One day not too long ago, the team behind Egg, the Williamsburg breakfast and lunch spot known for sourcing produce from its very own farm upstate and for its simple-but-refined Southern fare, decided to open a new restaurant to explore the great, deep, sea of possibility that is dinner, and to embark upon a culinary exploration of the foggy fields of Northeastern regional cuisine – a multi-faceted, many-layered, accretion of historical, cultural, agricultural and cooking traditions that has yet, thankfully, to be codified or officially mapped.
And so, Parish Hall was born. We stoped by to chat with chef Evan Hanczor about the restaurant’s mission, and to try some duck.
So Evan, what should we try today?
I think our duck dish would be a good one. It’s roasted duck breast with spaetzle, shaved Brussels sprouts, green garlic, pickled mustard seeds and a caramelized pear puree.
Tell us about it.
Sure I’ll start with the spaetzle and we can work our way through it from there.
We decided to use spaetzle as a base for the dish because it’s something everyone here really likes and it’s something we hadn’t used here before. Making spaetzle is really simple. It’s just eggs, milk, and flour – like a dumpling or pasta, with just a little bit of black pepper. The flour is from Cayuga Pure Organics. We use their flour for just about all of our baking. It’s sort of between a whole wheat and a white flour, so you have both the nuttiness and complex flavors of the wheat but you still have the texture you’d expect from white flour. The thing that stands out the most about their flour is the flavor. They’re a pretty small operation, so their flour is very fresh. There’s a little more of the life and flavor of the grain there, and it’s noticeable.
You cook the spaetzle briefly in salted water, then let it cool down. Later, after we finish roasting the duck breast, we leave some of the rendered duck fat in the pan and add a little butter and we crisp the spaetzle in the duck fat and butter. It takes on a nice buttery, duck flavor and a nice crisp, toasted exterior that adds nice texture to the dish.
Then to the spaetzle we add in some green garlic, which probably won’t be around too much longer – you get it in spring and you get a second kick of it in late fall. We add a mirepoix – usually carrot, turnips, leek and celery root cut very small, just to give the dish that nice vegetable flavor base. If you were painting, the mirepoix would be like your first coat of paint. Everything else would build on top of that.
Then we have some Brussels sprouts that we’ve shaved and charred, so you have a little bit of that grilled element in the dish. We don’t cook them all the way through, so you still get a little bit of crunch from the Brussels to go with the crispness of the spaetzle. We add some fresh Brussels sprout shavings in there too, for color and a fresh green flavor. And we add a few roasted vegetables – some carrots, some radishes. That all comes together as the base for the duck.
As for the duck itself, we use duck from John Fazio’s farm in Modena, about an hour north of here. He also supplies us with rabbit. It’s a great operation. They’ve been around for a while and they do good work and produce a great product. The duck is the perfect size and it’s really flavorful.
When we first get the ducks in, we hang them in the walk-in in a light salt and sugar cure for anywhere from seven to ten days. That allows them to dry out a bit – it removes some of the excess moisture from the meat, concentrating the flavor and helping to tenderize it a little bit.
Once the ducks are done aging, we butcher them, and we roast the bones to begin the stock that we’ll use to braise the dark meat of the duck’s leg, and that we’ll use in the sauce that finishes the dish. The bones pick up a lot of that intensely gamey duck flavor during the aging process too, so the stock you get from the bones is pretty remarkable – it really has a lot of intense flavor.
We slowly braise the dark leg meat in the stock over a low heat to keep it really tender. We add pieces of that tender leg meat to the spaetzle and vegetables on the plate, to bring that nice, gamey duck flavor and a different texture into that part of the dish
The duck breast is kind of the centerpiece. To make it, we score it and put it fat side down in a pan for a few minutes to let the fat render, and then we put the pan into the oven to roast for a few more minutes. When that’s done it goes on the top of the dish.
So between the duck leg and the duck breast, you get two experiences of duck in one dish. That’s something we like to do with a lot of plates here – if a dish features lamb or pork or any number of things, we like to try to serve it a couple of different ways on the plate to try to show off the ingredient in different ways without being overbearing.
When it’s ready to plate, we start with the pear puree, which we make with caramelized pears and onions, pureed together with a little bit of duck stock and butter. It brings some more of that nice caramelized flavor to the dish. The puree goes on the plate first, then the spaetzle, Brussels sprouts and vegetables along with some of the braised dark leg meat, and the duck breast goes on top.
At the very end we add some pickled mustard seeds, which have a really nice texture and pop that you don’t get from any of the other components. It gives you something that’s hard to find anywhere, really – a caviar-type burst of sweetness and acidity and mustard flavor. We wanted to have mustard in the dish, but in a way that was a little more exciting. [laughter.] The pickled mustard gave us that.
