CHEF CHAMP JONES PRESENTS A NOVEL CONCEPT: A POP UP VEGAN RESTAURANT IN AN UPSCALE CARROLL GARDENS FOOTPRINT
BY MATT SCANLON • PHOTOS BY NOAH FECKS
Fueled by concerns about environmental sustainability and the simple market need to address changing diners’ tastes, the last few years have seen a renewed embrace of vegetarian dishes among a number of elite chefs. Jean Georges Vongerichten, for example, speaks with almost evangelical fervor about the vegan friendly dishes at Matador Room at the Miami Beach Edition. Closer to home, John Fraser’s Nix, in Greenwich Village, espouses the “belief that eating vegetarian or vegan should feel more celebration than sacrifice.” All these and other industry pros need to do in order to see the bottom line wisdom at work there is consult a July report from the Plant Based Foods Association, a trade group representing 114 of the nation’s leading plant based food companies. It reported a 20% increase in retail plant based food sales during 2017, with 2018 sales on track to increase further, to just under $4 billion.
When Nightingale Nine restaurant in Carroll Gardens closed last year, leaving the lovely space empty and time remaining on its lease, Champ Jones, a veteran of Eleven Madison Park, proposed a novel concept: essentially a pop up restaurant in an upscale footprint. Vegan dishes would be the focus at Sans, a “dynamic one year project, where non vegans do vegan food,” and Jones was playing with traditional vegetarian presentations from the first, incorporating a multi course tasting menu and presenting indulgent, often high fat dishes such as his black plum terrine and gluten and barley burger, the latter topped by what he described as a vegan cheese with “almost Cheez Whiz qualities.”
Launched in late summer, Sans, Jones explained, has been gently tweaking its menu since, towards a more casual aesthetic, including style of service and the dishes themselves.
“The burger, for example, was a way of taking things in a less formal direction,” he said. “It’s presented in an essentially All American way, with a fluffy white bun that we make here one that’s kind of sweet, and not at all good for you [laughs]. The patty itself has a textural bounce that’s reminiscent of meat; it required experimentation, but the results, I think, are great.” Served with a side of smashed potatoes, the dish is representative of a philosophy Jones describes as a “no holds barred approach; we try to create a maximally indulgent burger, not worrying about gluten, sugar, fat, salt, or starch, and all elements of the plate operate on that principle.”
Smaller dishes include a maitake flatbread (with maitake mushrooms, confit garlic cream, and oregano); smashed patatas bravas with pimento aioli and chives; and a warm brussel caesar with croutons and vegan “parm.” Entrées include the burger, a “charred onion” (with pickles, smoked onion sauce, ricotta, and crouton), and conchiglioni alla vodka, served with cheese foam and escarole. There’s also a distinct brunch menu and desserts that include lemon sorbet and “free form doughnuts.”
Arguably Jones’s signature dish is the black plum terrine appetizer, with orchard fruit jelly and house made brioche. It is, he described, “particularly emblematic of the restaurant’s concept.”
“This is because, in part, it’s high fat. A dish like this, it flies in the face of the general perception of vegan food,” he said. “It has focused flavors all thematically arranged around one fruit, but then it also ties itself into a traditional presentation of foie gras wherein the terrine is served with sweet, sour, savory accoutrement, and toast.”
Asked about the lease hard out date (close to Labor Day), the chef detailed both advantages and disadvantages.
“Yes, typically, a new restaurant requires a good year in order to find a voice in the market, so I will not have the benefit of an extended refining process, but for me, the finite time was part of the appeal,” he said. “We knew that if the execution became too onerous, we could just end it when the lease was up. The idea is more about testing the viability of a concept and how people would receive these dishes.”
329 Smith Street / 929.337.6292 / sansbk.com