Checking in on Exchange Alley After Sandy [Updated]
Leonel Valdez, a cook at Exchange Alley, works by flashlight tonight
This post was originally published on the morning of Friday, November 2
It's not the ideal moment to publish a restaurant review in New York, and certainly not of a place in the East Village struggling to keep business going without power. But such was the print schedule that my piece on Exchange Alley (424 E. 9th St.) ran this week right alongside our Sandy coverage.
Chef/owner Paul Gerard is a New Yorker who worked as a cook in New Orleans for many years before moving back to the city and opening his own place here. I reached out to Gerard via email to see how he and his team were doing (see his update below).
I wrote in the review that Exchange Alley's crew "knows how to work with what they've got." I was referring to their space, and to the cocktails they're mixing without a liquor license, which cleverly make use of soju, sake, beer, and sherry.
Power may be out, but the grill is going strong
I learned via Twitter that there's more to that now. Our apartments are dark and cold, our offices closed, but in the blackout of lower Manhattan, that kitchen is doing what it can with limited supplies, outfitting cooks with flashlights so they can work grills in the darkness, and lighting candles in the dining room so residents have somewhere bright to go. This is about community and resilience, but restaurants also need to stay open to survive: Every day they're closed for business is a devastating financial blow.
Manhattan is apparently scheduled to get power back today (though many other places will be waiting until next weekend). This means you may not have to wait long for a taste of those fried Jambalaya balls with dirty gravy. Meanwhile, I strongly suggest stopping in for drinks, snacks, and a sense of togetherness.
[UPDATE] On Saturday, we heard back from Gerard. He says the restaurant was without power, but undamaged, and that after living for so many years in New Orleans, he had taken the warnings very seriously. The restaurant reopened on Tuesday morning and stayed open throughout the blackout. Gerard's partner Matt Hanley is a New York firefighter who helped to supply the restaurant with ice, a generator, and beer. Gerard slept on a friend's couch one night and in the restaurant the others.
Here's what he told us about staying open after Sandy:
Tuesday "We opened. I emptied my refrigerators, made a big buffet, and gave the food away. We boiled water to wash plates/silverware, and when the linen ran out we moved to bev naps."
Wednesday "As everything thawed from freezer, we made a short menu and had a 'pay what you will' sign up. Some had cash, some didn't, but everyone who came in ate and drank (we were charging for wine and beer)."
Thursday/Friday "My friend Sisha Ortuzar, of Riverpark, supplied me with items from his giant freezer that held temp for days, and with dry goods like risotto, polenta and cellar/root vegetables. We were able to make a very comforting menu."
Power came back on Friday night to most of the neighborhood, including Exchange Alley. The restaurant will be serving a limited menu tonight ("no meat!" says Gerard). After a long week without missing a service, EA will close Sunday and Monday, bouncing back on Tuesday with a full menu.
Tonight is a night to go downtown and support small restaurants like this one, which have either been closed or giving away food in the darkness. Take your friends. Reciprocate the generosity these places showed us throughout the week: tip as well as you possibly can. This is just the beginning of what will be a long recovery for our restaurants.
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