Williamsburg has already redefined the dinner and a show concept with Federal Bar, a booze and food-fueled pit stop for ticket holders at its sister spot, The Knitting Factory, along with the nearby, more-than-a-movie theater Nitehawk, where film-themed cocktails and edibles can be ordered and enjoyed from the comfort of one’s seat. And now there’s Rider, carved from a bi-level corner of the National Sawdust venue—which, in addition to providing top-tier concessions to concertgoers and indulging the gastronomic whims of visiting artists (hence the name) also exists as a distinguished standalone restaurant; helmed by a James Beard award-winning chef, no less.
Though actually promised to the project for almost six years, numerous setbacks eventually sent Patrick Connolly (formerly of Bobo in the West Village) to his hometown of St. Louis, where he opened another eatery while waiting for the National Sawdust venture to hopefully rematerialize. And now that it has, the chef is retrospectively grateful for the delay, insisting that its resulted in a much stronger restaurant than the one he might originally have launched. “It would have been too much about me, as opposed to our guests,” he admits. “And putting them first is the greatest lesson I’ve learned as I’ve matured in this business. You need to create a space and menu that’s thoughtful and rounded, comfortable yet interesting. Food should essentially be recognizable, but with a nuanced tweak or two that helps to spark discussion and provide a unique experience.”
Listed as an undelineated series of shareable small plates, highlights include dense folds of smoked ricotta speckled with sweet and tart barberries, scooped up with soldiers of grilled and oiled bread; wedges of crispy, compressed lamb belly, relieved with an acid explosion of yuzu-dressed pea shoot salad; and raab and laab—a Thai-Italian confluence of bitter florets and pork crumbles bathed in fish sauce, crowned with a condiment of peanuts, chilies and garlic. “I wanted our customers to be able to come in once every six months, order six or seven things and not spend a fortune or feel like they just finished a Nathan’s hot dogs eating contest,” Connolly said.
Not that he’s relying on sporadic, twice-a-year visits alone; after all, Connolly still has the National Sawdust crowds to contend with, overseeing the beverage program in the lobby (which extends far beyond rum and coke in a plastic cup) and eventually serving food in the actual performance spaces, which should go into effect later this May. “It will be a learning curve for both us and the artists, who aren’t accustomed to smelling griddled mortadella (which incidentally, arrives anchored to toasts with nasturtium pesto) while they’re playing their violin,” Connolly laughs.
Needless to say, his primary aim is to achieve balance, walking a tightrope between being a quality concessionaire, and running a restaurant that a passerby would readily consider for a dedicated visit. “It’s all about attitude, I think,” said Connolly. “From a business perspective I love the idea of extra revenue, but my main concern is to create a great restaurant, just as National Sawdust’s goal is to create a music venue unlike any in New York. And I truly believe that if we maintain our “you do you” perspective, and co-exist as two entities each excelling at their own mission, it should be a really powerful thing.”
80 N 6th St., Brooklyn