The Four Horsemen’s European-Style Alternative to Weekend Brunch
If you (doubtfully) haven’t already heard, we’re living in a brunch renaissance. The options are endless, and creativity knows no bounds. But, if you’re looking for a different kind of experience and willing to forgo French toast and hash, The Four Horsemen is your move. Every weekend, chef Nick Curtola and his team serve a unique set lunch menu for only $28 (a steal), and, because of the restaurant’s nature—the wine is always flowing. It’s a meal more European in style than it is New York, and we’re better off for it. So, grab a seat (they’re now taking reservations!), order a bottle, and don’t fret over the food; the kitchen’s got you covered. In case you’re curious, we’ve got the menu for this Saturday and Sunday below.
At its opening in June of 2015, The Four Horsemen was at the forefront of the natural wine movement, which has since swept New York. Located on Grand Street in Williamsburg, the restaurant seats only 42 (bar stools included), and yet it stocks over 500 bottles of low-intervention wines. But it’s never been just about the wine. Chef Nick Curtola, who has helmed the kitchen since day one, riffs with local and seasonal produce to maintain an always-fresh, ever-changing menu. His roots are in the Bay Area, which explains his attachment to seasonal cooking. In New York, Curtola spent time at neighborhood mainstays Franny’s and Glady’s, so he knows a thing or two about how Brooklynites like to eat out; however, The Four Horsemen is conceptually unique. Modeled off the chef-driven wine bars of London, Copenhagen, and Paris, it was never the kind of place that could pull off brunch. Nor did it need to.
As Curtola put it, bluntly, “No one was really drinking wine when we were doing pancakes and eggs. [It] felt like we were doing two kinds of completely different services that didn’t vibe with one another.” So, they quickly scrapped the brunch plans, landing instead on something a little bit different, and completely on-brand: weekend lunch. Having spent time in London a few years back, Curtola was inspired by the English tradition of Sunday roast—wherein restaurants and pubs prepare a set menu consisting of a roast piece of meat, some salads, a soup, and a dessert, and serve it to their community for a low price. The place that set it all in motion for him is a restaurant in East London called Brawn, summing up their midday meal as so: “it’s really convivial, it pours out onto the street, and they’re right on the Columbia Flower Market, so it was a really beautiful experience, and… it really clicked.” He realized not only that nobody was doing this sort of thing in New York, but also that it was a natural fit for his own restaurant, and a no-brainer—he could utilize the same seasonal, high-quality ingredients he was already using for dinner.
The meal is served every Saturday and Sunday, and each weekend the offering is different. To start, Curtola will pick a theme, which is oftentimes based on a specific dish he wants to do (think pork Milanese, Spanish tortilla, tomato-and-stone fruit salad), sometimes even beginning with dessert. He recounts, “Like, oh, man, I really want to do a cherry pie. That’s a Southern thing, so what if we did a Southern-themed biscuit?” Each lunch consists of six components in total: bread, cold salad, a hot vegetable dish, a main dish, and dessert. So, then, “for the salad, we’ll do a coleslaw, and for the main course we’ll do fried chicken. It’ll all be tied together, like if we want to do a roast chicken, is it French picnic style?” The format also allows him to recipe test a bit by bringing in a lot of a certain product—whether it be a vegetable, meat, or fish—and play around with it. It’s not unheard of that something Curtola creates for lunch will end up on the dinner menu. While it’s true that a set menu can be limiting, especially for those with dietary restrictions, the kitchen is always flexible. In fact, there’s a guy who comes every week who is a vegetarian.
Speaking of regulars, there are lots of them, along with a steady stream of new folks, too. Sunday brings an industry crowd (for many chefs, it’s their day off), which renders that same familial vibe that’s so characteristic of an English Sunday supper. What Curtola likes about The Four Horsemen during the day is that, compared to the dinnertime atmosphere, “it’s a little brighter, a little lighter, the music’s a little more fun” (think disco). It’s all the more easygoing because you don’t have to choose; “you know what you’re going to get, you just come in and you order the menu and then you can focus on getting a cool bottle of wine or just seeing who you’re here to see—hanging out.” And the food plays into that. For the epic value of 28 bucks you get a meal that loosely resembles home-cooking in that it’s “paired down, a little less flashy… just really solid, well-seasoned, delicious, vibrant, seasonal food.” It’s meant to feel like a feast, with everything coming out at once. You’ll find guests “picking and pulling” at various dishes, making an afternoon of being there. Some regulars even enjoy themselves so much that they coined a term—“ride the wave”—for staying all the way through dinner.