“Gertie actually didn’t really cook much, she didn’t influence me from a culinary standpoint so much as her energy. She was colorful, eccentric and playful,” says owner Nate Adler (managing partner at Huertas in the East Village) of his Queens-born and -bred grandmother, whom the space is named after.
This is made clear with inherited duck motifs proudly on display throughout the sunny, 70-seat spot. “Gertie was very particular … these decoy ducks were what she let him leave around,” says Adler of his grandparents.
Adler, who grew up on the Upper West Side, likens the ethos to “Zabar’s but with more all-inclusive hospitality … but also what you’d find at a retro Financial District counter spot.” 91-year-old Al Forenti, who grew up selling Christmas trees in the lot that is now home to Gertie, even stopped by to give his blessing.
Joyful interior design extends to branding by Otherness Studio and a mural by Lea Carey. Silverware is presented in vintage beer cans, while drinks are served in candy-stripe glassware and mugs, archiving restaurant aesthetics of yesteryear. Soon a portrait of a clown-nose-donning Gertie herself, will guard watch in the bathroom.
The business plan for Gertie began in 2016, with pop-up versions of the concept at Berg’n following, while the Williamsburg space was built out. Nestled beside the car lane entrance to the BQE, the new luncheonette and liquor bar will serve morning and nightime fare, which guests order from the counter. For breakfast, customizable egg and cheese sandwiches are stuffed with pickled beets, mushrooms, salami, white beans and gravlax among other ingredients, a fancier nod to bodega sandwiches Adler snarfed down on the way to school (bialys and English muffins are baked in-house by pastry chef Savannah Turley).
Adler’s chef and partner, Will Edwards (Reynard, Marlow & Sons, Diner, Roman’s), and fellow native New Yorker cooks updated interpretations of old-school favorites: the patty Reuben, cauliflower melt, and smoked fish salad in the afternoon are served alongside egg creams, whoopie pies and root beer floats. Dinner reconsiders what a luncheonette might serve in the p.m., with whole fish and tartar sauce, lamb with horseradish sauce, as well as a whole rotisserie duck—all intentionally listed with uncomplicated, to-the-point names on the menu. Ingredients are sourced from Kinderhook Farm (where Turley trained in butchery) as well as Greenpoint Fish & Lobster, Lancaster Co-Op and Finger Lakes Farms.
The bar menu, which will roll out in the coming weeks, features versions of high-ball dive bar favorites like gin and tonics or vodka cranberry, but with all syrups made in-house on tap.