We go for flavors that are both complimentary, that bring the dish into balance, and also flavors that stand out. You want a dish to have high notes and low notes. In this one, you get those caramelized notes in a few places – in the puree, in the duck that’s been browned in the pan, and in the spaetzle that have been crisped in the pan. Those all give you those really nice, savory, slightly sweet browning flavors. Those form a really nice kind of deep, dark base for the dish.
Then you have the vegetal flavor in the mirepoix, the Brussels sprouts, and the roasted vegetables. The Brussels sprouts also give you that char flavor. Not everything tastes good with a char. Brussels sprouts or any kind of brassicas tend to take really well to charred flavors, and a little char is something we always like to try to bring into a dish.
The duck leg meat brings the really ducky, gamey flavor at the heart of the dish. The flavor gets really concentrated in the process of aging the meat, and the meat is really tender because we braise it slowly. And of course you get those flavors in the duck breast too.
And then there are the mustard seeds which add a sweet, acidic pop that’s really surprising to find in a savory dish. The tang picks all of the other flavors up. So when you’re eating the dish, you’ll take a forkful of some of the vegetables and a piece of duck and those warm, caramelized, gamey and vegetable flavors come together really nicely. The pickled mustard seeds just brighten everything else up nicely.
Are you still getting any produce from Goatfell (the restaurant’s farm) at this time of year?
Not much. We just had some beets and some greens come down from the farm, but at this time of year the supply is really dwindling. When our own supply starts to fade away for the winter, pretty much all the vegetables we use come from farms that we like at the Greenmarkets.
So how did you end up cooking for a living?
I was born in Tarrytown, then lived in Orlando, Florida, for about eight years before my parents moved us back to the Northeast, to Redding, Connecticut.
I went to college in New Orleans. My last semester there I started cooking – if you can even really call it that – in this shack of a place. It was called Ye Olde College Inn, and it was basically the place people went to after Tulane baseball games. I made stuff like fried oyster and bacon po’ boys, and oyster and artichoke soup out of a can. I wasn’t serious about cooking or anything. It was just kind of a fun job meant to make a little extra money. I didn’t expect to pursue it in any way.
After college I moved back home to Connecticut to start looking for jobs in editing and publishing. While I was looking for that sort of thing, I started cooking at a restaurant in Westport, Connecticut, a few miles from where I lived, called The Dressing Room. I didn’t know anything about the place. I just walked in and asked for a job. It turned out to be one of the best restaurants in Connecticut. I had no idea. Had I known that I never even would have applied. [laughter.]
When I first started, the chef said, “OK, why don’t you work the grill?” The grill was this huge wood-burning grill. My job wasn’t just cooking things on it, it was making sure it was stocked with the right kinds of wood, and getting it lit and keeping the fire going, maintaining the right temperatures. It was pretty intense, an in addition to that I had no idea how to cook meat to temperature or anything like that. But I figured it out.
That’s where I first started actually thinking about food. The owner is a chef named Michel Nischan. He opened the place with Paul Newman. He’s been a big advocate of sustainable food and of supporting good local farmers and producers for a long time. There was a farmers market in the parking lot of the restaurant every week. We bought almost everything we served from local farms and fishermen and dairies.
I had never thought about any of those things, but the more I was around it and the more I learned about it all the more the whole approach rang true. And it changed the way I saw the place where I lived. There were all these great small farms producing really high quality produce right in and around the town I grew up in and I had never even known they existed. I had never paid attention to any of them. I had no idea they were special in any way. To me, it had always just been a boring town in the woods where there was nothing to do. So in addition to learning a lot about cooking and food there, I started to see the place I was from, and really the whole region and the whole planet in an entirely new way.
I was there for about a year. It was great, but I still wasn’t completely sure that I wanted to make a career out of cooking. I had never intended to, but I was liking it a lot. So I decided to move to the city and find out. That’s what you do if you think you want to cook – you come to New York to see if you can hack it.
I found a job at Locanda Verde in Tribeca. Amazing restaurant. Huge operation. I think a little too huge for me. It wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned. It wasn’t quite right for me. So I ended up leaving, and when I was looking for something else, I found my way to Egg. As with the place in Connecticut, I knew nothing about Egg at first. [laughter.] I got along pretty well with George. I loved that we had our own farm upstate supplying the kitchen. After a few months of cooking there I took on more responsibility and eventually I was running the kitchen there.
In terms of ending up here at Parish Hall, I just got lucky with the timing. When George decided to open a second restaurant, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. At Egg, we’ve explored Southern cooking for a long time. What we’re trying to do here is to explore Northeastern regional cuisine. I grew up thinking of the Northeast as on giant suburb. In reality it has an incredibly rich agricultural and culinary history and heritage. We try to ask ourselves what Northeastern cuisine is, or could be. We don’t claim to have an answer. It’s more of a question. It’s a question we try to answer every day.
Parish Hall is located at 109a North 3rd Street, between Wythe and Berry in Williamsburg.
Photography by Morgan Ione Yeager. All rights reserved.