At Annicka, overlooking McCarren Park in Greenpoint, the drink menu is notably unique. The pale ale was brewed blocks away with hops and barley grown upstate. The riesling is from the Finger Lakes. The bourbon is from the Hudson Valley.
In fact, everything available for imbibing—while sitting at a colorful cafe table adorned with freshly picked flowers—was made in New York State.
Popular brewery Greenpoint Beer & Ale Co. opened Annicka in February using a state farm brewery license, which comes with set rules for serving only in-state alcohol. But while the restaurant’s concept is rooted in promoting craft beer, chef Christian Perkins is applying a similar do-more-with-local-ingredients ethos to the food in a deeply thoughtful, flavorful way.
It all started with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Farm Brewing Law, which went into effect in January 2013. “The whole idea is to promote New York State agriculture, and in our case it’s hops and barley,” says Ed Raven, owner of Greenpoint Beer and Annicka.
The law created farm brewery licenses that allow brewers to sell beer by the glass at up to five retail locations without an additional permit. In order to qualify, breweries have to source at least 20 percent of their hops and 20 percent of other ingredients from within the state. That number will rise—presumably alongside a availability of the associated crops—until it reaches 90 percent in 2024.
It’s a big deal for brewers, Raven says, because margins are tight and selling beer at retail is much more lucrative than doing it wholesale. The speed at which brewers have applied for the licenses supports that fact. In February, the governor’s office announced that more than 200 farm brewery licenses had been issued since the law went into effect.
At Greenpoint Beer & Ale., brewers use a signficicant amount of New York State grain and Raven says that while the availability of high-quality hops is still lagging, it’s been slowly improving. New beers go on tap weekly (and into cans every few weeks) at the brewpub on North 15th Street and then are added to the menu at Annicka.
Then, the restaurant supplements its own beers with wine from spots like Channing Daughters and Shinn Estate on Long Island and Fjord Vineyards in the Hudson Valley. Cocktails incorporate spirits like Due North Rum, made in Red Hook, and Warwick Gin, made in Orange County.
To create a food menu that would complement the bar program, Raven partnered with the team at North Brooklyn Farms in Williamsburg. “I knew what we were going to do in terms of the beer, and I thought it would be great to take the whole New York state thing a step further and create a food menu that centers around locally-produced ingredients,” he says.
Head chef Christian Perkins took that directive to a new level. In addition to his connection to North Brooklyn Farms, Perkins developed his cooking style at seasonal hotspots Diner and Marlow & Sons. He then learned whole animal butchery at Marlow & Daughters. During those years, he developed strong relationships with many of the best small farms in the region.
“That was really what I specialized in for most of my career and that’s what I was happy to bring to the table here,” he says. “What we’re doing here is complete direct purchasing from farmers and 100 percent transparency.”
Perkins and his team visit North Brooklyn Farms weekly to see what’s available. This time of year that means lots of fresh herbs like mint and basil, edible flowers, cucumbers and zucchini. The rest of the produce comes from nearby farms in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Perkins buys whole pigs, whole lambs and quarter cows and breaks them all down in house, turning the animals into bacon, pastrami, steaks and more. He stacks the menu with vegetarian options but always includes two meats and a fish, and while dishes change regularly, he feels strongly about having go-to items neighborhood residents can rely on.“We try to maintain that level of consistency while also making it as seasonal as possible,” he says.
“I knew what we were going to do in terms of the beer, and I thought it would be great to take the whole New York state thing a step further and create a food menu that centers around locally-produced ingredients,” he says.
On a recent night, vegetable dishes like smashed cucumbers with turmeric peanuts and tomatoes with blackberries and herbs tasted like pure summer. A now signature dish called Wedding Rice, reminiscent of Persian jeweled rice, combined a crispy rice pancake of sorts with shredded curried chicken and sliced chilies and cherry tomatoes into three layers of incredible texture and flavor.
New American is what Perkins says most people would describe his food as, but he’d like to call it “New East Coast” since “what could be New American to us would be totally different in San Antonio or Los Angeles.”
For instance, the winter will be much more challenging at Annicka compared to those warmer cities. Perkins and his team are busy fermenting, pickling and preserving to build up a pantry, but he’ll also have to call in more orders from California and Florida, too. “I want to divest from having to rely on those far away things as much as possible,” he says. “Part of that is building a big pantry and cellar. Another big part is just learning to adapt and telling customers to try something different.”
At the bar, for instance, where customers are regularly told there’s no tequila or Stella Artois, that’s already happening. “Sometimes,” Perkins says, “those limitations can be liberating.”