Grindhaus: Where yin meets yang in Red Hook
RED HOOK — “That pork chop was a revelation!” High praise for a piece of typically unheralded meat, especially when said praise comes from Victoria Granof, renowned food creative and stylist, James Beard Award finalist and graduate of Le Cordon Bleu. Apparently, Granof is not alone in her adoration, as versions of “best pork chop ever” have been frequent declarations since its recent debut on the ever-evolving menu at Grindhaus in Red Hook. The story of the restaurant and its menu is one of odyssey and alchemy between an inventive chef and a resilient restaurateur.
Erin Norris grew up in Center Moriches, Long Island. Her first job, at 13 years old, was bussing tables at a local restaurant. She declared that day, inspired by the energy and ethos, that she would own her own restaurant one day. Fast forward to 2008, the interim years marked by continued work in hospitality while simultaneously pursuing myriad careers in New York City, when Norris’s parents gifted the equity in their home to their daughter. The snapshot of her own restaurant returned to Norris, along with a recent dream of a boisterous sausage parlor. The concept for Grindhaus was born, to be opened in a storefront in the Red Hook neighborhood where Norris had lived since 2002. She signed the lease on April 1, and the universe immediately ji began to laugh.
The derelict space needed tons of rehab, much completed by Norris herself. The “bureaucratic fuckery” (according to Norris) of the city added delay upon delay, until Grindhaus was scheduled to open mere weeks after Hurricane Sandy devastated the neighborhood. Beyond the insult of the enormous damage was the injury of the restaurant’s ineligibility for any government support as it hadn’t officially opened (thanks to said “fuckery”). Running on fumes, financially and physically, Norris managed to rebuild and open in December 2013.
The interior represented Norris’ persona and approach: Funky, vibrant, and wildly inclusive. The food from the original chef, on the other hand, did not represent the owner. “There were tweezers involved,” Norris lamented. “I hated it so much. Way too precious for me.” As if to purge herself of this experience, Norris closed the restaurant for a year, reopened in 2014 and began a succession of unsuccessful relationships with other chefs. “I do everything in this restaurant that is not in the kitchen. I have no partners or managers or anyone to help,” Norris explained. “It’s me, so I need the chef to get what I want for our customers and to deliver.”
And then along came Kevin Speltz. His umber-toned chill was the perfect ying to Norris’s peroxided, tattooed yang. Speltz’ career in restaurants began as a dishwasher in Arizona that eventually brought him to Brooklyn, where he kitchen-hopped at various mom and pop establishments, earning a reputation for not only inventive cuisine but a positive, soothing presence as well. Speltz did not work for Grindhaus at first, but served as a sort of consultant, recommending other chefs and helping to shape menus. But just as Kevin came along, so did COVID, and – once again – Grindhaus was closed as Norris was in northern Italy when the lockdown in Europe was announced. She chose to spend the subsequent months between Italy and Switzerland while Speltz kept an eye on the shuttered restaurant.
Norris reopened in 2022 with her full-throttled hospitality buttressed by Speltz’ inventive cheeky cuisine; for example (other than the “revelatory” Kombu brined pork chop), the Po’ Bao – a crispy fish stick in a house-made bun with tartar sauce and American cheese; Artichoke Dumps with shiitake coconut, pickled mirepoix, pandan oil and couscous; Duck & Waffle with fried sage, sweet chili brown butter. The menu overall is a global gumbo of American standards paired with international flavors enhanced by brine and fermentation which, in conjunction with the living room hospitality, intersects into a wholly unique dining experience best explained by the owner.
“I love being on the floor. I love putting food in front of people. You are conveying your passion and trying to turn somebody else on to it. There’s food on those plates. There’s flavor and texture,” Norris said. “And Kevin is always able to make those two run in the same circles. He cares about this place as much as I do. There is no Grindhaus without us both.”
Andrew Cotto has been eating his way through Brooklyn for 25 years. As an author, the food of our borough has been featured extensively in his novels and journalism. In his new column for the Daily Eagle, Andrew will tell the tales of Brooklyn eateries, from the people behind the food to the communities which they nourish.
Leave a Comment
Leave a Comment