Like many in the industry, chef Bryce Shuman has been twisting and contorting his way through the pandemic. The former executive chef at shuttered Midtown fine dining spot Betony was juggling consulting work and private chef gigs prior to the citywide shutdown last year. During the pandemic, he launched the extremely popular barbecue pop-up Ribs n Riesling. Now, he’s trading that in to lead the kitchen at Sweetbriar, a restaurant focused on live-fire cooking, opening October 20, at the Park South Hotel, at 127 East 27th Street, near Lexington Avenue.
At Sweetbriar, Shuman is taking command of several open-fire rigs, including a charcoal grill and a hulking wood-fired oven not just for pizza-making but also for sending vegetables and fruits into the furnace. In one instance, a whole kohlrabi is buried in lit coals — burning its skin to a crisp and turning its insides tender — and then doused with a fermented black garlic vinaigrette. For his take on a beet salad, Shuman roasts and steams beets in vinegar, almost to the point of pickling, then tosses them in a tahini vinaigrette and serves the dish with a turmeric yogurt.
Other additions to the menu include smoked chicken with a lemon jam, a few seafood options, and — not to be forgotten — a few naturally leavened pizzas. A number of Shuman’s hits from his barbecue pop-up also make an appearance, including black pepper maple ribs, cornbread, and coleslaw tossed with a sweet mustard dressing.
Shuman sees Sweetbriar as a slightly more laid-back — though still upscale — restaurant compared to his previous fine dining haunts, including Betony and Eleven Madison Park, where he developed a reputation for reinventing familiar dishes with unexpected flavors and ingredient combinations. The roughly 100-seat restaurant, installed in the former home of Covina in the Park South Hotel, is aiming to match Shuman’s live-fire menu with an equally upbeat dining room. A Sweetbriar house band is slated to perform multiple days per week in the space, according to restaurant partner Nick Bathurst.
Returning to a formal restaurant post-barbecue pop-up was always the most likely plan, Shuman says. Similar to other cooks who struck out with their own pop-ups during the pandemic, Shuman considered pushing forward with his own company. He even toyed with opening a full barbecue joint. But, he knew that he’d eventually make his way back to the city’s fine dining ranks. “This is the kind of restaurant that I have always worked in and it’s where my heart lies,” Shuman says.
He did, however, pick up at least one big takeaway from his time spent delivering ribs across Manhattan and Brooklyn from the back of his Subaru. Cooking doesn’t always have to be the serious, formal endeavor that it was for much of his career. It can be fun, too. He turned to barbecue during the pandemic because ribs were his young daughter’s favorite meal. Now, that same spirit extends into his latest project. “[Sweetbriar is] a little more refined than my ribs pop-up,” Shuman says. “But that sense of fun, and good times, is definitely there.”
Sweetbriar is open from Tuesday through Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m., with lunch and weekend brunch to follow. Reservations are available via Resy.
Dinner, dessert, and drinks menu: