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Polenta with a simple sauce made with preserved summer tomatoes, topped with beets, shredded cabbage, fennel fronds and pickled peppers, with a baked egg, at Eat.

Every restaurant has a thing – new school or old school, creative or traditional, chic or casual, destination or neighborhood fave. The driving force at Jordan Colon’s Eat in Greenpoint? Simplicity. Almost everything at Eat, including the tables and chairs, is made by from scratch, by hand, by Jordan and his network of family and friends.

Ingredients are sourced from friends with farms. When it comes to the food, the focus is on fewer ingredients rather than more, to give each its own voice, in every dish. The place hums with the rare sort of beauty and serenity that can only emerge when extreme attention to detail is combined with a devotion to keeping things simple, real, and close to home.

We stopped by to chat with Seth Colon, Jordan’s brother, who, like Jordan, has a hand in everything from making the furniture to cooking the food.

So Seth, what should we try today?

I’m going to make you our polenta with tomato sauce, seasonal vegetables, and baked egg. We do variations on this polenta dish a lot, for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner. It’s a great meal anytime. It changes throughout the year depending on what’s in season. Right now since we’re pretty much in the deep of winter, we’re serving it with shredded cabbage and roasted beets.

Polenta is just ground corn. In the South, they call it grits. The Italians call it polenta. We call it polenta because we think it sounds pretty, and because the way we use them is a little more in line with the Italian approach to cooking than the Southern way. But they’re the same thing.

We get our polenta from a farm upstate called Cayuga Pure Organics. They’re at several of the city Greenmarkets, and they have beautiful grains. We bake the polenta in a terra cotta pot in the oven each morning. It’s very simple. We bake it slowly in water with a little olive oil and garlic, a touch of hot dried cayenne peppers, and at the end we add some sage. It bakes for about an hour, and we stir it a few times while it cooks. Some people cook their polenta with cream. We don’t, because it has such great flavor on its own.

When it’s freshly baked in the morning, right when it comes out of the oven, the polenta is really creamy. As the day goes on, it starts to become more firm. So in the afternoons we move it to a pan to let it dry a bit, and then before serving it we’ll fry it lightly in a cast iron pan. It’s really good either way – its texture just changes as the day goes on.

Everything about Eat is a study in simplicity, from the name, to the furniture, to the food. Everything is done from scratch, by hand, by Jordan, Seth, and friends.

The sauce is very simple too. We get these beautiful preserved tomatoes from an Amish woman in Pennsylvania. She takes fresh, ripe, in-season August tomatoes and preserves them with nothing else added. They’re the real deal. Just pure, ripe summer tomatoes, canned. It’s pretty amazing to be able to have that flavor of perfectly ripe summer tomatoes in the middle of winter.

We start with that, and then add some sautéed shallots or leeks or white onion, depending on what we have or what we feel like doing that day. We’ll add some garlic too, olive oil, some fresh herbs like sage or rosemary or thyme, and a touch of maple syrup. We might add a little red wine if we have some, or not. It just depends on what we have in the kitchen and what we feel like doing that day.

We prefer to use fewer ingredients rather than more, because we really want the flavor of each ingredient we do use to shine. That’s part of the approach that we have here. We want you to be able to taste everything. We don’t want too much going on.

Then we add some seasonal vegetables to the dish. At this time of year we get pretty much all of our stuff at the Union Square Greenmarket. We go twice a week and get whatever looks good. During the growing season we get most of our produce from a friend of ours who has a farm upstate in the Catskills. Their season ends around November, but in season they drive down a huge order for us every week.

Today, we’re going to use a little sautéed onion and shredded red cabbage and beets. I picked up some nice coriander seeds at Union Square this morning, from Rogowski Farm. Coriander is the seed of a cilantro plant, and they’ve been growing them in their greenhouses. It’s really nice to have a fresh, local spice available at this time of year. So that goes in with the veggies too.

We use all organic, seasonal, local ingredients here, and we do that because we really want the flavors of our vegetables to be the focus of our dishes here, so it’s important for us to use the highest quality vegetables that we can find.

Then we make the egg. We bake the egg in the oven. It’s a little nicer than frying the egg, because it cooks really nicely and evenly. It doesn’t get the crispy edges that you often get in a fried egg. It just has a nice texture.

So we start the plate with the polenta on the bottom, then the tomato sauce on top of that, the veggies, and the egg. I’m going to use some fennel fronds as a garnish today, because I was able to get some nice fennel at the market today. That’s what we have, and it’s beautiful, so that’s what I’ll use. We do a lot of pickling here too, so today I think I’ll add a few pickled peppers as well.

The polenta has a really nice earthy, creamy flavor that works really well with the tomato sauce, and a hint of heat from the dried cayenne pepper. The sage in the polenta, the herbs in the tomato sauce, and the fennel garnish add a nice aromatic note. The cabbage adds some crunch, and along with the beets, that kind of deep winter vegetable flavor. The pickled pepper gives the dish a little heat and a little acid that lifts everything up. And when you cut into the egg, the yolk runs down through everything and kind of brings the whole dish together.

Seth Colon in the kitchen at Eat.

So Seth, how did you end up here, doing this?

I’m from Pennsylvania. Lancaster. My brother Jordan opened this restaurant. I helped him out in the beginning with a bunch of different things, and then I left for a while to pursue a career in art. I was doing a lot of painting at the time. I still do paint, I just don’t try to make my living off it like I used to.

A couple of years ago I asked if he needed any help. I really like cooking, and I liked what Jordan had created here. I first got really interested in cooking when I began to realize how easy it can be to make very good food. I wanted to come back and do more cooking. He said, “Yeah, it would be great to have you back onboard.”

So for the past few years I’ve been helping him out here. I’ve learned a lot from him and from other friends who are cooks, from people who’ve come here to work. As cooks they’ve all brought their own things to the table and we’ve learned from them and they’ve learned from us. It’s been a growing process from the beginning. It’s never stopped evolving. And that’s one of the things I really like about it here. We’re always growing, changing, evolving.


 

Eat is located at 124 Meserole Avenue, between Eckford and Leonard, in Greenpoint.

Photography by Morgan Ione Yeager. All rights reserved.

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