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Celebrity sommelier, winemaker, and author André Hueston Mack had thought about opening a little intimate place of his own ever since he came to New York in 2004 from a stint at The French Laundry to take on the lofty position of beverage director at Thomas Keller’s vaunted Per Se. That thought stayed with him as he left Per Se to launch his own wine label, Maison Noir Wines, shuttling between his Brooklyn home and his business in Oregon. Finally, he and his wife, author Phoebe Damrosch (the couple met at Per Se) found the right space just a few blocks from their brownstone.
Three years of renovations later, & Sons Ham Bar, named for their four sons, opened on a lively street in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. The timing, however, was terrible: it was the start of a fateful 2020. As the pandemic ripped through the city, their petit bar specializing in all-American country hams, cheeses, and wines ended up being fully open only for two months that year. But as life at last returned to local streets, their cozy charmer has since evolved into a beloved neighborhood magnet buzzing with regulars celebrating special occasions or just dropping by for a glass and some pink curls of one of the small-batch country hams shaved to order. However, & Sons Ham Bar is much more than yet another charcuterie bar. “We were striving for more terroir, more pride in our roots, more distinction” explains Mack.
Here’s everything you need to know before you go.
1. Everything at & Sons Ham Bar tells a story.
The first thing customers notice when they enter the narrow 20-seat storefront — it was formerly an auto repair shop — is the striking bottle-green vintage meat slicer from The Computing Scale Company in Dayton, Ohio. “It’s one of my Ferraris,” Mack jokes, adding that most people first think about ham then the slicer, but with him it was “kind of reverse.” The idea for the restaurant was inspired, in part, by the 1910 Berkel slicer Mack bought a decade ago for his 40th birthday, and subsequently started organizing wine and ham parties at home around it.
Likewise, all other details of the warm brick-walled space reflect Mack’s passion for collecting, curating, and storytelling. The beautiful black wooden cutting boards? Made by the celebrated wood artist Joshua Vogel of Blackcreek Mercantile & Trading Co. in upstate New York. The heavy, tactile water glasses? Recycled from vintage bottles cut down to size by Refresh Glass. The soft lighting comes courtesy of the 1930’s Benjamin Electric Company pendants of American-made Japanese milk glass; the cozy canvas bins lining the shelves are Mack’s mid-century finds from a Massachusetts flea market. Even the smoky oxidized mirrors on the walls were repurposed from a closet door of an early 20th-century home in upstate New York.
“My idea,” says Mack “was to flesh out the space with vintage Americana. To provide just the right ambiance for our home-grown terroir-driven wines, hams, and cheeses.” Mission accomplished.
2. Ham is the biggest story.
“Most folks know Italy’s prosciutto and Spanish jamón,” explains Mack. “In those countries they’re a huge part of the culture. But America hasn’t been part of that cured ham conversation — even though our traditions go back to the start of our nation.” Thomas Jefferson, for example, had Virginia hams shipped to him across the Atlantic while he lived in France. With & Sons, Mack hopes to spark an artisanal ham revolution similar to the boom in American cheeses back in the 1990s.
Currently, his rotating roster of porcine masterpieces includes a dozen varieties, all served with habit-forming cornbread madeleines and puckery cucumber or watermelon rind pickles. Not sure where to start? Mack suggests ordering at least three different hams to appreciate the range of flavors, smokes, cures, and aging times. There’s the beautifully marbled Spanish-style Incontro jamón from heritage breed Mangalitsa pigs raised in Nebraska, with its earthy-elegant nuttiness and a plush layer of fat. (“Fat’s the best part! Don’t leave it behind,” urges Mack.) Or Dakota, a robust-tasting small-batch ham from Kentucky aged 42 months in a “really long process” requiring great sacrifice and skill to give the ham its deep funky umami. As for Benton’s, the royalty of American hams, it tastes almost peaty (as in single malt whiskey!) from being salt-cured then heavily hickory-smoked, a treatment Mack loves.
How does he source them all? “Smaller companies now seek me out, wanting to be a part of my project,” he replies, adding, “These artisans are true pioneers of their craft. They deserve our deepest respect.”
A Closer Look at & Sons Ham Bar
3. But don’t stop with the ham.
“Sure, hams grab all the attention,” declares Mack, “but our small plates might be the true hidden gem of this place. Prepared with love and Michelin-star-worthy ingredients, they’re a steal at these prices.”
