MORE

At Bowery Beef, No 'Farm to Fucking Table'

Gray Burton, behind the Bowery Beef counter.
Gray Burton, behind the Bowery Beef counter.
Rebecca Marx

Gray Burton stands in the Bowery Poetry Club, surveying the lay of the land. "Up there, we'll have every pot and pan you ever dreamed of," he says, gesturing to the wall above a long stainless-steel display case. A life-sized iron eagle with a broken foot rests on the case, which is filled with books.

"And there," Burton continues, his hand sweeping toward the ceiling, "there will be enormous chandeliers. We're going to have French birdcages, plates, lights, architectural pieces from Savannah, everything that's the opposite of what a roast beef place would be. I'd describe it as punk rock meets French restaurant meets Bowery kitchen row."

Last month, the space was being described as the Manhattan branch of Harrison's, a legendary Boston-area roast beef shop. But according to Ray LeMoine, one of the partners behind the project, "people hate Boston." So now it's being called Bowery Beef.

While Burton, the restaurant's designer, has been scavenging warehouses across the South for the abundant furnishings and decorations that will adorn the 30-seat space -- "I'm a maximalist," he explains -- LeMoine and his partner, Mike Herman, have been attending to the myriad tasks of opening a restaurant, like finding an apartment for their slicer, Patrick Sweetra. Sweetra, a Harrison's vet of 15 years, had never been to New York prior to moving here to open the restaurant. So far, Manhattan agrees with him. "People are a lot friendlier here than in Boston," says Sweetra, who is built like an aircraft carrier. "There, they just wanna fight."

"Patrick is giving up his life of crime to move here," LeMoine says half-jokingly. "They're all legitimate criminals up there." LeMoine worked at Harrison's, which he describes as a "notorious drug den" run by "Deadhead Phish-heads," as a teenager. He was fired on his first day. "I've never made a sandwich in my life," he says cheerfully.

Sweetra remembers the Harrison's staff a bit differently. "They're really good people," he says. "It's difficult to describe. They have a loyal customer base. I always enjoyed working there." Even so, he was receptive to LeMoine's offer. "I had had enough. I wanted to do something different."

LeMoine, a self-described "underemployed news producer and journalist," has never run a restaurant before. Herman -- he of Mike's Apartment infamy -- has owned two in South Jersey. But they're both certain that they want Bowery Beef to sell only a $5 roast beef sandwich, albeit one served with Blue Bottle coffee.

 

To that end, they're currently conducting an exhaustive search for someone who can supply them with James River BBQ Sauce, which is used at Harrison's and just about every other roast beef shop in Massachusetts. But the sauce, a product of Smithfield Hams, doesn't have much of a customer base in New York (though you can buy four bottles for $29 on Amazon), so finding a distributor has been a bit of a problem.

"We're talking to someone," says LeMoine. He's considered having a guy drive up to Massachusetts to source the stuff, Mile End-Montreal-bagel-style.

He's less concerned with where the beef will come from. "We go out of our way not to be farm to fucking table," he says. "If we were in Brooklyn, fine. But we're in a fucking poetry club."

LeMoine and Herman are planning to open Bowery Beef by next Thursday or Friday, though "'hoping' may be a better word," LeMoine says. They'll start out serving coffee and bagels and lox from 7 a.m., and roast beef from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Ultimately, they'd like to be open close to 24 hours a day to better serve those attending events at the poetry club. Although the restaurant is separate from the club, it, too, will serve as a performance space of sorts:its walls, Burton says, will be a "revolving gallery" featuring the work of various artists.

When Bowery Beef does start serving its sandwiches, they'll be piled with thinly sliced beef cut from top round that has been allowed to rest for one and a half hours after cooking to allow its juices to distribute evenly.

Sweetra won't be eating them. "I don't dislike roast beef, but I'm around it 14 to 18 hours a day," he says. "I look forward to cooking it here, but you probably won't see me walking out of the shop with a sandwich." For a recent Massachusetts expat, he's not particularly nostalgic for the foods of his homeland. "I'm sick of roast beef," he says with a shrug. "And allergic to lobster."

Check out Robert Sietsema's review of the Bowery Beef roast beef sandwich

Have a tip or restaurant-related news? Send it to fork@villagevoice.com.


Sponsor Content