it’s about finding a really fantastic carrot.” -Andrew Karasz, Chef/Owner
Located on the picturesque corner of Clinton Street and Verandah Place, Breuckelen is the perfect expression of chef/owner Andrew Karasz’s exuberance for food. It’s minimalist and cozy, but don’t let the tin ceiling and banquettes fool you – there’s exciting stuff going on behind that elegant façade. The philosophy here is all about sourcing the best possible products as locally and seasonally as possible and presenting them in all their glory. Sounds like a delicious game plan to us.
NONA recently met up with Andrew for a chat about idyllic commutes, decompressing and “yumola.”
So tell us a little about yourself. You’re from Brooklyn, yes?
I grew up on Willow Place, went to Grace Church for Kindergarten, Packer for High School, and Hobart College in upstate New York. I came back to Manhattan and went to work for a midtown law firm and was going to be a lawyer like the rest of my family, but after two years I decided that there was just no way in hell that I was going to be a corporate lawyer. I quit my job. I quit my girlfriend. I packed my car and I drove to California and started my career at a resort called Auberge du Soleil in Napa.
I was there for about two and a half years. I bartended at night at a place called the Rutherford Grill to offset the fact that I was make zero money working during the day as a line cook. But I had an incredible experience at this restaurant. It is a beautiful, beautiful place. Then I decided I wanted to do something bigger, so I moved to San Francisco and went to work for a place called Postrio, which was one of the hottest restaurants in town at the time. I worked on the pizza station upstairs – you kind of had to pay your dues there. Worked that station for two months, lunch for maybe two months. I was right in the thick of it. That was my cooking school pretty much. Between that and Auberge du Soleil, I started the foundations of my thoughts about food.
And that would be?
It’s all about sourcing your product. You can’t make something out of nothing. And I really believe as far as good cooking is concerned, all you need to be doing is profiling or showcasing the glory of the product. When I see someone taking a carrot and trying to make it into something it is not, it kind of makes me crazy. It’s a carrot and they’re awesome and there are certain things you can do with a carrot but it should be in conjunction not overwhelming. And it’s about finding a really fantastic carrot. That’s our thought on food around here.
Early on I had a chef that taught me, if you take a piece of fish or meat and you cook it, show the animal some respect and cook it as well as you can. This is an animal or fish or even vegetable that kind of gave its life to you so it behooves you to show it some respect. That’s why I try not to over-sauce things or adulterate.
How often do you change the menu?
Every day. We print the menu every day. Four appetizers, four pastas, four entrées, four desserts that change everyday. I’ve been lucky to work with some really wonderful chefs in my day and I just try to realize what’s appropriate for this time of year and palate.
Yes. We macerate our own fruits, make our own syrups and play with whatever we can. I think that our cocktail list is very turn-of-the-century, very nice. We make a really good Manhattan. Here it’s also about sourcing. We have eight kinds of bitters. We’re making interesting combination but not reinventing the wheel. Cocktails have been the way they are for two hundred years. We can just do the best version possible.
How does that work on a day-to-day basis – walk us through a typical shift.
I’m here from nine in the morning until one in the morning. That’s the deal. I’ll get up and go to Borough Market or Washington Square. I have a direct buyer at the fish and meat markets. For example, my sous chef and I today jumped in his car and drove to Greenpoint to Wild Edibles just to grab some stuff. We’re a small enough operation that we can change things. Mostly what I’ll do is come back with something and say, “Play with that!” and then they come up with something good.
Latest ingredient find that you’re excited about?
Chinese sausage. We’re doing it with brussel sprouts on the duck plate – 5 spiced soy and honey poached duck breast with chestnut spaetzle.
What can we look forward to on the Winter Menu?
You’re going to see root vegetables, grains, braised meats. Come December, am I going to be serving strawberries? No. For me, the winter is citrus and it’s tropical fruit. Perhaps I’ll be doing a poached lobster with fresh vanilla and mango.
In the summer you’re going to be looking at North African kind of flavors. In the fall, New England and in the winter, Middle Eastern flavors. I think cuisine reflects what’s going on around you.
Where do you source?
I go wherever there’s the best product. Someone early on tried to call us locavore – it’s impossible, first of all. But what you can do is try to find the best possible products all the time. So wherever that comes from, that’s where I’m going. Everything is wild line caught and we use only free-range meats and fowl. Where it’s coming from varies depending on time of year. But I’m not interested in getting myself set into a category. We’re just doing really good food.
One of the lucky things that we have around us here is being in one of the breadbaskets of the world. The east coast has some of the most spectacular seafood. We have incredible summer and fall produce coming from New Jersey, Long Island and the Berkshires. I don’t want to call myself locavore but I do try to mainly use what’s coming from here, particularly because it’s so bountiful.
Is that what brought you back here from California?
What Napa taught me was to appreciate what’s around you. And that was nine years ago when they understood you have a mushroom person. You have a tomato person. I came back here and it took five years before people really started catching on to that concept. My wife has a magnet on our fridge, “Eat Organic – or, as our Grandparents used to say, Just Eat.” People are just refiguring out what it’s all about. I purchase a lot of my produce from the Borough Hall Market and get a lot of stuff from Satur Farms and Sang Lee.
You seem very excited about your food.
I am! And it’s not just that, it’s creating a certain vibe and the idea of serving our community, keeping and growing a relationship with the people who live around us. I think that’s important for a very small restaurant. We’re really lucky and blessed that we’ve been welcomed. There are a lot of people who have come back 10, 15, 20 times. When you can say that you have regulars – that’s pretty fantastic. Every new effort has been greeted warmly.
How long between the idea of and actual opening?
Six months. I’ve been doing this for twenty years. And it was also [so I could] walk to work in 2010. I live four blocks away. My commute is wonderful, I walk through Verandah Park. It’s amazing—I pinch myself every day.
Of course! My wife and I love Joya, Jolie. These are places when we have five minutes off, which we never do, we go. Prime Meats is great and they put out a nice product.
What’s your overall outlook on the whole Brooklyn food scene?
I’m so, so excited. I grew up here and except for great pizza, there wasn’t as much here. But now we have all these inventive places opening up and I think a lot of talent, too. Also, one, there’s a lot of money here and two, rents are great. But don’t kid yourself that this audience is forgiving. It’s not. You have to watch your price points and really be on top of things. I think because the rents are better it gives chefs more breathing room to be creative and take risks.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I guess just that I’m happy to be home. What I’m most excited about is when we’re in the middle of everything, the place is going berserk and I come out of the kitchen and the place is full – full! People are smiling, relaxing and enjoying themselves for a moment in this chaotic city. I don’t want Breuckelen to be this serious, overwrought place. The final word is “yumola.” The food, the whole experience better be yummy! Like you’re having dinner in your place but don’t have to do the dishes. If we keep doing that, we’re here to stay.
Welcome home, Andrew!
Breuckelen is located at 268 Clinton Street in Cobble Hill.