You may have heard of the Shakers, a celibate sect known for their furniture and ecstatic dancing, if not their food.
Now Rita Sodi and Jody Williams, who just won this year’s James Beard Foundation’s best New York City chefs award for their beloved Italian hotspot Via Carota, are planning a Shaker restaurant at 50 Commerce St. in the West Village early next year.
The Shakers have nothing to do with the Italian and French food for which these chefs are known. But Shaker food, like Tuscan fare, is based on sophisticated simplicity — and, the chefs say, it’s a perfect fit for their neighborhood.
“We always wanted to do early American, with Shaker design and early Shaker cookbooks. It fits in with the architecture and history of this neighborhood. We will fill it with antiques, just like what we have at home,” Williams told Side Dish during a sit-down interview at her first restaurant, Buvette, with Sodi by her side.
The Shakers were founded in 1747 and settled in upstate New York — Watervliet, near Albany — in the 1770s. They are apparently down to two living members, due to their strict celibacy rules and their decision to stop taking in orphans. Their legacy includes old cookbooks.
Sodi and Williams got inspired to create Shaker food thanks to a collection of 19th-century cookbooks in Williams’ family.
Early American “founding fathers” food also happens to be on trend.
Just ask top chef José Andrés, who launched America Eats Tavern in Georgetown, DC, which features dishes like Ben Franklin’s milk punch; Jamestown shrimp and grits from 1607; braised short ribs from a 1660 recipe; and an 1802 mac and cheese dish from Lewis Fresnaye, a refugee from the French Revolution.
But just what, exactly, is Shaker food?
Think “homemade mayonnaise, noodle soup, thick slabs of bacon, cured ham, fresh rolls, poached carrots, little hot cakes — and lots of fresh farm food,” Williams said.
Herbs are a big part of the menu.
“It has the same kind of simplicity as Via Carota. But it’s American in a big way. I can’t wait to use buttermilk and dill, and to make shoo-fly pies,” Williams said.
While Williams was raised in California, her mother grew up near Amish/Shaker country in Pennsylvania, while Sodi was raised in Florence.
Now the chefs are going through their collection of old cookbooks and heading to the New York Public Library for research into old menus.
It will be the chefs’ fifth West Village eatery, their third together, and a major addition to their growing empire.
Last month, the married couple opened Bar Pisellino at 52 Grove St. and Seventh Avenue South, around the corner from Via Carota, which they opened in 2014. Sodi also has the classic Tuscan eatery, I Sodi. In 2011, Williams opened Buvette, a French “gastrotheque.” There’s another one in Paris. The couple met in 2008, when Williams — then at Keith McNally’s Morandi — dined at I Sodi’s bar.
The 50 Commerce St. space is 1800 square feet, and it comes with a 1500-square-foot prep kitchen in the basement. The deal was brokered by Winick Realty Group director Charles Rapuano and Matthew Schuss of Jones Lang LaSalle.
WE HEAR…that Flushing is getting its first beer garden, The Beer Assembly, located at Tangram and run by Todd Leong, co-owner of Leaf Bar & Lounge cocktail bar. It will feature more than 20 taps along with cocktails and bar bites on skewers, Flushing’s most popular street food. The 3,550-square-foot space seats 200 people. Design details by BHDM include poured concrete floors with wood inlay and lots of indoor greenery.
WE HEAR…that the 34th Annual Chefs’ Tribute to Citymeals will take place at Rockefeller Center on Monday at 7:30 p.m. and the theme this year is The Butcher, The Baker, The Cocktail Shaker: Celebrating Culinary Collaborations. Featured chefs include Jonathan Waxman, Larry Forgione, Angie Mar, Michael White, and Karen Akunowicz. One hundred percent of ticket sales and donations will support Citymeals, the city’s only nonprofit providing home-delivered meals to the elderly in all five boroughs.
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