How does your Gardiner grow? Jamie Kennedy reveals his plans for the downtown dining destination
Having served the last à la carte meal at the Gardiner on June 7, local produce booster Jamie Kennedy invited professional foodies for a preview of the location’s new concept, which includes a weekly lunch series and Friday afternoon happy hour. In addition to the new Gardiner Café (which offers sandwiches and salads during the week), a $25 three-course lunch, available every Wednesday at noon (starting June 17), will soon be served in the formerly full-service Terrace Room. The prix-fixe meal will feature the wares of a different artisanal grower each week. Kennedy’s team will also cater events in the space, and the terrace bar will serve small plates for a scotch-soaked happy hour on Fridays, with three kinds of Balvenie single malt to keep workaholics giddy. Yet excitement about new plans (and giggles from swooning food writers) is accompanied by a sobering discussion and the news that he has decided to sell Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar.
“It’s not often I call a press conference,” laughs Kennedy, who, all joking aside, serves some food for thought on the local movement’s troubled times. “Costs inherent to the pursuit are far more than for our competition,” explained the chef. His efforts to bring back the direct contact farming model of yesteryear are finding some success (he’s sourcing some 60,000 pounds of potatoes from a local producer to supply his four restaurants with his signature fries), but Kennedy is concerned that people are swapping down to commodity products in lean times. He believes that the transformation of the Gardiner from high-end dining room to prix-fixe lunch spot speaks volumes about the economics of eating. “Food is never going to be cheap again, let’s face it,” he says, throwing in the following call to arms: “By creating more demand [for local goods], distribution systems will improve and costs will come down.”
A sampling of the new mid-week meal proves that local products are certainly delicious. Kennedy butters us up with steamed asparagus swimming in creamy mustard sabayon followed by braised beef in tangles of tasty broad noodles. When we caught up with the chef afterwards for butter tarts and head-clouding whiskey, he was frank about the Gardiner’s end. “It was bleeding money like crazy,” Kennedy says. “We hung on for a year longer than we should have.”
Though he seems a sniff melancholy over the evolution, we are hardly surprised that the upscale venue has gone the way of the café. Kennedy talked to us about the trend away from Gardiner-type establishments back in February, predicting that “big-buck dining out will take a hit, but a coffee and a croissant is a whole other ball game.” How right he was; the Gilead and Hank’s, his more casual restaurants, have withstood the bearish market, proving that even well-meaning locavorism isn’t immune to the politics of pricing. “I can only afford to charge so much,” says Kennedy. “Somewhat more than The Keg, but not a lot.”
He laughs, but the comparison struck fear into our Balvenie-warmed hearts. We’re keeping a revolution-ready pitchfork on standby.