They say good things come to those who wait; hearing that he’d been selected to open his first restaurant in Williamsburg must have been music to chef Patrick Connolly’s ears. (And not just because he’s located inside a concert hall.)
Rider (80 N 6th St, Brooklyn; 718-210-3152) exists thanks to National Sawdust and its founder Kevin Dolan’s vision, but the execution of exemplary eats rests squarely on Connolly’s shoulders. After Rider’s completion was delayed, Connolly was offered the opportunity he’d craved since being invited to submit plans for the project back in 2011. He just had to deliver on one thing for Dolan: The food had to be great.
After moving back to New York from his hometown of St. Louis — Connolly previously spent time in the kitchen at Bobo — the chef was finally ready to start a place his own. The fact that the doors are officially open brings a smile to Connolly’s face, since he had been commuting from Philadelphia for nine months to help work on the restaurant before his family settled in Williamsburg. However, Connolly has worked in enough kitchens to know that contemporary chamber music and jazz might beckon the Lincoln Center crowd to Williamsburg…but his menu will ensure their return.
So what does a chef choose for his debut recital? A little bit of everything.
“I think inspiration-wise, it’s all over the map…. But I also feel that when you’re talking about American food, that’s kind of what you’re dealing with,” Connolly says. “Here, we have everything at our disposal, so, you know, the menu is a little all over the place, but really it’s just stuff I love to eat.”
With an even balance of vegetable to protein, the menu offers plenty, including a casual burger with Russian dressing, a decadent soft egg served with a foie gras crouton, sweet sherry yogurt, and caviar. Guests are just as likely to find grilled mortadella and steak tartare as they are raw beets and a roasted vegetable plate. Sharing is most certainly encouraged.
“The best representation of this restaurant is if you show up and share the food with the people that you’re with,” notes Connolly. “I feel great about every dish — we strike a balance with each dish within itself texturally and flavor-wise.”
Connolly has also enlisted the help of pastry chef Lisa Fernandez-Cruz in planning their dessert menu, which he believes will help Rider stand out in the neighborhood. The final-course options include fennel and lemon doughnuts with crème fraiche, as well as maple custard served with pear. Rider will also be the first location in Brooklyn to offer Rival Bros. Coffee, which is based in the City of Brotherly Love. The bar will also offer a selection of original cocktails, along with beer and wine.
Though the restaurant is unique from National Sawdust, there are subtle reminders that food and music are creative art forms that belong together. Rider borrows its name from the document detailing the requests that many bands and performers ask of a venue (a/k/a that piece of paper that guarantees only green M&M’s will be available backstage). Even the decor was inspired by music — namely, Herbie Flowers’s bass line for Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” “Simple with depth,” Connolly explains.
The bi-level restaurant was designed by Brooklyn’s Bureau V (who also worked on National Sawdust) and includes a mix of gritty and polished touches. Painted-brick and wood walls, white herringbone-tiled tables, and a marble bar reside on the ground floor. The second floor features a 34-seat dining room complete with banquette seating, a custom-made chandelier, and neon light installations — all focal points that draw diners attention throughout the space. Rider also factors tipping into the overall price of menu items.
After joining up with people at similar stages in their careers — from architects to programming staff — Connolly appreciates having found the right group of people with whom he can share his first official venture. “You can only do what feels right, and coming back here felt right,” says Connolly. “I wasn’t interested in finding a 2,000-square-foot restaurant and just trying to grind at that game. There are lots of places you can hear music and have food, but when is it great?”
Brunch, breakfast, and lunch are in the works, making their subsequent debuts in the coming weeks.