Midnight Brunch: My Life in Supper Clubs

by Emily on February 13, 2011 · 2 comments

in Food,Midnight Brunch

finishing touches

Michael Cirino of A Razor, A Shiny Knife puts finishing touches on a course

A supper club, in general, refers to a dining establishment that also functions as a social club. The term may describe different establishments depending on the region, but in general, supper clubs tend to present themselves as having a high-class image, even if the price is affordable to all. – Wikipedia

What is a supper club, and why would anyone want to go to one, much less begin one of her own? I’m just six days away from hosting my first Midnight Brunch, so let’s answer that question.

This is something I’ve had the pleasure of pondering since I went to my first supper club back in 2007 2008. I only remember the year because I found out about my neighbor (and now friend) Kara Masi’s supper club through Cathy Erway’s excellent blog post on her visit with Kara here.

I was still growing my New York City legs by the time I showed up to Kara’s home for the first time, having moved to Brooklyn from New Hampshire at the end of 2006. A supper club is something people in New Hampshire just don’t do.

In New Hampshire, we socialized in each others’ homes all the time. We’d shake up drinks and pour beers in each others’ kitchens (a must, since last call is 12:30 a.m.), we’d make each other an easy dinner on a weeknight, and have snacks in front of TVs together over the weekend. On special occasions like a girl’s night out, a birthday or a graduation, we’d eat out together. But in general, the bulk of our socializing happened at home and maybe on a weekend night at a laid back bar.

Flipping the page to my life in New York, I found it to be quite the opposite. I started to find myself out almost every other night at a new bar or restaurant, meeting friends, having business meetings or checking out a new place that was opening with folks in the food and beverage industry. Most of my friends and even the men I have dated have been in advertising, marketing or the hospitality industry, and this is just how it is for me and my circle of friends.

I have people here whom I’ve been friends with for three years, yet I’ve never seen the inside of their apartments. So, for a total stranger to take the time not just to have me over, but to cook and prepare cocktails and make her home presentable to receive me – that effort is just above and beyond the norm of fast-paced city life.

After having been to 10 different supper/cocktail clubs and now being friends with the groups behind each one, I felt like starting my own was a worthwhile experiment. If I’m being really honest, though, I’m starting a supper club because I want more excuses to cook for big groups of friends and strangers on a more regular basis. It’s going to be a great way to learn to be a better cook and entertainer and it will also allow me to do something else I love: Connecting Awesome People.

Other Names: Supper Clubs are usually known as underground restaurants, home bistros, guerrilla dinner, secret restaurant, paladares, puertas cerradas, guestaurants, speakeasy or even anti-restaurant. – Wikipedia

Menu for Sunday, April 5 - A Razor, A Shiny Knife

The "set list" for the April 5, 2009 dinner with A Razor, A Shiny Knife

In my first post about Midnight Brunch, I said “If my friends wanted a restaurant meal, they’d go to a restaurant.” One of the things I have enjoyed most about supper clubs is the educational aspect to the meal. The cook is right there in front of you, and usually the chef/chefs take the time to walk guests through the dishes as they’re served, talking everything from sourcing of the ingredients to the preparation and plating.

In the case of A Razor, A Shiny Knife, they actually invite guests into the kitchen to cook with them all day long. They do a bunch of experimental, science-based gastronomy at their dinners, and while I wouldn’t replicate 99% of what they’ve shown me at home, just the experience has been valuable.

I’m not anti-restaurant. I love love love them. But I’m not a professional chef, not even close. I’m someone who loves food and who can follow a recipe. I would like to be the person who can improvise something on a dime, and cooking for 20 people at a time is going to require an experimental attitude.

Also, restaurants are generally open to anyone who can afford the check, whereas a supper club is usually invite-only. Another exciting aspect of running a supper club is the ability to curate the guest list. My first dinner’s guest list features advertising execs, nannies, Swiss watch appraisers and fashion industry designers. Good times.

Supper club in United States is an American dining establishment generally found in the Upper Midwestern states … typically located on the edge of town in rural areas. They were traditionally thought of as a “destination” where patrons would go to spend the whole evening, from cocktail hour to enjoying night club style entertainment after dinner. They feature a casual and relaxed atmosphere. – Wikipedia

Noble Rot Champagne Event, Waldorf Astoria. With Mike Lee of Studiofeast Supper Club

Noble Rot Champagne Event, Waldorf Astoria. With Mike Lee of Studiofeast Supper Club

My friends at Whisk & Ladle are featured in a book by Jenn Garbee called Secret Suppers. While Whisk & Ladle is here in Brooklyn, the book features underground dining ventures from all over the country. new York City certainly doesn’t own the trend. {Proof: Great list of underground supper clubs.}. The next supper club I’m dying to go to is Clandestino, run by my friend Efrain Cuevas in Chicago.

