Do or Dine’s Justin Warner On Why Brunch Sucks: Interview Part 2


Photo: Maggie Hoffman at Serious Eats

Yesterday we talked with Justin Warner, chef and part-owner of Bed-Stuy’s Do or Dine, about the controversy over his foie gras doughnuts, becoming a chef with no traditional culinary training, and why all food can be categorized as either a sandwich or nachos. Today he talks to us about his favorite restaurant, where he looks for inspiration, and why brunch at most restaurants is lame.

Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York?

A lot of our inspiration came from Sake Bar Hagi in Midtown. We just wanted to open a similar place, where you could just come and chill after work and get as hammered as you want and eat as much as you want. It might not have the best food in the world or the best drinks in the world, but at least it’s interesting. You don’t go to Hagi because you’re really into Japanese food; you go to Hagi because they have some really weird shit on the menu. They had this beef liver sashimi on the menu for the longest time. It’s what kept bringing me back to the restaurant.

Where else do you look for inspiration?

We throw ideas around, we like to look at the markets in Bed-Stuy. Like, we saw callaloo and we thought, “What is callaloo? Why didn’t we ever see it at the Modern? Why can’t we serve it?” So we look for inspiration everywhere. Sitting through a 15-course meal, sometimes we’ll see one dish we’ve never seen before and think how we can do it differently. Luke [Jackson, Do or Dine’s bartender] always says, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”

What’s on the horizon for Do or Dine? Are you planning on doing brunch service?

We don’t have a liquor license yet, and I don’t believe in a liquorless brunch, so we’re waiting on that. I really like doing brunch because I hate brunch. Brunch is basically home to the biggest gastronomic cop-outs ever. It’s all the same poached eggs, hollandaise bullshit. They’ll take a burger and put like an egg on it and be like, “Oh my God, look, it’s fucking brunch.”

We’ll just try to do crazy shit. I was on this TV show 24 Hour Restaurant Battle and I did a brunch restaurant where I made beef tenderloin with waffles, plum jelly, and Sriracha-cilantro butter. There’s no reason we can’t put that on the menu here.

Once we get the liquor license it’s going to really give us the time and money to explore new dishes. We’re going to have a late-night menu, and we’ll probably experiment with some kind of happy-hour concept. We were thinking of doing a tartar bar. Everybody does oysters. There’s this weird subservience thing going on when watching one man shuck your oysters; it grosses me out. So we’re just probably going to do some raw meat and fish or something, I don’t know. It matters what side of the bed I wake up on in the morning. Maybe we’ll just ditch the whole thing and reopen as a Jamaican restaurant.

Do you have a favorite thing on the menu?

I guess the nachos. It’s the only thing on the menu I’m not sick of; I could eat a tray of it. The crowd likes the fish and chips. We take a whole fish and fry it and serve it with twice-fried chips and a yuzu-shallot relish. It’s fun and not what people are expecting. People hear “fish and chips” and they think of beer-battered English crap.

What kind of crowd do you get?

We get everything, man. We get old folks, young kids who just came to the neighborhood, people who have been in the neighborhood forever, adventure diners, photo diners, kids who think we’re a club. Everybody is pretty chill. We don’t get many huffy guests. If you come into this place not looking to have a good time, we’re not really amped to serve you. I think humorless dining is like dining without salt. Shouldn’t everything we do be fun, or why are we doing it? I dine to let my hair down and to feel restored, not to feel self-conscious because I didn’t clip my toenails or my underwear is inside out.

The décor probably helps warn away stuffy diners.

We have that skull pile inlay as a doormat, which I showed to my mom and she said, “Well, that’s not really a welcoming sign.” I said, “If you can’t get over that, then you probably shouldn’t eat here.” If you can’t deal with that, just wait until you bite into a waffle filled with liver bits.

Who designed the décor?

Perry [Gargano, co-owner] is a designer by trade and he has a lot of experience with that kind of shit. He basically said what he wanted to do, and we fought him on it, and in the end he still ended up doing what he wanted to do. George [McNeese, chef and co-owner] and I laid out the kitchen, and Luke laid out the bar. In terms of the aesthetic of the entire place, that’s all Perry. George picked out the disco ball, that’s about it.