Long before Smith Street became a dining destination, Saul Bolton opened his landmark New American eatery, Saul, with his wife, Lisa, in August, 1999. And given NYC diners' often fickle tastes, 10 years in one spot is nothing short of a miracle. (For a look back at Bolton's 10-year odyssey, check out Gothamist's incisive Q&A.)
But rather than rest on his laurels—a Michelin star, a packed dining room despite hefty prices—Bolton is celebrating by opening a new Prospect Heights gastropub later this summer: The Vanderbilt, where downscale pub grub like smoked bratwurst and blood sausage will be washed down with growlers of beer, and chased with homemade jelly donuts. We're already sold.
What's on tap for your new project?
The new project is an exciting thing. For one, it's a change of scenery, and for another it's much more casual and it's cheaper. It's geared towards a younger demo—you know, smoked bratwurst and regular bratwurst and boudin blanc and lamb sausages. I'm psyched.
Do you have a partner for the new place?
There are 10 partners, but [one of the] managing partners is Ben Daitz, who has Num Pang in the city. He worked at Saul for two years and kept in contact over the years. He has a good aesthetic. We're building it from the ground up.
So is it a gastropub?
Contemporary small plates, but with larger portions. You can't give a miniature bratwurst unless you have a pork chop and a little pulled pork sandwich, too! Things like pork skins or fried pig's-head terrine, which I'm testing here. Blood sausage with beef casings, and the texture is so giving and creamy. And it's gonna have pork jowl in there too—spicy and smoky and has that funk of the blood. And we're gonna get a Bradley smoker and do sausages and pork belly, which is almost passé at this point. But when people are drunk, they still gravitate towards it. Razor clams, sardines, mussels. I've been doing demos on donuts—I haven't had a lot of good restaurant donuts where they do it for dessert.
When do you plan to open?
They're shooting for mid-to-late August. It's moving quickly.
Did people think you were crazy when you decided to open a fine-dining venue on Smith Street 10 years ago?
Yes. Things were a lot different. The food was a lot simpler, and the prices were a lot cheaper. It was a little more than a bistro, but not quite as involved as we do now. It's really evolved over the years.
So you changed with the neighborhood?
Well I changed the neighborhood [laughs]. This side of Smith Street was much rougher around the edges in people's minds.
Did you ever think Saul wasn't going to work?
Every summer in July, man. You always question yourself. Once people saw the concept we had, people were like, "You're crazy," and they weren't nice about it. The line that always went through my mind was David Byrne of the Talking Heads: "When I have nothing good to say my lips are sealed." The thing that keeps you doing this is loving what you actually do.
What other restaurants do you see as Brooklyn trailblazers?
True trailblazers on Smith Street would be Alan Harding and Patois. My relationship with [Alan] is positive and humorous. We know each other, it's like an easygoing acquaintance. Also on the street, Dan Houle of Banania. I worked with him at Bouley when I first came to New York. I still talk to him a fair amount.
The term "New Brooklyn" has been thrown around a lot to describe the recent spate of ambitious restaurants opening in Brooklyn. Thoughts?
I think it makes it easier for the press to expound on things. To categorize. To be able to take these places and put them into a group. Places like Marlow & Sons I can imagine in Madison, Wisconsin. A bunch of hippies opening the place. I think they would do great anywhere. I love it—[Marlowe] kind of reminds me of a college town.
Any Brooklyn dining trends that get on your nerves?
No. I think the consciousness of people we come in contact with in the People's Republic of Brooklyn—I think it's positive. The "New Brooklyn" restaurant is a positive continuation of what began with Al Di La and me and Grocery and later on The Good Fork and places in Williamsburg. When someone like Jean Georges or Mario Batali decides to come to Brooklyn, I think some people might not like it. Just because, "It's Brooklyn. We don't need Manhattan."
Photo by Sam Horine