Family Meal


“There may be an ounce of butter— or five—in the risotto,” Sean Rembold tells the servers at Marlow and Sons. The sous chef is rather handsome in his thick black Ray Bans, and rather serious. The staff take notes between bites of pizza and a delicious mishmash of zucchini, chickpeas, capers, and crunchy raw diced carrots. Rembold isn’t eating, though: The oysters are for the servers to taste so they can describe them starting in half an hour, when dinner service begins.

“I’ll have that up and running around six, so keep that in mind. I’m talking to you, Johnny.” Johnny, a server/bartender, stammers—jokingly—in his own defense.

Around 4:30 every day, all over New York, restaurant staffs sit down, or in some cases, line up—for a family meal before the doors open for business. At some places, it’s a feast; at others, it’s lackluster leftovers. It can be social time or a meeting. Usually at Marlow and Sons, the cooks and servers eat together, but today the kitchen is extra-busy. “We don’t do the five-course-meal thing here,” Rembold says, “but we don’t put out, like, ‘mystery meat’ either.”

Tom Budny, a manager, is Rembold’s somewhat goofy front-of-house counterpart. He is rolling a pizza cutter through a pie and chuckling with delight. “I’ve never done this before in my life! Seriously, this is so much fun,” he announces.

The Marlow and Sons menu is a simple one, but it is elaborately appended, depending on whim and availability. Tonight there’s a creamless cream-of-mushroom soup, and a pork stew that has me considering sticking around for dinner.

“This is from the whole Berkshire pig,” Rembold says. “We removed the braising parts, which is basically everything but the loin, and then roasted the loin. So the loin goes on top of the stew. It’s quite affordable at $18.” The crowd lets out a tiny giggle.

“Is it true that we let Diner keep the feet?” a server asks. “That’s not fair.”

“Perhaps we need to start some kind of pig-part rotation,” Rembold suggests. Then he returns to his business-like earnestness and thanks the severs for their performance over the busy weekend. The New Yorker had a favorable review the previous week. “You guys have done a slammin’ job,” he says.

There’s a new server at the table, Jamie, who might be either too nervous or too bored to speak, but he takes meticulous notes. For his benefit, Tom has Johnny and another server, Sandy, demonstrate how they would describe the specials to guests. “My point is not to script you,” Tom says. “It’s not like, ‘Hi, my name is Jamie and I’ll be your server tonight,’ but there are certain things you have to say, like ‘There are nuts in both of the desserts tonight,’ or ‘There are bones in the fish.’ Someone sent back the tart tatin the other night because they didn’t know there was ice cream on top.”

After a brief tasting of the new white wine, an Anjou blanc from Chateau Soucherie, it’s five o’clock exactly. The dishes disappear and the staff scatters.