When months-old seafood-centric corner spot Tiny Fork closed up shop, veteran restaurateur Rob Shamlian didn’t give up the lease. Instead, he retooled the address into The Derby (167 Orchard Street, 212-777-8469), a Southern concept inspired by a range of that region’s fare, from South Carolina’s low-country cuisine to Cajun flavors of Louisiana. “We’re not trying to be a Cajun or a barbecue place,” says chef Jeff Kreisel. “We’re trying to take ideas from all different states, all different cuisines from the south, not just one specific place.”
To wit, the menu is loaded with salads made with ingredients like white peaches, candied pecans, and pancetta; a patty melt with pimento cheese; cornmeal-crusted fried chicken livers; brisket tacos; and, of course, biscuits from scratch. Despite the regional homage, though, the kitchen places emphasis on sourcing local and organic products whenever possible, and it’s lightened up traditional dishes considerably.
“Southern food doesn’t have to be greasy…you don’t have to take a nap after you eat at The Derby,” says Kreisel. But you should pair your meal to a whiskey-based cocktail; the bar deals mint juleps — what else would be appropriate for a restaurant named after a famous julep-fueled horse race? — and other classic cocktails like the gold rush and boulevardier. The Derby is still awaiting its liquor license for its downstairs bar, which will eventually serve as a cocktail lounge.
We caught up with Shamlian, who is also a proprietor of LES beer bar Spitzer’s Corner . On the next page, the owner tells us about why he closed Tiny Fork — and why The Derby is a better fit for the neighborhood.
At what point did you make the decision to transition from Tiny Fork to The Derby? Was The Derby an idea you had been wanting to put in motion for awhile?
Opening a Southern-style restaurant has always been an idea I’ve wanted to put in motion, but it never seemed to be the right timing or location. I love Southern food and the friendly, hospitable culture that goes along with it, so after we hit a few speed bumps with Tiny Fork, I decided to make this my passion project and open a restaurant with The Derby concept I had always envisioned.
What did you learn by transitioning from Tiny Fork to The Derby in such a quick time period? What was that experience like?
Transitioning the restaurant was not easy. We added in warm wood paneling and brass-studded slat benches that were custom built by Brooklyn artisans to give the space an authentic character that only comes from things crafted by hand. The experience was stressful but well worth the hard work we put into it. I’m very happy with the result and think my passion for the restaurant really shows in the details.
Does the closing of Tiny Fork mean Lower East Siders just aren’t that into seafood? What was it about a Southern-style restaurant that was so appealing? What do you think will make this place resonate with the neighborhood?
Southern food is a better fit for the location, and the inviting, “Southern hospitality” atmosphere — combined with delicious, upscale Southern-inspired dishes — really resonates with the neighborhood. The Derby concept is something I’m very passionate about. Patrons are encouraged to come for the mouthwatering biscuits and organic fried chicken and stay for the lively atmosphere and delicious bourbon cocktails…and I think that’s the type of restaurant Lower East Sider’s are looking for.