For the past two months, chef Darryl Burnette and his wife Melissa — co-owners of the acclaimed Harlem small plates destination Belle — have been serving up bagel sandwiches, coffee, and pastries from their 275-square-foot establishment on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.
Between the ban on indoor dining and safety requirements, it’s been nearly impossible to operate the intimate restaurant, but the couple has been successfully experimenting with cafe food catering to the breakfast and lunch crowd.
Early next year — most likely mid-February — the couple will debut their newest venture, Ink, a culmination of this pop-up, into a full service cafe located next door to Belle, at 2363 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, between West 138th and 139th Streets.
Ink will specialize in freshly made bagels — including blueberry, sea salt, and caramelized onion flavors — with a focus on serving the New York staple as sandwiches, including riffs on the crowd-favorite smoked salmon and scallion cream cheese creation and a pheasant fig pistachio terrine topped with a poached egg. Many of the bagel sandwiches will be served panini-style giving them the “perfect amount of crispy and crunchy,” says Melissa.
The Burnettes are further expanding the menu with items like a made-to-order egg soufflé served with roasted green beans and potatoes, French omelets, and a host of pastries, including spinach-and-feta croissants and cinnamon rolls.
In many ways, Ink will be the opposite of Belle, and an ideal business component allowing the couple to run a cafe by day, and a more upscale restaurant by night. “This is to attract people who aren’t spending $100 on dinner,” says Melissa, referring to the pricier, more tasting-menu style setting of Belle. “We’re trying to bring more people to the block,” adds Darryl.
Everything at Ink is created for the grab-and-go crowd, but eventually, the cafe will also share an outdoor seating area with Belle, which is located in the storefront directly next to Ink. When the weather warms up, the couple envisions the sidewalk seating area as a hangout spot equipped with wifi as more people feel comfortable eating outdoors again.
In many ways, the concept for the cafe came from discussions the couple were having on keeping their restaurant afloat and paying rent. Belle’s tiny, narrow setup didn’t allow the couple for much experimentation, and with the ban on indoor dining, and outdoor dining becoming increasingly difficult with the colder weather, they needed to come up with a more sustainable concept.
The Burnettes struck up a deal with their landlord that allowed them to rent the space next door, and keep both businesses afloat. Both Belle and Ink are closed through January 1, but the couple is offering a New Year’s Eve dinner to go that includes breakfast items from Ink that can be consumed the following day. Ink will continue to operate as a pop-up from Belle until the next door space is ready to open early next year, and Belle will stay on pause until the cafe moves into that space.