As New York City approaches month six of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s clear that some things just aren’t meant to be, like bars without food or consistent outdoor dining guidelines from the Department of Transportation. And for the soon-to-open Cozy Royale in Williamsburg, the thing that’s not meant to be is cheeseburgers.
“We’re still waiting on our gas to be turned on,” says Ben Turley, co-owner of the new restaurant, which opens on September 10. “Our kitchen is working entirely on electricity, so there won’t be any burgers until we have gas.” It’s a shame, given that he serves one of the city’s absolute best, but the new restaurant could be worth its weight in growing pains.
Cozy Royale is the first full-service restaurant from Turley and Brent Young, the co-owners and longtime friends behind Williamsburg’s cult-favorite butcher shop the Meat Hook. Originally slated to open in May, the restaurant remains one of the year’s most hotly anticipated openings, and it’s finally ready to open its doors. The new restaurant — located at 434 Humboldt Street, on the corner of Jackson Street — is scheduled to debut for dinner service on September 10.
Turley and Young originally imagined Cozy Royale as a laid-back neighborhood hangout, one that’s more tavern, less steakhouse. In the seven months since the restaurant promised to serve burgers, though, the project has shifted a few hundred miles southwest. The new menu, an homage to Appalachian cooking, is partly the result of Turley and Young having to get by on electricity for the next month due to pandemic-related delays, but it also nods to their respective childhoods in West Virginia and Pennsylvania with a few lesser-seen regional dishes. Think: pepperoni rolls, fried pork steak, and pickled bologna (here spelled “baloney”).
The dishes at Cozy Royale — though they’ve been fried, crisped, and baked — are all those that can be made in a kitchen running full steam ahead on electric. “For us, it’s actually kind of fun,” Turley says. “A burger is an easy base hit, and without it we’ve had to get much more creative and thoughtful with our menu.”
Hence the focus on Appalachian cooking, much of which leans on other cooking styles, like pickling and fermentation, rather than full-blown grilling. At the heart of the reimagined restaurant is the pepperoni roll, a beloved West Virginia staple that consists of little more than the ingredients in its name. The dish started as a convenient meal that coal miners could stuff in their back pockets, Turley says, and although it’s served on porcelain at the new restaurant, the recipe is kept the same: Sliced pepperoni is baked in a white roll with a bit of olive and salt ($10 for four).
Pickled bologna antipasti is another of the restaurant’s Appalachian additions, one that combines Italian sensibilities with the the tradition of pickling meat for preservation, popular among Dutch immigrants in Pennsylvania. Here, the dish is made from pickled-then-sliced kielbasa, pickled seasonal vegetables, a dash of oregano, and not much else ($14). Dishes like the restaurant’s seven-ounce fried pork steak ($26, or $32 with bacon and eggs) and pork sausage links ($14) likewise lean on simplicity and let their ingredients speak for themselves, according to Turley.
“We’re not trying to do anything fancy here,” he says. “My mom is going to eat here. If she takes a bite of our pepperoni roll and says, ‘What is this bullshit?’ then I’ll know that we’ve failed.”
The one exception to the restaurant’s no-frills rule might be its cocktail list. Headed by lead bartender Gretchen Moore and general manager Tyler Chauvin, the list of a half-dozen $15 cocktails skews slightly more elaborate. The restaurant’s “booziest drink” is the Girl’s Night Out — a mix of mezcal, pineapple, and egg white — according to Turley, and there’s also a martinez on deck, the harder-to-find sibling of the martini made with gin and sweet vermouth. A selection of local craft beers nods to the Meat Hook’s past work at Threes Brewing in Gowanus, while more than a dozen bottles of wine are also available, many by the glass.
Like the Meat Hook butcher shop before it, the duo wants Cozy Royale to be a restaurant that “belongs to the neighborhood,” says Turley. “We built a culture of warmth at the butcher shop brick by brick, but that’s not just something you can transfer over. It has to be built.”
That mission is present in the restaurant’s subtle touches. Cozy Royale, to its credit, is one of the first high-profile restaurant openings of the year to offer a kid’s menu, a full-blown paper printout that offers obligatory menu items like hot dogs and Shirley Temples, but also a Meat Hook hot dog and hand-shaped chicken nuggets. The verdict is still out on whether adults will also be able to order those items, but Turley says they’re welcome to hunt for words like “cleaver” and “tongue” on the menu’s word search in the meantime.
Building a neighborhood restaurant once, let alone twice, isn’t easy, but it helps when you’ve been working two blocks away for the last decade. When neighborhood mainstay Humboldt and Jackson closed its doors February, owner Bill Reed approached the duo to see if they were interested in opening a restaurant in the space. (They were, if an all-caps Instagram post is anything to go by.) The name of the new restaurant, meanwhile, comes from the building’s landlord, who grew up in Williamsburg and used to operate her own restaurant and event space called Cozy Royale.
Since opening in Williamsburg in 2010, the Meat Hook has cultivated a dedicated following based on its deep roots and environmentally friendly farming practices. In addition to their work at the Meat Hook, Turley and Young previously launched a critically acclaimed standalone sandwich shop in 2014, called Meat Hook Sandwich, which closed just two years later. The duo has also been slinging cheeseburgers and fried chicken sandwiches at Gowanus favorite beer hall Threes Brewing for the last four years, and recently expanded that partnership to include a new sausage and hot dog pop-up on Governors Island.
The hits that defined the Meat Hook’s work at those venues won’t be there to start, but don’t get Turley wrong. “The second they turn on that gas, we’re going to be serving burgers that night,” he says.
Cozy Royale opens on September 10 for outdoor dining. The restaurant is open Monday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Thursday and Friday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Thirty-six outdoor seats are available for reservation, with some walk-in seating available by calling the restaurant ahead of time at (718) 734-2792.
Disclosure: Eater has a video series, Prime Time, hosted by Ben Turley and Brent Young of the Meat Hook.