Eye On Real Estate: Romancing customers with street tacos and spicy plantains; margaritas arriving ASAP
By Lore Croghan
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
So what if folks say the upstairs space at 140 Montague St. is cursed? Giovanni Ventura's not scared.
He and fellow chef Yovany Quisquina opened their first restaurant there last week.
“I don't believe in curses,” said Ventura, the co-owner of Gallito's Kitchen.
“Restaurants have a life cycle; they live and die,” he said. “This one's going to have a long life cycle. It depends on hard work in the back of the house and good service in the front.”
Gallito's is the latest tenant of a parlor floor with a bird's eye view of Brooklyn Heights' prime retail corridor, which previously was home in quick succession to two Indian eateries.
Amin closed in August 2011. After that, Gandhi Palace was the tenant until recently.
Ventura's got a 10-year lease for the 2,000-square-foot site 10 steps above the sidewalk. The rent is $65 per square foot.
He and Quisquina are counting on the appeal of palate-pleasing Mexican dishes they created after years spent as consultants developing various restaurant themes and cooks in other people's restaurants.
They call their fare “Mexican Urban Cuisine” – because whenever possible their vendors are local businesses and farms that practice “environmentally sound agriculture and sustainable farming.”
They buy seasonal produce from the Brooklyn Borough Hall greenmarket – and plan to work with Brooklyn Grange, the Navy Yard rooftop farm, in the spring. They get their meat from Boerum Hill butcher Paisanos and their fish from the Hunts Point market in the South Bronx.
“We want to have a small carbon footprint,” he said.
The duo searched for a restaurant site for two years, in Park Slope, Greenpoint and Williamsburg as well as Montague Street.
The kitchen at 140 Montague was left intact after Gandhi Palace departed; the two chefs took it as is and saved themselves a pricey buildout.
“Our budget is tight,” Ventura said. “This is our savings for several years. And we borrowed money from family.”
There's family involvement in day-to-day restaurant operations as well. Ventura's wife, Idemar Aldrey, works as Gallito's manager.
For now, it's dinner only, with a menu that's a mix of Mexico City street tacos such as braised Berkshire pork or beef tongue and entrees like duck enchiladas with mole sauce and fire-grilled shrimp marinated in chipotle and chocolate. Chipotle is also a surprise ingredient that gives a kick to an instantly addictive sweet plantain side dish.
Speaking of Chipotle – the popular Montague Street fast-food chain – Ventura will try to divert a bit of its customer traffic with an under-$10 lunch menu (for meal and beverage) when Gallito's starts serving lunch in January.
The fast-food chain is a big draw but he feels there's demand in Brooklyn Heights for a sit-down Mexican restaurant with a more relaxed atmosphere.
“Everybody's caught up in a fast pace,” he said. “Here you can slow down, eat, enjoy the food and have a good time.”
For now, organic wines and local beers are on the menu to loosen up the atmosphere a bit. He has applied for a full liquor license so Gallito's can serve margaritas – because what's a Mexican restaurant without them?
“Our margaritas are going to be really, really good,” he promised.