Isn’t it funny that something now considered a little avant-garde, subversive even is actually a throw-back to a trend credited to Midwestern suburbanites?

It feels like new supper clubs pop up every month. My friend Rachael (who I wrote about here a couple of months ago) successfully launched her venture Bonhomie Supper Club, just last month. I’m happy to have her as a guest at my first dinner.

And about that cocktail hour … my friends Brett and Hal have gone to ridiculous lengths to create five (FIVE!) custom cocktails especially for our guests on Saturday. The cocktails feature artisan and small batch spirits, infusions, homemade syrups and hard-to-find brands of bitters.

Whereas the food is very approachable, the cocktails (to be featured in a future post) are not. These are so special that I hope the guests feel like the VIPs they are. We’re hitting them with bright sparklers and boozy tipples alike, but they won’t find these creations anywhere else in the city. Not yet, at least.

Typical menu: Supper clubs generally feature “simple” menus with somewhat limited offerings featuring “American” cuisine. Menus included dishes such as prime rib, steaks, chicken, and fish. – Wikipedia

Foie and Gooseberry, a course at A Razor, A Shiny Knife "Candy & Cocktails" dinner

Foie and Gooseberry, a course at A Razor, A Shiny Knife "Candy & Cocktails" dinner

I have had amazing food just about every time I’ve sat down to dine at a supper club. I’ve had everything from braised beer shortribs to handmade squid ink pasta to graham cracker ice cream sandwiches topped with ruby-colored roe to a spherical drop of dehydrated potato soup, designed to liquefy as soon as it hits the tongue. From the simple to the extreme, I have left inspired by the meal as much as the company.

My menus will always have some unifying themes:

1) They’ll always feature food from an ethnic neighborhood or cultures represented somewhere in NYC. The first menu pays homage to the Carribean and West Indian inhabitants of Brooklyn’s Crown Heights.

2) They will usually be approachable. I’m not a trained chef, or even the most talented of home cooks, so I should be able to walk you through the recipe over coffee or in a blog post, and you should feel like you can make the meal at home. Some tips and tricks for entertaining will be shared at the end of the meal to help guests pull it off, should they want to.

3) The menus will usually challenge me to grow as a cook. I’ve had heated discussions over the past month about how we’re going to fry the (d)ucking chicken. I want it to be jerk chicken in flavor because this is a Caribbean menu, but I want it to be fried chicken as in “fried chicken and waffles,” like they serve in Harlem. It turns out that some people near religiously offended when you put “fry” and “jerk chicken” in the same sentence, but I don’t care. I DO WHAT I WANT! I made it up, and it sounds like a fun challenge.

And it has been. Particularly because I’ve never fried chicken in my life. I had also never made waffles from scratch before this, and I’m doing just fine there. I decided I wanted a reduced papaya nectar syrup, which may very well turn into a mezcal papaya reduction by the time it hits the hot waffles next weekend. I created an original dish, and going from creation to execution has been a blast. That’s where I feel like my real growth will happen.

So, this is it then. The final few days of my civilian life. As of next weekend, I’m one of those. One of those crazy people that decides cooking for two dozen people in the middle of the night might be fun. I’m not doing it alone. I’m creating this experience with the help of five amazing friends, who you can read all about on the Midnight Brunch website.

A big thank you to them, and to you … you are the people I write for, cook for and eat for. Without you, food wouldn’t be any fun. So thank you for sharing this experience with me. To be added to the invitation list for future events, please send me a note at Emily {at} MouthOfTheBorder.com.

Click the photo below to see more pictures from my supper club adventures over the past four years.

Click my face to see four years of supper club adventures in NYC.

Click to view an album of my supper club adventures 2008-2011.

Midnight Brunch would like to thank the sponsors of Edition One:

Check out my favorite supper clubs:

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I love sharing details about upcoming tasty trips and adventures, so you won’t want to miss a bite. As always, please feel free to chat with me on Twitter, join our group on Facebook and keep up with new posts here by subscribing.

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  • Selina

    I love supper clubs, and I cannot wait to get an opportunity to attend one in my new city. I have been eyeing Ted & Amy’s for a while, but have not had the chance to attend. Formerly, living in LA we both held and went to “supper clubs” often (on a side note, one of my favorite chefs in LA , Suzanne Goin holds Sunday Suppers at her restaurant in LA if you haven’t been, it’s fabulous!) One of the most exciting aspects beyond the fabulous and special menu, is the socializing! It’s so fun and interesting to come together with people in an intimate way over a shared meal, who may not know each other otherwise. Love, congrats!

    • http://www.mouthoftheborder.com emilyspearl

      Selina -

      So glad you enjoyed the post. Supper clubs are one of my favorite parts of
      life in the city. I have met so many cool people this way, and almost all of
      them are hardcore food and drink lovers or artists, etc.

      Great note on the L.A. suppers – will check it out as soon as I’m back out
      there!

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