Traveling against the flow of human traffic, Nick Morgenstern left the General Greene — and fair Brooklyn — behind to set up shop in the East Village. Goat Town opened a few weeks ago, billing itself as a market-to-table restaurant with an unbeatable raw bar. Morgenstern talks about the transition to his new spot.
Tell us more about the concept at Goat Town.
We’re a full-service restaurant doing business for dinner seven days a week, and brunch on the weekends. My partner is the chef here; his name is Joel Hough. He most recently was at Cookshop and brings a seasonally driven menu — locally sourced products whenever it makes sense for us. The beverage program is a lot of natural wine products. We don’t have a liquor license so all of our cocktails are either wine- or beer-based.
What’s the transition like from Brooklyn to the East Village?
I’ve always lived and worked in Manhattan. The General Greene was my only experience in Brooklyn. While I enjoyed my time in Brooklyn, I’m excited to be doing business in Manhattan.
Do you have any favorite neighborhood spots?
Prune, for sure. I think they’re one of the quintessential New York restaurants. They do an amazing job there. Il Buco — I have a lot of fun there. I’m up at Elsa a fair amount. Their crew comes over here, and we’ve been other there. I’m also at Abraço every day. I love that place. I think that Jamie [McCormick] and his crew are doing the best coffee in New York.
What’s the story behind the name of the restaurant?
Goat Town is the Anglo-Saxon translation of the Dutch word “Gotham.” It was coined by Washington Irving when he was writing a weekly political satire called Salmagundi. My partner and I share a birthday, and our birthday is the same as Washington Irving’s, so we had this shared interest in it. Just having a reference for language for a restaurant is a lot of fun when you’re writing menus or cocktail items.
How do you feel you’re setting yourself apart from other places that have market-driven cuisine?
Our menu offerings are larger, especially for a small restaurant. We have an incredible oyster program where we have no less than five different kinds of oysters here a night. On top of that, we have other crustaceans available as a part of the raw-bar selection. Joel cooks the food really from what he feels is fresh in the moment. He doesn’t over-prepare anything. There’s a fair amount of technique behind the choices that he makes, but when the food gets to the table, it appears really simple. The flavors are well-defined.
Are there any trends in dining that you’re excited about these days?
I don’t know if we necessarily follow trends. I know New York magazine had this big piece on pig in last week’s edition, which is kind of funny. Pig has been done a lot. Joel cooks what he thinks is good. With fish, specifically, he shops based on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s listing of what’s OK to eat right now and what’s not being overfished. It changes all the time. So, we make sure we’re complying with the recommendations.
Are there any trends you’re sick of hearing about?
On the beverage side, we have plans to put a cask ale on the menu, so hopefully that won’t be a trend. I believe that kind of product is really excellent when it’s served properly. My partner spent a lot of time in England drinking room-temperature beer and thinks it tastes better. So, if something starts to be popular, hopefully it’s because it’s high-quality.
Stay tuned tomorrow for Part II of the interview.
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 22, 2010