New York was once a city of destination dining, where people might eat breakfast in one borough before meeting for dinner in another. Close to a year after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, however, something has changed. “People want to go one place and then go home,” says Nate Adler, owner of Gertie in Williamsburg, one of the neighborhood’s beloved and best-designed restaurants.
That’s the idea behind General Irving, a new cafe and general store created by Adler with help from Chris Chavez, co-founder of plant delivery company Rooted. Located at 1210 Halsey Street, near Wilson Avenue in Bushwick, the restaurant opened its doors in mid-December with a stacked roster of talent backing its kitchen. Star pastry chef Melissa Weller, who is currently taking up residency at Gertie, helped design the cafe’s menu, which is executed by chef Mark Taylor, formerly of the East Village’s well-reviewed Prune.
General Irving is modeled off of the general stores of upstate New York, one-stop shops where customers “can get a really good coffee or a really good sandwich but also do your shopping,” he says. In the morning, the store serves oatmeal and a not-to-be-missed breakfast sandwich with an over-medium egg, cheddar, and spicy mayo served on challah from Gertie ($8). Mortadella is an appealing addition (it’s an additional $2, though)
Beginning at 11 a.m. each morning, the cafe sells two salads and a handful of sandwiches served on housemade focaccia, which is made from Weller’s recipe. The tuna melt is topped with capers, cornichons, and cheddar, while the meatier Italian combo is stacked with mortadella, salami, hot capocollo, pickled peppers, and provolone. There’s also the green egg sandwich, a vegetarian “umami bomb” that’s made from jammy eggs, arugula, and salsa verde. A short menu of cookies and cakes from Gertie round out the food menu.
One full wall of the store is dedicated to grocery items. There’s a selection of specialty snacks, home goods, cooking ingredients, and produce, along with a refrigerator of sauces, salsas, and soups that are made in-house.
General Irving is a partnership with Venn, a Tel Aviv, Israel-based real estate company whose goal is “to bring more value to real estate in up and coming neighborhoods,” according to Adler. Venn approached Adler about opening a business in the Halsey Street space last summer after another business, a Brazilian cafe and juice bar, had to pull out of the project due to the pandemic. Adler created the concept and helped build out General Irving, but for all intents and purposes, Venn is the owner.
“Gertie is my baby. It could not be more personal to me,” Adler explained. “General Irving is more like a nephew.”
In a neighborhood like East Bushwick, buzzwords like “bring more value” and “up and coming” can raise eyebrows for longtime residents. The retail side of General Irving sells household products from Doctor Bronner’s, Rancho Gordo beans, a bevy of potted plants, and too many flavored seltzers to count. Eventually, it will also serve spritzes and a small selection of beer and natural wine. Shopping at General Irving is, in other words, expensive.
Gentrification is the “elephant in the room,” Adler says. “The reality of this neighborhood is that there are a ton of people — hipsters, yuppies, whatever you want to call them — that have moved there over the last five years.” For all its specialty seltzers and soaps, he’s explicit that General Irving isn’t just for new residents: The grocery store stocks snacks from brands like Zapp’s and Coca-Cola, while its full food menu is more price sensitive. A cup of drip from Parlor Coffee Roasters costs $2, while nothing on the cafe’s breakfast and lunch menu is more than $13.
General Irving is open for takeout and delivery with a handful of tables for outdoor dining from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.