A server tends to a table of diners at Ingas Bar in Brooklyn.
At Ingas Bar, owners Sean Rembold and Caron Callahan aim to deliver a timeless dining experience for the neighborhood. Photo by Michael Harlan Turkell for Resy

InterviewsNew York

With Ingas Bar in Brooklyn, Sean Rembold and Caron Callahan Strive for Timelessness

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Ingas Bar, a three-month-old restaurant in a seemingly sleepy nook of the neoclassical Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, already feels like it’s been there forever. This is just what chef-owner Sean Rembold and co-owner Caron Callahan envisioned for it: instant permanence.

With its starburst tin ceilings and honest, refined menu, Ingas Bar feels like an old soul, located in an historic enclave. The restaurant sits a half a mile from Montague Street, which is still seen as the main artery of Brooklyn Heights. There haven’t been good restaurants on it for a decade; instead, it’s populated by corporate chains like Verizon, Kiehls and Häagen-Dazs fulfilling the utilitarian needs of the neighborhood.

Ingas Bar inhabits a corner that was once home to Jack the Horse, a bar that was staple for eons in an off-the-beaten-path area. Dark woods, speckled white marble, and earth-toned linens accent Ingas front dining room. The old bar, salvaged from the Victorian-style Grand Prospect Hall in South Park Slope, and painted black, anchors the back room, a symbol of Rembold and Callahan’s interest in imbuing as much Brooklyn history as they can into the space.

Rembold himself has established his career as a chef in the ethos of midwestern hospitality and bistro fare like sturdy dry-aged cheeseburgers, classic duck confit, and, of course, that unforgettable brick chicken from Marlow & Sons. He’s been fine-tuning his brand of casual comfort since his days leading the kitchens of Andrew Tarlow’s Brooklyn dining empire, including Marlow & Sons and Diner, over the course of a decade.

Now, the married couple hopes it’s Ingas’ turn to become a neighborhood anchor, serving modest fare that feels familiar and exceptional all at once — the sort of place you could eat in every night as if it were an extension of your family table.

Inside the restaurant, Rembold points to posters of Bonnie Prince Billy concerts and Darrell Griffith, aka Mr. Dunkenstein, as a nod to his Louisville heritage, on the walls between other emblems of modern art, music and textiles — a nod to Callahan’s work. A light-up applause sign by the bar glows green when food is ready to run, prompting patrons to clap throughout the night.

The menu reads like an encore, serving prized plates that — with Rembold’s nicety — are proof that dishes like summer sausage with mustard, onion and crackers, country paté, Celery Victor, and Guinness-braised short ribs are classics that can transcend shiny and new specials any day.

Resy spoke with Rembold and Callahan about nostalgia and creativity, and what it means to find solace in cooking comfort food.

 

Is Ingas Bar meant to feel new or timeless?

Sean Rembold: We have an awesome landlord, Tony [Antonio Migliaccio]; he’s the chef at Noodle Pudding which has been [in Brooklyn Heights] for decades. When we first stepped foot in here we could feel that the building was from 1829. And across the street there’s the old Roebling architecture firm [which designed the Brooklyn Bridge]. So I think that there is an automatic timelessness to it. We signed what’s ostensibly a 20-year lease, with the intention of not being a conceptual restaurant, but being a well broken-in, pair of faithful hiking boots that are your favorite pair of shoes.

It’s about the people that work in the restaurant — especially the front of house staff — not just about the food. It’s the whole package. That’s what we got right at Marlow & Sons and at Diner. And I feel like that’s what we would like to try to get right here.

What kind of restaurant will Ingas Bar be?

Caron Callahan: People kept asking us “what’s the food gonna be” and I just wanted to roll my eyes and be like, “Does it even matter?” It’s such a small part of the puzzle that makes a restaurant great. Yes, we certainly care about where food comes from and how well it’s cooked, but it’s just one component that we prioritize. And we won’t go twice to a place that has really horrible food — but I will go to a place that has OK food if the music is great and the decor is great and the service is great.

Why did you choose this neighborhood?

Rembold: [During the pandemic] we started taking long family walks, with our young daughters, from Carroll Gardens, which is where we live. We found ourselves walking further and further, and just really enjoying that. We started hanging out [in Brooklyn Heights] and then there would be a moment where we’d think, ‘let’s go get something to eat’ or ‘let’s have a glass of wine.’ And we realized, there’s not really a place to go.

At some point, I was like, ‘man, it’s really beautiful here.’ Caron’s like, ‘should we open up a restaurant here?’ The next day I was online, and the Brooklyn Heights Association had posted a survey, to try to figure out how to revitalize Montague Street and bring life back to Brooklyn Heights. At the very bottom of the survey [was a question:] What else do you think we could do to bring energy back into Brooklyn Heights? And I [typed in]: “You could have me and my wife open up a restaurant.”

Within 20 minutes, a woman from the association emailed me: “Are you serious? I just saw your response to the survey. If you are serious, we will get behind you and we’ll get the community behind you in every way, shape or form, whatever you need.”

I started looking at spaces with our broker that week.

Marlow & Sons, Diner, Roman’s, and Achilles Heel, all opened in unassuming, but burgeoning locations — did that same idea affect your decision-making?