Helming the rudimentary kitchen (just one induction plate, really) is talented Dutch-born chef Nico Bouter, a veteran of Holland’s avant-garde three-Michelin starred temple, De Librije, who also staged at Chicago’s Alinea and Eleven Madison Park in New York. “Even Nico’s chicken wings here are special,” Mack says. Boned, stuffed with house-made chorizo, and brushed with fish sauce, they’re finished on a little Japanese binchotan grill to be served with delicious chive mayo. Or take the stuffed eggs: heirloom beauties with bright jammy yolks surrounded by hollandaise and topped with petals of Lady Edison ham cured from acorn-fed pigs.
One of the current nightly specials Mack loves is sausage-filled morels that Bouter presents in a voluptuous sauce of vin jaune accented with dill oil and the first ramps of the season. “Sometimes I wonder,” Mack smiles, “what a chef with a lofty European training like Nico’s is doing at a neighborhood charcuterie bar. But hey, he’s a Brooklyn boy now, who lives nearby and is part of our community.” And yes, he’s the one creating the awesome daily sandwiches at & Sons’ next-door shop, The Buttery.
4. Prime yourself for serious wines.
Mack has curated a deep and deeply personal all-American wine list of some 600 selections, from the cult cuves of Ridge Vineyards to quirkier skin-contact wines, with plenty of food-friendly choices from his own Maison Noir label. “It’s stuff I myself love to drink, and collect,” he explains. “Bottles that show off the American terroir we take pride in.” His concise by-the-glass blackboard list offers such pig-friendly finds as Schramsberg Vineyards Blanc de Noirs from California’s North Coast; Mack describes it as “one of our country’s top bubbles, dry but with a hint of fruit and lots of umami to match many hams on our menu.”
From the bottle list, among Mack’s favorite reds to pair with smokier hams is the Turley Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault, “a traditional Rhone Valley grape marrying the finesse and acidity of a pinot noir with the peppery nose of syrah.” As a white, he might recommend Maison Noir Wines “New Noir” 2020: an Austrian-style Edelzwicker blend of Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, and three other grapes. “It has the complexity of a red wine due extended skin contact, while still retaining the refreshing acid-driven aspect of whites, Mack explains, “And it matches up beautifully with salt, smoke, and umami.”
As part of Mack’s storytelling approach, the lengthy bottle list, displayed via iPad, is structured by decades, stretching from the 2020’s and going back to the sixties, highlighting each decade’s important cultural moments. An older bottle to splurge on? Mack fancies the 1988 Hanzell cabernet sauvignon. “It’s an old classic,” he notes, “but still full of beautiful fruit that would appeal to young drinkers, and a great value at $285. He gives a laugh. “Most of our wines, we kinda give away,” he says.
5. It’s all about the community.
& Sons Ham Bar is part of Mack’s small “eco-system” of micro food concepts along Rogers Street in his Prospect Lefferts Gardens neighborhood. The Buttery, right next door, is a small provisions store where customers can stock up on the hams served at the restaurant, plus such proudly homegrown treasures as Brooklyn-made Nethermead Apiary honey produced by Mack’s neighbor on his rooftop, or Queen of Corona smoked goat cheese shipped from Spain but aged in Crown Heights.
A couple of blocks up the street sits Mockingbird, Mack’s breakfast taco shop occupying the front part of his office (think stone-milled tortillas, Benton’s bacon, Rancho Gordo beans and the like for a mere six bucks). There’s also Chickadee Bread, a bakery opening to the general public soon, producing chewy baguettes and batards from flour that’s stone-milled right in house. And serving the neighborhood’s retail wine needs is VyneYard, a petit shop stocked with interesting Mack-approved bottlings.
Joining the lineup later this summer: Kingfisher, a restaurant specializing in oysters and low-key high-concept dishes that will fully showcase Bouter’s talents. “PLG hood is regenerating” says Mack. “New people, new business, younger folks from the finance world now mingling with original blue-collar families. We wanted to be a part of this narrative, to foster community. And is there a better way to be a good neighbor,” he muses, “than feeding people?”
& Sons Ham Bar is open Wednesdays to Sundays from 5 to 11 p.m.