Mere blocks from where the city’s first tidewater grist mill was located, Runner & Stone is a Gowanus outpost of slow food sustainability, master breadmaking, and a fascinatingly diverse, Italy-inspired menu
by matt Scanlon
The farm-to-table concept is one that an increasing number of borough restaurants are both using and branding upon. From Roberta’s on Moore Street to The Farm on Adderley in Ditmas Park, Northeast Kingdom on Wyckoff Avenue to Bay Ridge’s Brooklyn Beet Company, the notion of sourcing locally–both for taste and environmental benefit–is finding its stride…and audience.
When Chris Pizzulli and Peter Endriss began discussing foundational principles for a new eatery, they wanted to begin with the farm-to-table paradigm, but extend its notion of sustainability to include making as many ingredients as possible in house. Given that Pizzulli is an experienced chef and Endriss a master baker, a diverse skill set was at their strategic disposal, along with a knowledge of city aesthetics.
“Chris is a Brooklyn guy, through and through, and he now lives in Bay Ridge,” Endriss explained from the bar area of the partners’ Runner & Stone restaurant on 3rd Ave. in the Gowanus area, just off Carroll Street. “I grew up on Long Island, so I came to know the city as a kind of tourist, but
we both had opportunity to examine the marketplace pretty closely.”
Endriss once thought his destiny lay in engineering, but after years in the profession, acknowledged in the year 2000 what, as it turned out, had been clear all along—his passion was in the kitchen. Even as a child, his dream was to open a restaurant, and the Greenwich Village resident explained that whether in the family kitchen or at just about any dinner party, “I was always at the foot of whoever was cooking.” After both studying the techniques of and cooking with Chef Patricia Yeo, then learning the art of pastry under James Beard Award winner Nicole Plue and renowned Pastry Chef François Payard, he worked for a time at Amy’s Bread in Hells Kitchen, and found a happy synergy between art and science in bread production.
Growing up in Bensonhurst, Pizzulli was spiced by his Italian upbringing, and earned a degree in hotel and restaurant management from New York City Technical College. After working in a number of restaurants in California, he was part of Blue Ribbon Restaurants opening its first Brooklyn brick and mortar in 2001, ultimately earning the title of chef de cuisine there.
Between the two, there’s an attention to local sourcing and prep detail at Runner & Stone that borders on the obsessive. Condiments are made in-house, along with the pasta (made with organic flour and local eggs), and the house mortadella seems to be a particularly prideful affair (it requires five days, and uses a house spice blend and whole pistachios). Seasonal, local sourced vegetables, sustainably caught seafood, and responsibly raised meat are additional and key ingredients.
The result is a flavorful march through a long working day, which starts with a service of bread and pastries, coffee and tea for breakfast, a lunch menu divided roughly equally between sandwiches and salads (Grilled Gruyere on Rye, with red wine shallots and yellow mustard is a vegetarian standout, while Roasted Pork on Semolina makes flesh eaters in the crowd open wide), then a dinner that finds its greatest improvisation in daily specials. The menu presents as a comprehensible continental affair, often and happily accented by a particularly Italian aesthetic. Endriss’ Bolzano rye, for example, is a nearly three-pound loaf with an artistic crisscross top pattern, inspired by the flavors the baker encountered while on a trip to Europe. (“It’s spiced with coriander, cumin, and fennel, he explained. “Just a little captured moment in time for me from Northern Italy.”) The business name, too, is inspired by breadmaking lore: to grind grain in a traditional manner, bakers would use “base” and “runner” stones, and the business’s location, by pure happenstance, is just a few blocks away from where the city’s first tidewater grist mill was located.
“As far as dinner main courses are concerned, it’s a compact menu [four mains are on hand],” the owner added. “But that set list is really only half the picture of eating here. We change accompaniments constantly, and love to come up with specials— a recent was hand-making a fat rigatoni called paccheri that we served with a lamb ragout—which was just amazing— and then there was a spaghetti with trout roe that went over really well.”
Finding a reliable customer base in Gowanus was an interesting endeavor, not least because the neighborhood is arguably changing as dynamically as any in the borough… or in the city. What was once an expanse of industrial spaces on 3rd Ave. is slowly evolving to include residences and small businesses, but the neighborhood in many ways still seems something of an outpost.
“Years ago, most of the people in Park Slope wouldn’t even consider crossing 4th Ave., but that is slowly changing,” Endriss observed. “But over two years, we are definitely seeing an expansion of people actually living in the neighborhood. That has to be seen in perspective, though; whereas a block in Manhattan might have 1,000 people living on it, on this block there’s about fifty.”
Business has been up over the past year, however, which allowed Pizzulli and Endriss to not only breathe a little easier, but to expand the 24-hour bakery operations to include selling fresh bread to other local restaurants and the nearby Whole Foods, as well as the Park Slope Sunday Down to Earth Farmers Market.
The flavors, “source local” mission, and innumerable owner work-hours combine for a happy whole, here, along with the fascinating architectural design of Karla Rothstein, Salvatore Perry and the company Latent Productions NYC. In opening the former law office space to include access to a rear courtyard, and in their accentuation of long views within a narrow footprint, the firm has managed to make a clean, textured, sharp-cornered, and calmly modern setting, one that earned an American Institute of Architects, NY Merit Award for Interior Architecture last year, among other professional association recognitions.
“As the neighborhood grows, we find people are appreciating both the look and the menu more and more,” Endriss said. “But it’s so much about change here, in addition to growth. I just hope the artists and other interesting people occupying these former Gowanus industrial spaces don’t have to leave in the face of new development, but it will be a fascinating evolution to witness in any case.”
Runner & Stone
285 3rd Ave. / 718.576.3360 / runnerandstone.com