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.
Today, we’re turning our attention to Arden in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, not far from Prospect Park, which opened in May. It’s the first joint restaurant venture for Mermaid Inn alumni Scott Dansby and chef Mark Mata.
Here’s everything you need to know about Arden before you go.
1. Arden wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the pandemic.
When the pandemic hit, Dansby and Mata, like many other restaurant workers, were forced to pivot. Dansby was working as the general manager at Market Table in the West Village until the restaurant’s temporary closure, and Mata was in the process of opening a new restaurant with The Mermaid Inn’s owner, Daniel Abrams, until they scrapped the project due to COVID. While it had been nearly a decade since both had worked together, they realized Dansby’s front-of-house experience and Mata’s culinary skill set would be a natural fit, ideal for opening their first restaurant together as owners.
Dansby and Mata first met in 2012 while working at the East Village location of The Mermaid Inn as the general manager and executive chef, respectively. Arden represents their shared desire to have a more seasonal, multicultural menu, as opposed to centering their menu around one type of cuisine.
“We want to be a place where people in the area and the neighborhood can come and enjoy themselves, whether it’s a meal or even a snack,” Dansby says.
2. The menu uses local ingredients to highlight its global influences.
For the most part, Mata sources ingredients locally, so the menu changes regularly with the seasons. The team makes weekly visits to the Prospect Park farmers market for produce each Saturday, and works with local vendors like Down East Seafood and Paisanos, a Carroll Gardens-based butcher that has been in business since 1960.
The idea for infusing global elements into the menu was inspired by Mata’s travels and love for experimenting with sweet, sour, and salty elements. Arden’s prime New York strip, for instance, is a tribute to his travels to Barcelona where he became enamored with the bright red romesco sauce paired with skirt steak tapas. At Arden, his version adds a sweet-and-sour punch that beautifully balances out the richness of the sirloin steak and crispy potatoes.
Beyond Spain, the summer menu features flavors from all over the world: There’s a Vietnamese-inspired hamachi crudo with nuoc cham; heirloom carrots with Mediterranean labneh and dukkah; Moroccan-spiced Giannone chicken with tapenade; and French staples like a little gem and chicory salad with a sherry vinaigrette, tarragon, shaved boiled eggs, and anchovy breadcrumbs.
3. Arden takes inspiration from the restaurant that came before it.
Something really special about Arden is how it pays homage to the previous tenant, the beloved Glady’s Rum Bar, which closed in 2020. “I remember coming here when it was the previous place and they had this great wood-fired grill, and we got really excited about using that and how that would be a focus in our menu,” says Dansby, who lives a block away from Arden. “The space inspired us, and it also inspired the direction we went with the remodel.”
They didn’t just stop at the grill: Dansby and Mata also brought back Brooklyn-based cocktail expert Shannon Mustipher, who spearheaded the rum-focused bar at Glady’s. While we wouldn’t label Arden’s cocktail list as Caribbean, it’s clearly a nod to Glady’s in many ways.
4. Cocktails are a must — especially during happy hour.
The drink menu is full of exciting flavors and ingredients that tie into the bounty and freshness of ‘Arden,’ a name that Dansby and Mata chose for its connection to the Hebrew word for the Garden of Eden.
For the summer, Mustipher incorporates herbs like hibiscus, chamomile, shiso, and pea flower, and her drink menu is as meticulously thought out as the food menu is. The Attache highball, for example, uses gin steeped in unrefined coconut oil for two days, giving it a delicate, sweet profile.
Dansby recommends the Pink Flamingo for first-time diners; it has tequila blanco, Mezcal, Aperol, lemon, and hibiscus, and has been one of the most popular beverages thus far. For those looking for something a little less pink, he also suggests the Blue Note, which is Pisco-based with chamomile syrup, pea flower, and citrus stock, or the Peak Performance, a refreshing highball with Centerbe, grapefruit, and lime soda.
Arden also has a happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, with two happy hour-exclusive cocktails that are $11 each; the Dancing Queen, a tequila-based drink with watermelon, lime and mint, and the Cool Breeze, which is rum-based with prickly pear, lemon, basil, and mint. Mustipher is also working on a new mushroom martini that should be hitting the happy hour menu soon. To accompany the happy hour drink menu, there’s also a special light bites menu with marinated olives, crispy skate sliders, burger sliders, and a bloody maria shrimp cocktail.
5. It’s all about the community.
Supporting the local community is at the forefront for Mata and Dansby, and that’s noticeable even from the exterior: The team brought in local artist Jessie Young to create a fun painting of abstract gardens that tie back to the name ‘Arden,’ with the hopes of creating art for the entire neighborhood to enjoy. Inside, Young also painted another mural behind the bar, too, with abstract florals. Pieces of art from local artists, one of which is from server Alex Schmitz, dot the walls, too.
They also make it a priority to hire within the community and brought some other former Glady’s employees onto the team. This fall, Dansby and Mata plan to host pop-ups for one Sunday each month to highlight and support local chefs who don’t have their own restaurant space yet.
Arden is open for dinner Tuesday through Thursday 5 to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 5 to 11 p.m.