Requiring tremendous amounts of teamwork, trust, compromise and compatibility, restaurant relationships can be every bit as tenuous as marriages (and both are frequently tested by money issues). Which means that eateries—as opposed, hopefully, to marriages—are often treated like revolving doors, changing out chefs, managers and partners as readily as dishes during a new season. And The Pines in Gowanus is hardly unique in this regard; which is why it’s so odd that they’re persistently dogged by an ancient storyline—that the guys from Littleneck have a stake in the business (they sold their shares less than a year in), and chef Angelo Romano runs the kitchen (he jumped ship last September, more than a year ago).
So you can’t blame current chef John Poiarkoff (who’s been with The Pines since the beginning, incidentally), for his increasing frustration at its strange identity crisis—especially since he’s worked so hard to put his stamp on the restaurant. And it’s no wonder that the kerfuffle has effectively left Poiarkoff (along with co-owner, Carver Farrell), itching for a fresh start, inspiring them to open a second place from the ground up on Franklin Avenue in Bed-Stuy, that will be run in addition to the Pines.
That’s why we’ve given Poiarkoff the opportunity to clear the air (hopefully for the last time) about what The Pines is now, and what his newest venture is shaping up to be.
Poiarkoff Debunks Common Pines Myths
The Menu is Bonkers:
“When we opened, we were very creative, experimenting on a daily basis with different ingredients and techniques. Half of the menu changed every night. That was a lot of fun and we came up with some cool dishes, as well as some crap dishes. We were running around trying to figure out what was on each plate every service. There was no consistency, and that showed in our early reviews. Some were raves and some tore us apart. The menu is still printed daily, but now the changes are more of an evolution than a re-imagination of the whole concept. We still try to push ourselves to work with new ingredients and techniques, but now that creativity is more focused.”
It’s Too Expensive for Brooklyn:
“We still hear that people think of us as a ‘splurge’ restaurant and ‘too expensive for the neighborhood.’ First of all, I don’t think the neighborhood should dictate price point. We price our food according to the quality of product on the plate and the labor that goes into it. And we’ve actually lowered our prices over the past year. It’s fun for us to manipulate lesser-used cuts of meat into something unexpected and delicious. For instance, instead of using Wagyu Culotte Steak, we’re now using Pennsylvania Black Angus Chuck Underblade. You don’t need to know what that means, except that it’s a really tasty piece of beef that’s usually braised. Instead, we cook it sous vide until it eats like a sirloin, and we can charge much less than we would for a more prized cut. We may be more expensive than the pizza shop across the street, but we serve a menu that is very unique and less pricey than other restaurants in the area.”
It’s Not Veg-Friendly:
“One article about us, which was printed before we opened, said that we were going to be a ‘meat-centric’ restaurant. For some reason, that one stuck. Even vegetarian friends of mine were hesitant to come in for dinner, thinking they would have a very limited menu from which to choose. Not true. We have a ‘market’ section of vegetable based dishes, as well as multiple pastas and a composed veg entrée upon request. We’re in the hospitality business. It’s our job to please every guest that walks in the door. Instead of ‘no substitutions’ our menu reads ‘special requests encouraged.’ As a chef, you should be a good enough cook to provide a quality product, regardless of the dietary restrictions of your guests.”
Pioarkoff Sets the Record Straight About his Upcoming (yet-to-be-named) Restaurant:
Address: 506 Franklin, just north of Fulton in Bed-Stuy, bordering Crown Heights and Clinton Hill.
Opening Date: Some time in March.
Space: Small, about 30 seats. It’s in a stand-alone one-story building with a lot of exposed brick, huge front windows, high ceilings, and a skylight.
Design: “The space was a tax office before we moved in, so we’re starting with a blank canvas. Carver’s company, Living Space Design, is doing the design and construction.”
Food: “We’ll have a menu similar to The Pines in creativity and philosophy (market-based, local, responsibly sourced) with a slightly different concept. Our goal is to serve food that’s interesting and imaginative, while appealing to a diverse neighborhood in both approachability and price point.”
Concept: “We were actually looking for a space that was bigger than The Pines, but Carver stumbled upon this space, as he lives a few blocks away, and jumped at the opportunity to provide a quality restaurant to his neighborhood. There aren’t many restaurants in that general area. Everything is either further south on Franklin in Crown Heights, or further north in Bed-Stuy. It’s a very populated area, with diverse residents, so we’re trying to develop a concept that will appeal to everyone. You can see the stairs to the Franklin C stop from the front door, so we want it to be a great after-work hang, too.”
Closing Remarks: “Carver and I have been talking about doing a second restaurant together for over a year now. When The Pines opened, there were too many parties involved and there wasn’t a clear vision of what it should be. The past two years have definitely been a roller coaster ride. I feel like we’ve finally found an identity, but we wanted a fresh start as well: an opportunity to do things the right way from the beginning.”