Before you go to a restaurant, what do you want — or need — to know most? In our series, The Rundown, we’re sharing all the essentials about newly opened (as well as some of your favorite) restaurants.
When Daniel Eddy signed his Park Slope restaurant lease in 2019, he knew the space, divided in two by the entrance to a residential building, would require resourceful design and cooking. But after opening Winner, his bakery and coffee bar, in March 2020 in the first half, Eddy found himself tapping into creativity of the existential sort.
Instead of opening a wine bar in the second half of the space, as planned, his team sold rotisserie chicken dinners to-go and hosted weekly guest chef pop-ups. Thanks to loyal neighbors and high praise from critics, the survival strategy worked, and Eddy later launched Runner Up last fall with his original vision largely intact.
“We’re very much a wine bar anchored by proper food,” says Eddy, who cooked at Spring in Paris, Rebelle in New York, and Walnut Street Café in Philadelphia. “One of my frustrations with wine bars is you really can’t go there for a meal. At Runner Up, you can snack your way through the menu and feel like, ‘Wow. I just had a great dinner.’”
We recently popped by for dinner (and can confirm its greatness) and caught up with Eddy to give you the Rundown before you visit.
1. Dinner will be fast and fabulous — and likely outdoors.
Runner Up is “meant for people to come in, have fun, drink fast, eat fast, and keep moving,” says Eddy, who designed the menu for quick pickups. Just minutes after marking up a dim sum-style menu to place an order, a plate of mortadella draped with watercress, covered with parmesan, and dressed with a brown butter-pistachio vinaigrette hits the table. “Our turn time is an hour to an hour and 15 minutes at most, which is pretty aggressive,” admits Eddy. On a recent evening, the Runner Up team delivered six dishes, four glasses of wine, and the check to our table in less time than it takes to roast a chicken at home.
The reason is that Runner Up is too small a space for lingering. That means most guests will sit outside beneath a covered street structure that usually maxes out at approximately 30 seats, but can theoretically accommodate up to 54. Whether you walk in or make a reservation, guests can always request their preference for sitting indoors or outdoors, but chances are you’ll generally find more available reservations for outside than inside.
2. Yes, you should order the chicken.
Eddy sums up his food like this: “[It’s] sort of simple things with a strong approach that are well executed.” His half-rotisserie chicken, a forever menu staple, embodies that less-is-more ethos. Eddy sources the pasture-raised birds from Cook’s Venture, a regenerative farming outfit based out of Decatur, Ark., focused on slow growth and healthy animals. “When we make stocks, you can see how strong the bones are and how much collagen they have,” says Eddy.
To prepare the dish, he salts the chickens for 48 hours (there’s no pepper or additional seasonings), cooks them in a rotisserie oven, and serves them with bright, herb-y salsa verde and slurpable, fortifying chicken jus. “Everyone’s like, ‘You must do more than that, but I don’t,’” he says. The result is that you can taste the chicken itself, plump and juicy and unadulterated — and far more sophisticated than your average deli bird.
3. You can carb hard, if that’s your thing.
If you order the chicken at Runner Up, the chicken fat potatoes, cooked in all their schmaltz-y glory, are essential to experiencing the full pleasure and potential of the restaurant’s signature dish. But don’t stop carbing there.
Part of Runner Up’s model and charm is sharing ingredients and talent with Winner, the bakery next door. Start dinner with an order of garlic-cheddar monkey bread devised by pastry chef Ali Spahr; they’re a laminated dough ode to garlic knots served with marinara sauce for dunking. “I’m a New Yorker,” says Eddy, “and they remind me of my childhood at the pizza shop after school.”
There’s also a crusty half baguette and focaccia from baker Kevin Bruce, whose sourdough makes appearances with pork rillettes and as the base of a sardine toast with romesco, pickled shallots, and toasted almonds.
4. Cooking is a team sport.
Other than the chicken and potatoes, Runner Up’s menu will change with the seasons and at the whims of its cooks. “We have four to five cooks, all coming into their own and getting creative. I’m trying my very best not to be the one who drives the food,” says Eddy.
Sous chef Sarah Brown recently introduced a radicchio salad set with candied and crispy onions, romanesco, and pumpkin seeds. (Eddy says it’s an ideal add-on to a chicken order.) Another cook, Jamie Tao developed a fresh-as-spring dish of stracciatella with peas (English, sugar snaps, and tendrils), and Eddy says to soon expect a Greek salad riff informed by cook Harris Luther’s Greek roots.
5. The wine is (mostly) cheap and cheerful.
“I wanted to make sure we created a wine list that was cheap and cheerful, and not littered with bottles over $100,” says Eddy. Most of Runner Up’s wines fall in the $40 to $80 range, though sommelier John Kelly also has a stash of rarer bottles. You just have to ask, and that’s where you’ll find the white and red Burgundies and premier cru Champagne. Overall, the selections lean French, reflecting Eddy’s tastes and time in Paris, and dipping heavily into the Loire Valley and Jura. But you’ll also find new school California producers (Cruse, Arnaud Roberts, Hardin, and Sandlands, to name a few) and a smattering of Italian, Spanish, and Austrian bottles.
“I’ve asked myself, ‘Is there ever really a perfect bottle of wine?’ Sometimes you find one that’s phenomenal, but most of the time, it’s just a really good bottle,” says Eddy. “And if people can get a good bottle for $60, they’re going to go home happy.”
Runner Up is open from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from 5 to 9:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Caroline Hatchett is a restaurant and bar writer and senior editor at Plate. You can follow her @hatchetteats.