Red Hook staple the Good Fork is coming back to life. The neighborhood fixture, which permanently shut its doors last summer, is reopening on March 4 to serve as a temporary pop-up space for 30-year-old chef Leland Yu, a former Good Fork employee who will be operating Chinese-American pop-up Mr. Lee’s out of the beloved location.
The pop-up, which will run for the next two months, showcases a mix of Chinese and Chinese-American food that Yu grew up eating around Manhattan’s Chinatown. “It’s going to be a mix of the Chinese foods that my parents and grandparents made, and some things are going to be more American-Chinese takeout style,” Yu says.
The herbal chicken soup is one of the more traditional Chinese items that Yu wanted to bring to Mr. Lee’s menu. “In a lot of Asian households, you might have a parent or a grandparent at the stove all night, babying their soup,” Lu says. “The herbal, chicken-y smell will be in the home all night, steaming up the windows.” At Mr. Lee’s, the fragrant chicken soup is brewed with cloud ear mushrooms and lily buds.
Conversely, dishes like the roasted Brussels sprouts and carrots paired with a sweet plum sauce offer a glimpse into Yu’s version of Chinese-American food. “It’s familiar but different,” Yu says. Similarly, the oxtail and tendon fried rice is a “super beefed out” and “luxurious” version of the staple dish, he explains.
Yu previously worked for Good Fork owners Sohui Kim and Ben Schneider, first at the duo’s Gowanus Korean restaurant Insa and then as a line cook at the Good Fork in 2019. He started out last year poised to enter the Fire Department of New York’s training academy — Yu has dreamed for years of becoming a firefighter — but then the pandemic brought those plans to an abrupt halt.
Instead, Yu catered private dinners to keep busy during the pandemic, and started running daily to train for a hopeful, eventual entry into the FDNY academy. Both ventures grew in unexpected ways: After witnessing the pandemic’s devastation in Manhattan’s Chinatown, Yu put together two fundraising runs that raised about $50,000 in total for local Chinatown charities, including Welcome to Chinatown. And the private dinners provided a welcome space to try out dishes for Mr. Lee’s.
Now, Yu hopes to introduce Mr. Lee’s to a larger customer base through the Good Fork pop-up. Eventually, he aims to balance both dreams of becoming a restaurateur and a firefighter in the city “at the same time,” Yu says. “It’s going to be a lot of work but that’s what I want to achieve.”