When Andrew Burman and company moved into the old Anima space on Myrtle Avenue in Clinton Hill, they weren’t sure just how to handle the six-foot wood oven left by the building’s previous tenant. The restaurant they planned to open, The Runner (458 Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-643-6500), wouldn’t be an Italian restaurant or a pizza place, and Burman didn’t have any meaningful experience working with a wood oven.
Still, he decided to keep it, and now much of the menu of this new New American outpost, which opened February 3, runs through the oven. “We use it for everything,” Burman says. “All the roasts come out of it, we’re doing a baked trout and a lamb shoulder — I use it in so many different ways; I can use it to just fire and sear off something, and cover it and let it braise, or we use it to braise something off in the beginning, where it’s covered, and we go nice and slow.”
The restaurant is named for a few lines in Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, which the poet wrote on Ryerson Street in 1900, a few blocks from where the restaurant is located. Cuisine from Whitman’s time informs the menu, which is organized by dish rather than course (except for “starters,” which break the mold) and is served piecemeal, meant to be mixed and matched. “Everything sort of goes with everything, and people can sort of eat what they want,” the erstwhile Court Street Grocers chef says.
Take a look at the soups, maybe try a butternut squash soup with black butter and honey ($8), or keep it simple with chicken noodle ($7). Perhaps enjoy them with one of Burman’s house-made breads, which include popovers, brioche, and tongue focaccia (all $6), and then peruse the roasts, vegetables, salads, and sides.
“The idea of having a meat and a starch and a vegetable on a plate together is sort of a newer thing,” Burman says, “And we wanted to take it back a little bit and do a modern cuisine in sort of an older style,” the chef says.
Burman says he spent a lot of time looking at menus from the 1880s and allowed old-fashioned American cuisine inform the menu while updating dishes and making them his own. “The lamb [shoulder roast] is a good example of that,” he says. “I do it with cinnamon, and it’s heavily spiced, but you really don’t get that when you’re eating it. You just get a very warm sensation, but when people are tasting it, they can’t really put their finger on it.”
And everything, down to the hamburger rolls, is made from scratch. “Everything has been touched, and everything has been made with purpose,” he says. “I feel like that’s one of the most important things about cooking — for a chef — that everything has your name on it, so that people can know that this is what your food tastes like.”
Burman wanted to make the menu unique and an expression of his interests, but he also focused on making the menu accessible to a super diverse, fast-changing neighborhood. On a block now home to an upscale grocery, a longtime bodega, and a soul food place, Burman wanted to provide a nice place for people to enjoy an upscale dinner without pigeon-holing The Runner into “special occasion” status. “We feel like there’s a lot of opportunity due to the diversity of the neighborhood, and we tried to make the menu approachable,” he says. “Approachability is super important for a restaurant in a diverse neighborhood where you’re catering to different people.”
Burman says it’s a change from cooking in Carroll Gardens, “where you pretty much know what people are going to like.” He says he’s feeling it out, seeing what works and what doesn’t, but focusing on kicking neighborhood cuisine up a notch: “We’re trying to give people something a little better, where the price is a little more, but you’re getting full service, and you’re getting a place where you’re not cramped and where the bartenders care and the servers care and the cooks care…You’re not different because you say you are, you’re different because everything you do is on that plate.”
The kind of place where people remember who you are, kind of like a neighborhood bistro. He appreciates people coming back, appreciates seeing familiar faces who checked in during the build-out and who are now coming in to eat. “It’s really nice to have a culture of support from the neighborhood here.”
Which is important, because in residential Clinton Hill, “You’re really relying on the neighborhood to support you,” Burman says. “You hope to draw people in from outside, but it’s really all in the neighborhood. There’s a one-mile circle around the restaurant, and that’s where you’re making 90 percent of your money, where in Manhattan, you can be on 13th Street, and people are coming in from everywhere and anywhere: Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, Upper/Lower Manhattan.”
And the owner is moving to neighborhood soon; he just bought a house three blocks away. “I really think it’s important to be working in the neighborhood that you live in, and I feel even more so now,” he says.