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 upcoming and newly opened restaurants.
Last November, Rachel Jackson was running the pass on a particularly busy day at Gertie, the Jew-ish diner and cafe she co-owns with her husband Nate Adler in Williamsburg. “[I was] getting my ass kicked. And I looked at my text messages and I get something from Nate that literally just says, ‘Hey, I just bought us a restaurant.’”
That’s how Gertrude’s — the “grown-up version” of Gertie, as Adler puts it — started coming together. The duo teamed up with Samesa co-founder and meme master Eli Sussman, who is a partner and executive chef of the neighborhood spot.
We spoke with all three about building a “New York bistro,” stroller parking, and borscht vodka shots in this Rundown on what you can expect at Gertrude’s, which opens on Wednesday, June 28.
1. It all happened in a hurry.
2. There will be stroller parking and a kids menu.
Adler and Jackson were looking for a home for Gertrude’s, but when they came for dinner on James’s last night of service, they realized “it didn’t feel like a red sauce situation — it felt like a neighborhood restaurant,” Jackson explains.
“We want it to feel like a restaurant that you can pop into, and that it can be an extension of your home,” Sussman adds. In Prospect Heights, being family-friendly is a must, and there are plans for stroller checking and parking, highchairs, and a kids menu served on melamine plates.
The team also wants to bridge the gap between a family neighborhood spot and a special occasion restaurant. “You can come in and have a $20 meal. Or you can come in and have a $200 a person meal if you want — I mean, that’s a lot of money,” Jackson says, but the idea is neighbors can come by after work on a Tuesday or go all out on the weekends with flavored vodka shots later in the evening.
And they’re channeling some of what came before Gertrude’s: “People really loved James and they had a lot of special memories here,” Sussman explains. The team’s kept the large mirrors on the wall that originally came from the Plaza Hotel and while they would love to be in the space for 50 years, reaching 15 — like James did — feels like a good goal, he adds.
3. Look out for latkes and other Jewish touches on the menu.
Adler and Jackson call Gertie a “modern Jew-ish diner,” but the team at Gertrude’s is quick to explain that this is a “New York bistro,” not a Jewish one. That’s in part because some Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewish) classics like bagels and lox are New York signatures as well, they explain. Brunch, slated to launch in a month or so, will draw on that tradition with bagels and bialys from Gertie, a lox, egg and onion scramble, and babka French toast. There will also be matzo ball soup with duck confit. And, down the line, those bagels might be available to-go from a “bagel window.”
At dinner, expect a more traditional neighborhood restaurant menu with a cheeseburger on a challah roll, pickle-brined roast chicken with a choice of fries or latkes, and a few salads. “To me, that is what really anchors it as a neighborhood restaurant: the fact that you can come back and consistently always get this item that you love,” Sussman explains.
There will also be dishes to celebrate with, like an Le Grand Gertrude, a platter of oysters, sable and trout row, hot smoked salmon pate, and bagel chips — with optional house-flavored vodka shots. And while there were plans for gefilte fish croquettes, the team’s since pivoted to calling them white fish croquettes with horseradish tartar sauce.
4. Don’t sleep on the drink offerings.
Jackson oversees the beverages and has assembled an “adult soda bar” with aperitifs and digestifs that guests can choose from and have mixed with tonic or seltzer. “It’s going to be the best thing about the restaurant,” Adler says.
There are also a few martinis including a “dirty Gertie” with dill aquavit, infused daily vodka shots, and updates to classic cocktails including a Seder plate margarita with mezcal, lime, bitter orange, parsley, and salt water.
The wine list leans natural, but Jackson still wants it to be approachable. “I want your mom to be able to come in and have something that they like and not something that’s going to be too funky,” she says. The bottles are divided up by price point — $60, $75, and $90+ — with white, rosé/skin contact, and red in every category.
5. The team’s using Blackbird to expand their investor base.
While a growing number of restaurants and platforms are introducing membership programs where an annual fee gives diners access to things like hard-to-come-by reservations, Adler explains, “That’s not in my ethos.” At Gertie, the team uses Blackbird Labs [disclosure: Blackbird was started by Resy co-founder Ben Leventhal] for NFTs that function like a loyalty program, whereby repeat visits earn guests perks like free coffee and bagel sandwiches.
The team at Gertrude’s is using the platform to help crowdfund the restaurant. “We tried to make the pricing actually commensurate with the value of the goods and services we’re providing,” Adler explains. The $475 gold membership, which sold out, included an invite to a pre-opening friends and family meal, quarterly oyster happy hours, complimentary off-menu items, and other perks. By the middle of May, the team had raised around $25,000, “which is incredible,” says Adler.
Through July 2, Gertrude’s is open Wednesdays to Sundays from 5 to 10 p.m. Beginning July 5, it will be open daily, from 5 to 10 p.m. on weekdays and until 11 p.m. on weekends. Brunch service is expected to begin in late July or August.