Last summer, as regulars at the West Village farm-to-table spot Bobo left town for their weekend country homes, chef Patrick Connolly and owner Carlos Suarez decided that the restaurant should have a few warm-weather getaways of its own. So they packed up the kitchen and hit the road for a series of “Plate to Gate” meals—cooked and eaten at the very farms and vineyards whose bounty they’re used to building their menus around.
“The whole idea all started when we made friends with Mike,” says Suarez, referring to Mike Osinski, who raises bivalves at his Widow’s Hole Oyster Company in the bay in front of his Greenport, Long Island, home. “We ended up there for New Year’s.”
While Osinski’s sweet, briny treasures are usually shucked at Gotham hot spots like 11 Madison Park, Aquagrill, Le Bernardin, Esca and, yes, Bobo, on this particular night, says Suarez, “Mike pulled a basket of oysters straight out of the water for us.” The perfection of slurping right at the source struck the Bobo boys as an experience they needed to re-create for their clientele.
“I have always found it difficult to tell our guests the stories of our farmers and purveyors in the right way,” says Suarez, who wanted to better explain the special relationships the restaurant has with its farmers, fishers and fromagers—and the relationships that those artisans in turn have with the foods they grow, raise, catch and make.
“Since so many of our regulars go to Long Island or upstate over the summer,” reasons Connolly, “we thought that this could be a great opportunity to connect our guests to our purveyors and give them a sense of where—and who—their food comes from.”
Thus began a series of en-plein-air experiences including a barn brunch at Neversink Farm in the Catskills (alongside a riverbank where chickens and children chased each other), dinner on the Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm in Long Island City (the views are “just amazing,” raves Suarez), and a seafood feast back at Widow’s Hole, overlooking the very waters where the stripers, porgies and bluefish on the menu were recently swimming.
The series was a smash hit. “We thought it would mostly be our restaurant regulars,” admits Connolly, but a lot of these farmers have their own followings and fans.
So this summer the series is back, and bigger. At Balsam Farms in East Hampton, the team will host a pig roast and crab boil. A traditional clambake will be held at the Fire Island Beer Company. Brooklyn Grange will play host to a Bastille Day charcuterie-and-canapé fest. The finale dinner will be held back on Manhattan soil—at the New Amsterdam Market, for which the feast will raise funds. Dinners are about $100 each, with room for between 40 and 120 guests, depending on location.
Naturally each menu showcases the best of the location’s bounty. “When we go up to the Catskills, it’s amazing,” marvels Connolly. “It’s so diverse. Incredible vegetables and heritage chickens, wild trout in the pond—and we may even be able to make butter there.”
But in a way, he’s as excited about the method as he is about the menu. That’s because each dinner is cooked over a handmade wood-burning stove constructed by Connolly and company.
“My favorite part is cooking outside,” says Connolly. “I don’t like the look of a gas grill in a beautiful outside setting, so we kind of just show up and figure out how we are going to do things.” They build fire pits or rustic, makeshift grills, fueled by wood from the property. At Neversink the stove is fashioned from a vintage water trough found on the property, while the bouillabaisse at Wölffer will be cooked over an open fire.
“I’m not sure what we are going to do at Fire Island yet,” says Connolly. But the surprise is half the fun.