Behind the Scenes at Boston's Newest Underground Supper Club
The Hawthorne GM Matthew Schrage (far right) explains one of the wine pairings at the latest Brasstacks event. (All photos by Rob Strong)
You may be familiar with the lore behind Somerville destination Journeyman (and its latest booze-dominated incarnation, Backbar) — but for the uninitiated, husband and wife team Diana Kudajarova and Tsei Wei Lim developed their culinary chops running an elaborate secret supper club called Love + Butter, which eventually evolved into a brick and mortar fine-dining restaurant.
While Lim and Kudajarova aren’t alone in providing secret meals to in-the-know food enthusiasts, there’s a particularly exciting newbie that’s been popping up all over town: Brasstacks, a joint effort between Menton meat chef de partie Marc Sheehan (an alum of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York), The Hawthorne general manager Matthew Schrage, and Drew Davis, a vet of Menton who works in management with David Chang at Má Pêche in New York.
The three met at Menton (Schrage used to be a manager there), and came up with the idea when they hung out off the clock. “It was something that was born out of a chef and a restaurant manager and a couple of friends talking about what their hope and dreams were in this weird industry over a couple of whiskeys,” Schrage says. “I told Marc, ‘Why don’t you put together a menu,’ and eight hours later he had a menu of 30 items he had been thinking of.” Schrage was impressed, and the trio began organizing elaborate, Facebook invite-only dinners starting in July.
There is an end-game in sight, of course — the group wants eventually open a fine-dining restaurant, with the next year or two (they’ve even scouted a couple of spaced in the South End and Cambridge, Sheehan told me). Sheehan, for his part, operates with a unique point of view. As a Massachusetts native, he’s a bit obsessed with New England food history, and uses old local cookbooks and even Boston Public Library databases to mine for old classics that he can reinterpret. “Somebody with such a conceptual approach to what they are doing is something you don’t often see in Boston,” Schrage says.
Monday evening marked Brasstacks’ latest dinner party, which took place on the top floor of an apartment building overlooking the Charles River, and I headed over to check it out. Ahead, a peek at Sheehan’s extensive, excellent menu. If the experience sounds appealing, you can get an invitation to an upcoming dinner by friending the group on Facebook and requesting an invitation to the next meal; prices typically hover around $75 for several courses and booze pairings.
The meal began with boards of housemade anadama, brown and black walnut sourdough breads. They were the base for the charcuterie, which included blood sausage, Tamworth coppa with heirloom peppers, bresaola with heirloom crabapple jelly, juniper-smoked blood salami, and a large terrine of pheasant and wood pigeon with pickled cranberries. On the white plates are quenelles of whipped lardo.
For the first course, Sheehan served Harvard-style beets (cooked with vinegar and sugar) with beef heart, clotted cream, barley, and smoked black tea.
Above, Jake Nemmers, a former colleage of Sheehan’s at Blue Hill at Stone Barns (and now a cook at Fatty ‘Cue) puts finishing touches on the second course, whole-roasted celery root with heirloom apples, black walnuts, Nasturtium seed, and hard cider.
One of the best courses of the evening was this bowl of barely-poached Wellfleet oysters, served with Finnian Haddie (smoked haddock)-filled tortellini, and topped with crispy fried Maine seaweed and Oyster plant fronds.
Chef Marc Sheehan puts the finishing touches on his take on a classic Maine dish, called “Aroostook Savory Supper.” In each pot, thin layers of potato, salt pork, onions, and a poached farm egg oozed together in an ultimate comfort dish.
Next up was a refined take on pot roast of sorts: grass-fed beef rib, served with chestnuts, Macomber turnips, and tatsoi, a green similar to bok choy.
Last up was a modernized take on Indian Pudding, a classic characterized by cornmeal, molasses, and cinnamon. Here, dense molasses-cornmeal cake is served with poached Seckel pears, raw milk caramel, and dehydrated milk chips.
Correction: In an earlier version of this post, I wrote that Drew Davis worked as a cook at Fatty ‘Cue. That title, in fact, belongs to Jake Nemmers, the man in blue who’s helping plate the celery root dish in the above photos. Drew Davis works in management at Má Pêche in New York.
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