“What would you do if you didn’t have any restrictions?” That’s what husband-and-wife team Sean Meade and Asha Rhodes-Meade are asking the rotating cast of emerging chefs they’re featuring at Dewdrop Inn, a new Prospect Heights pop-up restaurant. They give the chef a budget and then hand over the reins. Ready, set, go.
Dewdrop Inn, said Meade, is a way to let chefs play. Meade, who is currently a mixologist for The Vanderbilt in Prospect Heights, works mostly in the front of the house, but has become close with a handful back-of-the-house folks in his 10 years of restaurant experience. For a while now, he’s been talking to his chef friends — people like John Conlin, who has worked as sous chef at Savoy and executive chef at Berlyn — about doing something together.
“I’m hoping to work with all these chefs,” Meade said of his chef-acquaintances, “giving them a platform, and coming up with cocktails based on what they cook. Every last chef we’ll work with in Dewdrop, I’d love to open a restaurant with.” Dewdrop will welcome a new chef every Friday night, giving each the opportunity to cook a meal that he or she wouldn’t be able to fit to the menu at work.
Meade’s dream restaurant would be “something chef-driven, cocktail-driven, a neighborhood place,” he said — and that’s exactly what he envisions Dewdrop Inn to be: it’s part supper club, part prix-fixe tasting menu from a chef with the night off, part audition for a future Sean Meade project with a brick-and-mortar kitchen to call its own. In the meantime, Dewdrop is camping out in The Usual Restaurant, a cozy brunch spot on Vanderbilt Ave., the owner of which is another friend of Meade’s.
“It’s a diner. It doesn’t quite match the trendiness that you see on Vanderbilt Ave.,” said Asha Rhodes-Meade, Sean Meade’s wife and the business end of Dewdrop Inn. “But I insisted that Sean talk to Mike [the owner] at The Usual about putting the pop-up in there and he immediately said yes, that he closed at 9 and we could start setting up at 8.” And Dewdrop was born, with its first dinner on February 21. Meade, though accustomed to the dining room and bar rather than the kitchen, acted as chef for that first night, serving dinner to a packed house of mostly friends and family. But their main audience, and the ones they are hoping to reach as Dewdrop grows, is the neighborhood crowd.
“Our main goal is to get the local people who are here every day. There are people who want to go out and eat — you just have to find them,” said Meade. “All the restaurants on Vanderbilt Ave. are packed every day.” Winning over the neighborhood will encourage word-of-mouth, and eventually, the Dewdrop team hopes, hungry Manhattanites will arrive. But for now, they’re working on celebrating the chefs who will be setting up in The Usual’s kitchen, cranking out definitely non-diner fare. Conlin, Meade’s friend, chefed for Dewdrop’s second event. His tasting menu included roasted winter squash with pumpkin seeds, bulgur, and yogurt; braised skate with parsnip cream, apple, rosemary, and brown butter; slow-cooked pork shoulder with spiced carrots, charred onions gastrique, and frisée; and an heirloom-citrus cheesecake.
“My impression of pop-ups is that they focus on celebrity chefs. We want to focus on emerging chefs and help them establish a name for themselves,” said Rhodes-Meade. “You’re always going to get to try something different and the chef has the ability to cook whatever they’re dying to cook right now. We give the chefs a platform for food that they don’t get to try out very often, that’s in their head.” And Conlin did — but the turnout on the 28th, when Conlin chefed, was smaller than they had hoped.
Before Dewdrop, Meade, as a mixologist, had never had to worry about the dinner crowd before. They always just arrived, hungry and expecting a good meal. In his new role as Dewdrop’s manager, however, it’s become the most pressing aspect of the evening. They have a space. They have a chef. They have a menu. Now, as their name gets out, they just need to fill the seats.