Rembold: I love restaurants because I think that interesting weirdos work in restaurants and when you’re on the main drag, when you’re in every tourist book or whatever, then you have to play by those sorts of Main Street rules. When you’re out here, you get to let it be what it wants to be. And it becomes so much more fun and authentic — genuine.

Callahan: We like the local neighborhood. I think that’s what attracts us to dining — that you’re connecting to a community, and you see people that you know [from the neighborhood]. I lived around the corner from Marlow & Sons and Diner before I met Sean, and I would see him at the laundromat. I was going to Diner easily every week, if not twice a week. I would sit and have a glass of wine and read at the bar, and I loved that’s how a lot of people enjoy their restaurants, rather than being “I’m going to go there once a year for some special occasion.” It’s a classic; it feels so cozy as if you’ve known the bartender forever.

The menu will be dictated by customers and their feedback — not by some egotistical artistic chef. We want them to dictate what the menu is and becomes.

Tell me about the menu. Is there a brick chicken like the one that became so emblematic at Marlow & Sons?

Rembold: Right now, there’s no chicken on the menu at all. Will there maybe be a brick chicken at some point? I’ve definitely thought about it. I love brick chicken. We’ll have to wait and see.

What do you think will be the proverbial brick chicken at Ingas?

Rembold: As of right now chef Tirzah Stashko and I have created a menu that has hints of where we’re both from: the Midwest German belt. She’s from Chicago and I’m from Louisville. Our service is also kind of based on Midwestern hospitality — one that’s really ingrained in the person and doesn’t feel transactional on any level. But is there a dish that’s gonna be on the menu forever? No, we don’t have that yet. We didn’t have it when I first started working at Marlow, either. We had to get to know the customers to be like, “Ohhh, chicken.” And I went home and wrote down 20 chicken dish ideas and brick chicken was the one we put on. Right now, the short rib is the top seller, and we have a dry-aged cheeseburger.

The menu is going to change with the seasons and, at least right now, there’s [nothing above $30.] You can come in and have a $17 glass of wine or you can come in and have two or three glasses of $9 wine. That’s the kind of vibe we’re going for. We’re trying to provide something that feels like it’s of value. We want it to feel like a community center, and a clubhouse — not like we’re trying to get rich off of you. We just want to be here for a long time.

The menu will be dictated by customers and their feedback — not by some egotistical artistic chef. We want them to dictate what the menu is and becomes.

Tell me about your entrees. There seems to be a lot of midwestern and European-influence proteins on the menu.

Rembold: Our summer sausage is from Usinger’s in Wisconsin because we’re not doing a whole animal butcher program here; we’re just trying to have people in for drinks. People are pissed right now that we don’t have [Usinger’s] liverwurst. The amount of liverwurst we sell is insane. We have a wholesale delivery set up, but can only get deliveries once a week. There’s mortadella, thinly sliced, microplaned Gouda, then brown butter with a little maple syrup in it. And it kills. [We also have] duck poutine croquettes: It’s essentially like all of the stuff that you would put on the French fries [in Montreal] in a croquette. For country paté, we took a classic country paté that chef Tirzah was making and we added mustard seed and more spices to it. The texture’s great; it’s still country paté. Do I get excited about selling it? Kind of. But do I get excited when people order liverwurst because we have a bar where people order liverwurst? Maybe a little more so.

And Celery Victor! What a throwback. What’s your version like?

Rembold: If you look at Wikipedia, [Celery Victor is] essentially just braised celery with something [a stock]. We braise it in vegetable stock, and it has pickled mustard seeds, and we add Parmesan right at the last minute, so it reads like a version of Celery Victor that also plays like a Caesar Salad. It’s awesome; it’s maybe the best thing on the menu. That’s like a signature dish; that one probably won’t go away.

Caron, how does your work as a fashion designer play into the style and aesthetic at Ingas?

Callahan: We really like classics, things that don’t try so hard. That’s sort of this underlying current. We live in this city where everyone is so ambitious, but I think there’s real comfort and ease in dialing in a burger, or making simple cotton pants that fit really well but they’re also washable, so you can live in them and wear them twice a week, and it doesn’t have to be this fussy thing.

You’re using the standard blue-line white linens, but you’ve also mixed in a few of your own fabrics that would have otherwise been thrown away as scraps. Why is that important to you?

Callahan: They’re the fabric of our lives. We have a Depression era quilt [on the wall], and I think a lot of people discard these old things. For me, there’s so much beauty in old things, and history — that’s what a lot of Brooklyn Heights is about. It’s so beautiful, and we’re just learning about the history. We were reading about February House [at 7 Middagh Street] which is where Carson McCullers [as well as W.H. Auden and Jane Bowles] did a lot of their writing. I like referencing history in my workwear, [and taking] inspirations from the 1930s. [It’s] a lot of Americana, old textiles, indigo. As a kid, I always felt like these old things I would see in vintage stores, no one else appreciated because everyone wanted the new shiny thing. I feel like that helped define me.

 

Ingas Bar is open Wednesday to Sunday from 5 to 11 p.m.

 

Michael Harlan Turkell is a photographer, writer, and cookbook author. He’s also host of the Modernist Pizza Podcast, which explores the art, history, and science of pizza. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Follow Resy, too.