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No Smooth Jazz Allowed at Nate Smith's Gastropub Allswell

166994_321620877854777_260194787330720_1561436_1452200954_n.jpgNate Smith changes the menu every day at Allswell, his cozy, quirky pub in Williamsburg, and archives each bill of fare on Tumblr. After several years at the Spotted Pig, the chef has really come into his own, going wherever his creativity takes him, from bar snacks like chorizo pie and Welsh rarebit to hearty mains like pork belly with yellow-eyed beans, lovage and kale. He took some time today to talk about his process, the music that goes with his food and why his cooks can't show up with a hangover.
I saw a rough draft of one of your menus on Tumblr and it was incomprehensible; there were so many things crossed out and penciled in. It was interesting to follow your thought process on how your menu evolves, but how does anybody who works for you know what they're doing from day to day?

You have to be able to roll with it. I have a solid crew. I am very particular but I also trust my cooks to be chefs and make decisions. They have to be responsible, and that's the hardest thing to find when I'm hiring. You can't come in hung over. You have to be able to think clearly because everything's always changing. It's funny. I looked at that rough draft and couldn't imagine anybody understanding what the hell I was actually thinking. I write in code.
I know you cooked at the Spotted Pig for a long time, but where did you come from before that?

San Francisco, where I paid my dues at a great restaurant called Farallon. I moved to Williamsburg 11 years ago because the Bay Area became unaffordable during the dot-com bubble. I was looking for a more creative environment. Williamsburg was a no-man's land back then and a lot of San Francisco people were moving here. I met my wife Sophie [Kamin, his pastry chef] the first day I moved to New York.
How did you meet?

Our sisters were dating. They introduced us. We've been together ever since, with two children, three and five years old.
Are your sisters still together?

They broke up but it's all okay now.
What was it like working at the Spotted Pig?

I got there a couple months after they opened. April [Bloomfield] and I had a mutual friend who introduced us. I was looking for something that fit my personality, that wasn't just a job. I wanted to be part of something special. I got that with April. I owe her a lot in giving me standards that I adhere to today.
Was it hard to leave?

It was. As much as I loved April and Ken [Friedman], I just felt like it was time for me to pursue something on a smaller scale. They were growing so much [adding The Breslin and the John Dory Oyster Bar to their portfolio], which was really great for them, but I wanted to have something in Brooklyn. I was attracted to the people here who are really interested in food and supportive and looking for a good time.
Your first stop, at Dean Street [a tavern in Prospect Heights], wasn't such a good fit. You were gone after a month?

That was a big wake-up call for me. I really felt like I had something I wanted to share with people in the neighborhood, something of quality, but they didn't get it. My ideas were pretty basic stuff in my mind, but what's obvious to me is not obvious to you. I think the owners felt my ideas were unreasonable. From that experience, I knew I needed to be an owner so I could have a say in the final word. I'm actually glad it worked out the way it did or I never would have opened Allswell.
I remember reading you had a problem with the jukebox.

The thing with a jukebox is that at the height of dinner all of a sudden something mellow and sleepy would come on. It felt inconsistent to the vibe of the restaurant. As great an idea as a jukebox is, I didn't feel it was appropriate for maintaining a mood. At Allswell we have an ever-evolving list of music because I get tired of things. I like rock and roll, '80s stuff. I want our place to feel fun, not over-serious or stuffy, not boring. I'll listen to mellow music in my  off-time.
What would you never play in your restaurant?

Smooth jazz.
What works for you right now?

Davy Graham, an English guy. You should listen to him on Pandora.
The danger with changing your menu every day is that people won't find the dishes they loved the last time.

We'll bring things back around that were successful. We order from farms that deliver once or twice a week and don't stockpile anything so we run out of things. By always improvising, using what we have, it keeps our brains fresh, keeps us creative. There's a fluidness to what we do.
Has April Bloomfield been to your restaurant?

She has. She seems proud of me, in good spirits. It's always intimidating to cook for your mentor once you've stepped away. She's a busy woman, very sparing with her time, so it was an honor and a pleasure to have her here.
In the year or so in between leaving Dean Street and opening Allswell, what did you do?

My wife and I had been working at Dean Street together and suddenly had nothing. We wanted to open our own place so we had to figure out how to make that dream come true. We started making savory pies and selling them at the Bedford Cheese Shop. I delivered them on my bike. It wasn't easy and we had to get some support from Sophie's mother, but I didn't want to sign on with somebody at another restaurant and not make a real commitment to it. We didn't want to make any rash decisions that would prevent our own place from happening. We opted to struggle it out until we found investors, found a place. It paid off.
124 Bedford Ave.
(347) 799-2743
Williamsburg, Brooklyn


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