Despite being a born-and-raised New Yorker, restaurateur Nate Adler admits that he pulled a lot of inspiration from the Los Angeles restaurant scene for his new Williamsburg neighborhood restaurant Gertie. “I’m not going to beat around the bush about that,” he says.
In 2016, the restaurateur started plotting the all-day spot, pulling setting and style from LA’s popular restaurants like Sqirl, Gjelina, and Gjusta. Like Gjusta, Gertie goes hard on its in-house bread program, and like Sqirl, a lot of the dishes are very simple — think toasts and rice bowls — with a focus on the ingredients. “Gjelina Takeaway was the first inspiration for this thing,” says Adler, who likes how the spinoff of popular Venice restaurant Gjelina serves simply prepared seasonal food in a fast-casual setting.
But the resulting restaurant is not trying to be a California replicate, though that’s something that’s increasingly hip in NYC right now (the Gjelina team itself has long been plotting a restaurant here). Instead, Gertie is firmly rooted in New York — an amalgamation of the experiences of Adler and partners Will Edwards and Flip Biddelman, all of whom grew up here. Dishes need to reflect what food in the city means to them, and drinks should, too, they say. That means a strict no avocado toast rule — “There’s no avocado in this restaurant,” Adler says. “Period.” — and a menu that pulls from NYC staples like Chinatown and delis.
“As a team, what we really wanted to do was create a New York restaurant and put our spin on what it meant to grow up in New York and what New York food is to us,” Adler says.
In its bright, 70-seat space, Gertie — which opened over the weekend at 357 Grand St., at Marcy Avenue — will eventually serve an all-day menu built around its rotisserie, dedicated to roasted meats and vegetables. The setting and service style are casual: Orders get placed at the counter, but there’s still an element of table service when it comes to refilling drinks and bussing. There’s also a full bar program to come, the restaurant billing itself as both a luncheonette and a liquor bar.
Adler went to business school and was on the finance track when he started dabbling in the restaurant world by starting his own business in college. It was a take-out and delivery-only service for University of Pennsylvania students that mimicked home-cooked meals. After school, he decided to go all-in on hospitality and got a job at Danny Meyer’s Blue Smoke, working as a bus boy and then a floor manager. A couple years later, he partnered with fellow Danny Meyer vet Jonah Miller to open Huertas, East Village’s Basque tapas restaurant.
For Gertie, Adler is branching out with something of his own, and he has teamed up with partners who, like himself, are New York born-and-raised and have come up in NYC’s hospitality world. Edwards, the chef, and Biddelman, the general manager, have known each other since their second day of high school. Biddelman got his start in the hospitality business bar-backing at the Modern, and Edwards dropped out of college to work for David Burke before eventually working in nearby Williamsburg restaurants like Marlow & Sons, Diner, and Reynard. Together, Biddelman and Edwards have worked on a handful of projects, including a ceviche stand at Smorgasburg.
It’s those New York roots that come into play most at Gertie. Adler cites Superiority Burger as another inspiration, saying that he has been impressed with what Brooks Headley’s East Village restaurant does with vegetables with just a counter-service setup. Adler similarly hopes Gertie can stand out even in its simplicity and casual setting.
And Zabar’s, the Upper West Side grocery and NYC institution, provided a lot of inspiration, too. Specifically, Adler wanted to make a Zabar’s with booze. “You can get your rotisserie chicken at Zabar’s; you can get your smoked fish at Zabar’s; you can get an amazing bowl of prepared vegetables to take home; you can get coffee, so on and so forth,” he says. “The only thing it doesn’t have is alcohol.”
Then, the “Poppy’s Duck,” which will roll out with dinner, is inspired by growing up eating Peking duck in Chinatown, Edwards says. It’s a smoked rotisserie duck that will be served family-style and come with scallion pancakes, fried rice, and lettuce cups. On the breakfast menu, there’s a customizable egg and cheese sandwich, and NYC deli influence can be seen in the sandwich options, which include a gyro, a whitefish salad sandwich, and a reuben. The full menus can be found below.
Gertie’s opening has been a long time coming, and it still hasn’t reached its full form yet due to logistics. As the team awaits their liquor license, it’s only open during the day for now.
But once dinner and the bar roll out, the cocktail program will feature four draft options that play on dive bar drinks like a vodka cranberry and a “seven and seven,” both made with housemade syrups and sodas. There are 15 wines offered by the glass and two wines on draft, both kegged specifically for Gertie. Shacksbury Cider is also making a cider specifically for the restaurant, and Newburgh Brewing in New York is making a light beer called “Gertie Good Beer.” The team is also working on a downstairs wine room where there will be bottles with the prices written on them for big wine fans. Dinner and the bar programs are expected to come in a few weeks.
Despite the myriad of influences — West Coast restaurants, New York institutions, etc. — the person who’s presence who most impacted the space itself is Adler’s grandmother Gertrude, who was from Queens. In addition to giving the restaurant its name, her energy and personality imbues the design and vibe of the restaurant, Adler says. Music comes from a record player, and a small record collection is on display behind the counter. Colorful shapes decorate the walls, the dishware is all brightly colored, and a display case in the coffee portion of the kitchen shows off breads and pastries, all of which are made in-house and overseen by Savannah Turley.
The vision, Adler explains, is to have laid-back vibes and playful balancing of high-brow and low-brow. And he doesn’t want Gertie to be boxed into just one thing, once again citing Gjusta as an example of a restaurant that initially looks like just a bakery but pulls off being much more than that. A lot of the inspiration to be something dynamic and multifaceted comes back to his grandmother, who Adler says would sell jewelry at art fairs around Long Island.
“She was this eccentric, playful, colorful woman,” Adler says. “Despite the ups and down and mood swings, there was always energy.”
For now, Gertie is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. When it opens with full hours, it will be open from 8 a.m. to midnight, serving a late-night food menu after 9 p.m.