Sunday, March 29, 2009

Month of brunches: Buttermilk Channel

March 29

"So how's your month of brunches going?" a friend had asked a little while back and I answered that I'd been to two places and he looked a little disappointed. I guess a grandiose title such as "A month of brunches," made it sound like I'd be eating brunch all the month long. Logistically impossible when you even base it on just the days and times brunch is available. The weekend. Note to self: Stay away from sensational headlines.

As much as brunch is popular in New York and with all the places serving it, I found it weird that I ended up not visiting as many as I thought I could. Maybe another month down the road I'll try this one more time and do succeed in eating brunch both days of every single weekend.

With the last weekend of March staring me in the face, I decided I'd visit Buttermilk Channel in Brooklyn.

It's a bright spot on the corner it sat on, daylight spilling inside. I peered at the menu because, like with the other spots I'd visited during March, it was the Bloody Mary selection that caught my eye.

I ordered the Court Street($10), a Bloody Mary made with rosemary infused vodka and garnished with Esposito's antipasti (a bit of really good cured meat, a piece of cheese and an olive speared through).

The name of the drink obviously comes from the restaurant's location and Buttermilk Channel seems to revel in the neighborhood its located in. The restaurant is named after a tidal strait located in the area that connected Brooklyn to Governor's Island. The restaurant's site tells of the two different legends associated to the tidal strait's name. Either it was because the rough waters could churn butter or could when the tide was low Brooklyn farmers would walk their cows to Governor's Island to graze.

Another shoutout to the neighborhood came in the form of my next drink, the Star of the Sea, which I enjoyed with my burger. I was kind of jonesing for waffles or pancakes, but felt that combined with Bloody Marys, it probably wouldn't bode well for my stomach. This one was another Bloody Mary variety made with cucumber and dill infused vodka and garnished with a freshly shucked east coast oyster. The drink is named after a local church called St. Mary Star of the Sea.

As with previous Month of Brunches encounter, as someone who was never all into Bloody Marys, I was surprised to find myself polishing both off rather quickly. Also, while I was drinking the Court Street, I felt like the Bloody Mary had an ingredient in it that I could only describe as being "meaty" in texture. There was something there I was chewing, and I like whatever it was. While drinking the Star of the Sea I realized this "meatiness" I could chew in the drinks was fresh horseradish. I'm a big fan of being able to see and chew bits of ingredients in a Bloody Mary. It tastes of...housemade mix.

I chatted a little with owner Doug Crowell who admitted that he doesn't quite get the big deal about Bloody Marys like me, but realized that it was something pretty important to have on a brunch menu. And if he was going to have them on the menu, he was going to have the best. I said it was kind of weird for me because Bloody Marys feel like full meals to me, like some kind of zesty liquid meal substitute, so to pair that with even more food was kind of funny. Nonetheless, I managed to find room for two Bloody Marys on top of a burger.

Brunch at Buttermilk Channel also comes with a choice of juice, mimosa, bellini or sparkling wine. The other two Bloody Marys on the menu include the Classic ($8), garnished with a housemade dill pickle, and the Otis mad with Jameson whisky, topped off with Sixpoint Otis Stout ($10).

Gratuitous burger shot

USBGNY: Story time with Gary Regan that makes us think about customer service

March 23

Last week I stopped by the World Bar at Trump World Tower to attend the USBGNY monthly mixer. I'd come just in time to hear Jonathan Pogash make a couple of announcements about upcoming contests and events.

For those attending the NY Bar Show, USBGNY will have a huge presence there this year with its own separate area.

It was the usual thing you'd expect at a meeting like this of this sort, a gathering of industry folks to talk about industry related matter. Except we got to have that there were plentiful booze, mainly in the form of Old Fashioneds made with Pierre Ferrand Cognac Ambre.

And like any proper meeting, we had a guest speaker speak to us about something relating to industry matters, except our speaker wasn't just any speaker. It was the always entertaining, yet insightful, and delightfully salty Gary Regan.

Reading from a sheaf of paper that he said was part of a work in progress memoir that he was working to get published, he began to tell us a bit about his life, and in particular, about his parents. He began his story explaining how he was brought up in the pub business. For a period of his life, his father owned a pub located in a lower class neighborhood near a council estate (public housing in the United Kingdom).

Gary had everyone's attention in the room as he told us tales with relish about the pub's house band. Or how as a youngster, he fell into a group of older boys and would go drinking. How his father "a regular superstar" of the council estate would get up on stage to sing. And he told us of the neighborhood tough guy, "the toughest motherfucker in town" as Gary described him, who'd come in twice a year just to sing "Danny Boy."

While everyone listened to the hilarious and heartfelt stories that Gary told, it became obvious that he wasn't just telling these stories because they were good stories, but he was actually trying to explain to us how deep the relationship between customer and bartender (or in this case, pub owner) can go.

Gary said that his father was almost like a father figure for the council estate through the relationships built with those that came into his bar and through caring about the people living in the neighborhood his pub was situated in, his parents weren't just the pub owners, someone one people could go to whether it was late night phone calls or a need to borrow a little money. Gary didn't find that his mother had slipped cash to those who needed it until 2001, a year after her death. He had no idea that his mother had provided some money for a barmaid whose daughter needed medical attention.

The magnanimity and hospitality his parents provided to those in the neighborhood created a sort of "fierce loyalty'

"He didn't want to fuck up in the last place in town where he could take some stuff off of his chest," Gary said of the tough guy who could intimidate the entire room into silence when he walked in, never caused any trouble for the pub.

"The most important part of being a pub landlords is that they must truly care for their customers...they must care in a very real sense on a very personal level," Gary said about what his parents taught him about the bar business. "Because nobody goes to a bar for a drink. They go for conversation, for cry on somebody's shoulders. And such is the path the bartender must walk."

For those who know Gary or at least have read his book, the message isn't new. Even in the age of bartending being sexy, with people trying out different techniques, new ingredients, old ingredients that are new by virtue of having been forgotten, Gary still preaches the importance of the customer and bartender relationship.

As Gary put it, it's not just about "making a great drink or creating a masterpiece," and that bartenders should remember, "He who chooses a life behind bars, chooses a life of service."