Jose Garces’s tavern, Village Whiskey, opens today at 11:30 a.m. While it’s Garces’s name on the marquee, chef de cuisine Dave Conn is the man in charge of the day-to-day (he also holds down the title of chef de cuisine at Tinto). Conn opened Amada with Garces back in 2005 and says he’s really excited - or at least as excited as this mellow, ponytailed chef seems to get - to have the opportunity to expand his ingredient list beyond Spain. We sat down with Conn for a Q&A; while he was in the midst of final menu preparations for the pub and he filled us in on some of the menu items and why, someday down the road, you might be eating a roast pork sandwich inside of a sausage.
Last time we talked, you didn’t have a price yet for the Whiskey King. You’ve set it at $24. Was that a difficult decision? Was there some wiggle room, like a dollar up and down?
Absolutely. It’s a limited production farm that we’re purchasing the beef from, so we’re paying on that end and the garnish [foie gras] adds up quickly.
At $9, the Village Burger is pretty reasonable though.
Yes, absolutely, considering it’s the same beef. You know, we really want to move that move Village Burger, we want the average guest to be able to afford the burger that’s offered and then have the opportunity to splurge as well.
Let’s talk about the fries. All prepared in duck fat? What about the short rib fries?
All fries are duck fat - we can prepare vegetarian fries upon request - but the duck fat fries are hand-cut Idaho potatoes, confited in rendered duck fat, rosemary and garlic at 300 degrees until tender. The short rib fries are the duck fat fries layered with braised short rib and aged Vermont cheddar - it’s Jasper Hill clothbound. It’s served in a 10” cast iron skillet. It’s our take on poutine.
Tell me about the pickled vegetables. It’s interesting there’s a whole menu section devoted to that and it’s something no one else is really doing here.
I’m really happy with how those turned out. Jose really wanted to have a nice alternative as an accompaniment to a burger. So basically we’re going to work with seasonal vegetables, you”ll see a lot of change within that section of the menu. The standard garnishes with each are whipped ricotta, olive tapenade and grilled sourdough, served in a tiny little mason jar on a wood plank, with a cocktail fork and a cheese knife. The presentation is fantastic, it’s all baby veg - baby carrots, baby beets, baby artichokes, cherry tomatoes and cipollini.
Talk to me about the pretzels and cheese puffs.
The cheese puff is a standard pate au choux dough with the addition of Gruyere. They’re gratined to order with additional Gruyere. The pretzel is pretty much a straightforward Philadelphia pretzel - they’re parbaked in the morning and dipped in a baking soda and water solution; before going into the oven they’re coated in fleur-de-sel. The baking soda is for sheen and to help the salt adhere to the pretzel. There’s dried yeast in the pretzel as well. It’s served with house-made spicy mustard - yellow and brown seeds, champagne vinegar, they’re macerated overnight, pureed and mixed with a little creme fraiche daily. It’s spicy!
Tell me about the Kentucky fried quail. Why quail?
Jose’s been pushing really hard to get quail on the menu at Tinto for a while and I think it just happened to work out. The quail came together brilliantly - I’m really happy with that dish. It’s a pretty straightforward Southern dredge - we’re using a couple types of flour - nonfat dried milk, sage, various other spices. It’s semi-boned - no ribs, no back, which makes for easy eating. We dredge it through the spice mix once, then in buttermilk and egg, then back in the spice. The bird cooks brilliantly in no time - nice and juicy. It’s my first experience with deep-fried game bird, but it’s delicious. It’s served with a refined take on succotash -chanterelle and sweet potato - we’re using beautiful Saskatchewan chanterelles from Canada, Jersey sweet corn, pan-fried sweet potatoes. Plus a little chicken gravy. I just made one for Jose and I’m really happy with it.
Let’s talk sausage. What’s the hot link?
We’re very excited about that also - we’ve been working on a lot of charcuterie - fresh stuff for Tinto and we’ve also been working on a cured program; we felt like we’d want to put a sausage on the menu. It’s a classic Southern thing. The spices are along the same line as the quail, a lot of cayenne, paprika, brown sugar, nonfat dry milk, beer, fresh sage. It’s served on a bowl with Texas toast and barbecued baked beans and cole slaw.
Is your lobster roll a classic New England situation?
No. It’s certainly an interpretation of that dish, except it’s a whole one pound lobster, poached in buerre monte to order, it’s an emulsion of butter and water seasoned with a touch of white peppercorn and salt. It’s served warm with lemon-Old Bay aioli and then the classic garnish: brunoise celery, brunoise shallot and chive, butter leaf lettuce and Jersey beefsteak tomato and brioche bun. And applewood-smoked bacon. Most people are not accustomed to it being served warm, but we figured if you’re going to poach it to order, you might as well. I think it worked out nicely. It doesn’t look small - the claws are left whole, the tail is sliced and the knuckle meat is there as well. It’s a 7-inch roll and it’s pretty well filled. I’m pretty confident people will be satisfied.
It seems like you’ve done a couple of interpretations of classics and standards. So are we going to see a cheesesteak? How about a roast pork? Anything you’re experimenting with?
[Laughs] That’s a good question. There was talk of a hot dog early on and that’s something we’d like to do also. You know it’s funny because the hot dog idea got tossed around so many times - at one point we almost decided to try and incorporate all of the elements of a roast pork sandwich into a sausage. Broccoli rabe, provolone, that kind of thing. So that’s maybe a possibility.