While he was traveling in Denmark with friends, Ed Carew, former executive chef at Spasso (and Craftbar and Gramercy Tavern alum), was taken to a casual Italian spot called Un Mercato, basically an outdoor market where roasted meats are the specialty. Guests walked up to the counter to order before taking a seat on the heated patio. The simple cuts of meat were so good, Carew tells the Voice, that he was blown away: “It was cooler than any Michelin-starred restaurant I visited.” He decided to bring the concept back to the States, and with that the seeds for his recent venture, Broken Spoke (439 Third Avenue; 212-889-6298), began to germinate.
Rather than execute a carbon copy, Carew drew inspiration for Broken Spoke from his peregrinations to other parts of the planet. He frequently visits Central America with his yoga instructor girlfriend, and is infatuated with the flavors of Latin American fare. On his days off, the chef can most likely be found in one of the many Puerto Rican or Dominican eateries on the Lower East Side. So it made sense when he decided to meld the spices and ingredients of the New World with those of the Old into his concept (and to replace Un Mercato’s cafeteria-style format with tableside service). “All my previous menus were very Italian and Eurocentric,” Carew says. “I wanted to scratch that and do something different, a place with an honest approach, not a lot of pomp and circumstance.”
That means tender roasted chicken (whole $22/half $13.59) seasoned with a blend of dried Peruvian spices like cinnamon, coriander, and cumin. Carew buys whole heritage pigs, and he’s been making head cheese tostadas out of the heads. The rest of the meat is tossed with adobo, combined with panko, and pressed overnight before going on the rotisserie. Like a Latin-spiced pork roulade, it’s bright, light, and a steal for $13.50. The restaurant also offers a rotating “Beast of the Week.” So far the beasts have mostly been pigs, though roasted beef short ribs were a recent special. All of the meats come with the same accoutrements: chimichurri sauce, lightly pickled vegetables (green beans, carrots, and cauliflower), and a side of local tortillas. In the future, Carew says he’d like to incorporate more beef into the mix, buying the whole animal to make dishes like beef heart tartare, terrines, and shin soup.
A chalkboard menu on the wall lists a concise selection of small plates, ranging from $5 to $14. Chicken empanadas ($7) are served with curtido, a Salvadoran fermented relish made from cabbage, onions, and carrots, resembling a Central American version of coleslaw. East Coast ceviche with saltines ($7) is abundant with scallops, chiles, and onions and fragrant with lime. Tomato and charred corn ($5) is a standout. Topped with a parmesan cornoli (a corn aioli with chile and cayenne), it’s sweet and creamy, reminiscent of elote, traditional Mexican street corn. “I keep learning another cuisine every day,” says Carew. “I mean, how many times can you roll out pasta?”
Overall, the space is comfortable and unpretentious. Exposed brick surrounds the dining room. To the right, there are a handful of pub-height communal tables illuminated by a flashing marquee-style sign. Photographs of cyclists are interspersed throughout the room, along with chalkboard menus painted on the walls. Above the bar, handwritten text highlights the selection of a dozen wines available by the bottle and glass, craft beers, and a few specialty cocktails (more mixed drinks are slated to debut in the near future). The long bar is flanked in the back by the open kitchen. Pulling from his global journeys and love of bicycles (hence the name), Carew’s goal was to open a place that was completely personalized. “I wanted to play my own music and put art on the walls,” he says. “I’ve never loved any place I’ve worked or owned as much as this. The response has been positive. No one has said, ‘You suck.’ “