Early this summer Ned Baldwin opened Houseman (508 Greenwich Street; 212-641-0641), an intimate spot with exposed-brick walls and a compact zinc bar, on a calm, mostly residential street in the Hudson Square neighborhood. Bounded by West Houston on the north and Canal Street to the south, the area once was home to the city’s printing district. Now it’s a mix of 200-year-old residences, nineteenth-century warehouses, and spanking-new condo buildings.
It couldn’t be a better locale for Baldwin, who tells the Voice that he has been seeking to open a restaurant a bit “out of the fray” ever since he began visiting countries like Norway and Italy. “My favorite eating experiences are the traveling ones, where I find a great neighborhood I can fantasize about living in. Where the food is really, really good but it’s a casual restaurant,” he says. “I’m trying to make that thing.”
In this way, Baldwin has brought to life his personal image of the ideal neighborhood restaurant. “The dream of the place is to imagine visiting New York, wandering around the city, then seeing a glowing light. You look in the window and see the place is full of people who look like they live in the neighborhood — like they’re having a good moment in their lives.”
He took the name from the Swedish husmanskost, which, he explains, means “everyday food,” home-cooked and served family-style.
Baldwin shares the kitchen and “creative load” with co-chef Adam Baumgart, whom he met while they were both working at Prune. A graduate of Bennington College, Baldwin earned an MFA in sculpture from Yale; his background as an artist and “furniture-designer-builder” meshes with Baumgart, who started cooking when he was fifteen and trained at the Culinary Institute of America before moving on to numerous stops around NYC. The timing for their collaboration worked out perfectly — as Baldwin was getting ready to sign a lease for the new place, Marco’s in Brooklyn (where Baumgart was a chef) was about to close.
The duo sources a good portion of their produce from Vermont, through the distributor Myers Produce, and seafood and meat from other local suppliers.
They’ve created an approachable market-based menu of unfussy dishes: seasonal small plates like roasted peaches with pancetta, hazelnuts, and feta; a tomato salad that mixes bite-size tomatoes with cumin, sumac, and yogurt; and mains that include a homey — and delicious — roast half-chicken with parsley salad and toasted crusty bread. The chefs have also perfected a double-stacked cheeseburger, topped with caramelized onions and served on a homemade potato bun.
In addition, the kitchen prepares a special daily large-format entrée, meant to be shared at the table by a group — at the moment it’s a whole striped bass poached in court bouillon. “I think it’s fun when the scale grows and people start reaching across the table,” Baldwin says.
Houseman’s beverage menu is compact and well thought out, a user-friendly match for the menu. It’s populated by an assortment of propitiously priced small-production beers and wines, plus a handful of classic cocktails, including a sweet-vermouth-and-sparkling-wine spritzer — “The Bicycle” — and a fresh-grapefruit-laced paloma.
With its ease for pleasing, Houseman is poised to entice not only locals from the neighborhood but patrons who wander in via the nearby Holland Tunnel. What they’ll discover is the kind of place we’re all on the lookout for, where it’s easy to gather with friends any day of the week, to eat, unwind, and connect with each other — and with that, Baldwin says, he will have met his goal. “I don’t want to be one of those restaurants where the chef needs something from the diner,” he says. “We’re just going to do our thing back there and make our food really delicious.”