After closing its doors in East Williamsburg back in 2019, a new reincarnation of Nhà Mình — the beloved hybrid Vietnamese American coffee shop, restaurant, and art gallery — is coming back. The pandemic delayed the opening of Nhà Mình 2.0, which is a street-facing cafe inside the DIY music venue Trans-Pecos, located at 915 Wyckoff Avenue, in Ridgewood.
When Fred Hua (alongside design/contract partners Jake Klotz and Jeremy Jones) opened Nhà Mình about seven years ago in Brooklyn, he wanted it to be more than just a coffee shop — that will still be the case this time around. Hua, who attended art rather than culinary school (but had previously run a Williamsburg restaurant called Nhà Tôi), had dreamed of a space that could tap into his creative networks by hosting gallery shows, while also operating as a food business that serviced an industrial part of Morgan Avenue. Fittingly, Nhà Mình translates to “our house,” a place that was more than just one thing, and “brought people together,” says Hua in an interview with Eater NY.
Despite its original location in an area primarily filled with warehouses, the cafe made a name for itself for its daily-changing specials and vegetable-forward menu that tapped into Hua’s Vietnamese American upbringing, as well as its events held in the space. One of the more memorable elements of Nhà Mình in its first iteration was that it once served some 15 rotating sauce options on offer, mainly using leftover veggies or coffee. “Sometimes we would even change our dishes twice in one day,” Hua says with a laugh. “If you came back for breakfast and then later in the day, we might already have been putting out something else new.”
Since opening in April, Hua has been slowly expanding the menu as he trains an all-new staff and figures out how to bring back the robust menu he was known for at the original version of the restaurant.
While the new Nhà Mình at Trans-Pecos is not an exact replica of the offerings at the now-defunct East Williamsburg location (for one, Hua is still trying to build-up to having just as many sauces), it has many of the hallmark signs of Hua’s cooking — namely, an emphasis on vegetable-centric dishes. Hua says he’s stoked about the increase in Vietnamese American spots in Brooklyn that have “expanded the general public’s ideas about the cuisine,” since he first launched his own venture. But he also feels that many of the new restaurants rely “too heavily on meat as the protein.” Eventually, he hopes to extend the menu to be more chay — Vietnamese for vegetarian — and to be inspired by central Vietnam, an area with a “high concentration of vegetarian Buddhists” and a rich history of meatless dishes.
Currently, all the items on the menu are available all day. There’s a breakfast banh xeo, as well as the “Vietnamese Breakfast” with organic chicken, duck, and quail eggs and Maggi that’s served with toast on the side. Bun and rice bowls come with either chicken, grilled shrimp, tofu, seitan, egg, tempeh, or the seafood of the day. On the sweet side, there’s always a vegan che special (recently, the flavor on offer was a coconut milk pudding with banana, mango, pineapple, blueberries, and strawberries). Eventually, Hua says he hopes to build out a more robust dinner menu.
On the cafe side of things, Nhà Mình sells Colson pastries — such as croissants, a raspberry jelly donut, or a vegan banana muffin — and Vietnamese coffee, as well as espresso drinks using Oslo coffee roasters. For teas, there’s iced hibiscus, yerba mate, oolong, artichoke, and jasmine. Nhà Mình also has freshly-squeezed beet-carrot-pineapple juices.
No matter the project, Hua says his menus are focused on fast casual bites. “It is really important to me to keep prices low and accessible,” he says.
Right before the pandemic, he became a partner in a Bed-Stuy bar called Zeke’s located on Fulton street alongside Eric Austin (of Second Chance Saloon), where he experimented with creative bar food options, highlighting small plates like beer-battered snails. It wasn’t his first time crafting a food menu for a bar: Back in 2017, he cooked up dishes like summer rolls and shrimp paste on toast at Prospect Lefferts Gardens’ Erv’s bar with a concept called Quynh.
But when the pandemic took over, Hua transitioned away from more “experimental offerings” for Zeke’s to make dishes that were better suited for takeout. And while Hua has since departed with Zeke’s bar, he says he’s learned a lot for Nhà Mình 2.0, especially how to develop dishes that work in today’s delivery landscape.
Though Nhà Mình is currently open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the weekdays (and from 10 a.m. onwards on the weekends), Hua plans to extend his night time hours when an additional outpost in the backyard of Trans-Pecos will function as the venue’s in-house bar food program; it will have a distinct menu from that of the cafe. Despite the various food offerings, Trans-Pecos will still allow Hua to continue to host the kinds of art shows he’s come to be known for, including his first gallery show on August 20th in the new space.