Meet the River Heads
ANDREW TARLOW, THE RESTAURATEUR BEHIND MARLOW & SONS, MARLOW & DAUGHTERS AND MORE, GOT HIS START SWIMMING IN THE EAST RIVER
Andrew Tarlow didn’t start the handmade, local food craze, but he’s perfected the art at his eight Brooklyn restaurants, and butcher shop, and helped create the “Brand Brooklyn” style
By TAMARA GLENNY
There was a time when restaurateur Andrew Tarlow had a relationship to the East River that was about as close as a human can have to a body of water — he swam in it, daily. In 1998, Tarlow, his future wife Kate Huling and his then-roommate and brand-new business partner Mark Firth spent the summer under the Williamsburg Bridge renovating the decaying diner they had just acquired — “digging out the layer of fat-cured cockroaches under the dining car’s bar,” as Huling says in her introduction to Tarlow’s new memoir-cum-cookbook, Dinner at the Long Table. Tarlow washed off the filth every afternoon by taking a dip in the East River in his underwear.
He may not be swimming in the river anymore, but Tarlow still spends a lot of time near it. His eight food-and-drink establishments, like Marlow & Sons and the butcher shop, Marlow & Daughters, embody the handmade, thoughtful style of cuisine — fiercely local, using-all-parts — that has revolutionized so much of eating, in as well as out, over the past 20 years or so. His very untrendy approach to food and cooking has ended up at the heart of the oh-so-trendy, too-cool-for-school neighborhood whose very name has become a byword for all things hipster, Williamsburg.
In the mid-1990s, Tarlow was a young painter scraping a living as a bartender in New York City while trying to pursue his art in a shared loft in Brooklyn. He soon realized there was nowhere to hang out and get a simple bite to eat in his neighborhood, at least, nothing between a Greek coffee shop and Peter Luger’s. And thus Diner, and a mini empire, was born. We talked to Tarlow about the differences between then and now, the changes he’s making that are already mapping out the future and his vision for a cyclist’s paradise along the New York shoreline.
UrbanCoast.nyc: In 1999, when Diner opened, presumably you didn’t get that many people crossing the river to Brooklyn for dinner. How have things changed?
Andrew Tarlow: When we first came there was nothing here. Apart from those who came to Peter Luger’s, the people coming over from NYC to eat were pretty few and far between. Between then and now we have done a 180-degree turn. And I don’t think the development is going to stop. Even what it is now may seem like a quaint village compared to what it might be in ten years.
UrbanCoast: You live in Fort Greene, towards the center of Brooklyn, so obviously you don’t commute on the ferry, but here in Williamsburg you see what’s happening on the water, and the waterfront, every day.
Tarlow: Yes, I I bike to work and pretty much everywhere else. But the waterfront in our city has been underused and undervalued forever. I don’t think we’ve even begun to realize how much of an asset we have in the waterfront, or even how to really use it. It’s still something with huge untouched potential.
UrbanCoast: It’s amazing that Brooklyn now has a number of commercially viable farms, such as Added Value in Red Hook and Eagle Street in Greenpoint, which I think supplies some of your produce. How big is that local aspect for you?
Tarlow: We absolutely use the local rooftop farms. Basically, 100 percent of our food is local apart from some things like lemons, parmesan and olive oil — our meat is 100 percent local, and 90 percent of our produce. In winter, of course, we have to buy from California, but always directly from farmers we know, who ship produce straight to us.
UrbanCoast: So this year you took the big step of eliminating tipping in your restaurants. How’s it going?
Tarlow: It’s going really well. We’ve introduced it into three of the six businesses now, so we still have three to go. From a guest perspective it’s great. There’s still a bit of surprise about how the numbers look, but I think it’s mostly sticker shock. People were spending the same amount or more when they were tipping, anyway, but it was as if it came out of two different pockets.
UrbanCoast: What’s your dream for the East River?
Tarlow: That’s easy. A bike path that wraps around the whole river, circumscribes all of Brooklyn and is completely connected would be amazing. One continuous bike lane with no cars!
The Tarlow Empire:
85 Broadway at Berry Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Marlow & Sons
81 Broadway, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
80 Wythe Avenue at Wythe Hotel, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Floor 6, 80 Wythe Avenue at Wythe Hotel, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
180 West Street, Greenpoint, Brooklyn
243 DeKalb Avenue between Vanderbilt & Clermont, Fort Greene, Brooklyn
Marlow & Daughters
95 Broadway, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
(a bread pick-up service; there is no retail outlet)
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