Wednesday, May 6, 2009

One Big Table: An Underground Supper Club

Photo by Jacob Pritchard

A few weeks ago while waiting for dinner in an industrial Bushwick loft, I ordered a White Wasp from a nervous twenty-three year old guy at a makeshift bar. The cocktail, which contained cognac, honey water, and half and half, was not the best drink. It was served in a plastic cup; a cocktail should always be presented in a proper glass. Drinks should also be served very, very cold—and this was not. I’m not sure all the ingredients melded together the way they should—the cream felt, well, too creamy, the honey too sweet. The White Wasp was however, an interesting use of local ingredients and a brave attempt at creative cocktailing—something few restaurateurs would dare in this economy. More importantly, it set the pace for what would be a memorable evening at One Big Table, an underground supper club in Brooklyn.

One Big Table is the brainchild of Heather (last name excluded for legal reasons), a statuesque and tattooed twenty-five year old nanny and amateur chef. Heather opens up her apartment once a month to twelve or so diners. For forty dollars, guests receive the pleasure of a four-course meal, wine and entertainment. The food is local, mostly organic and the wine is simple but plentiful. Heather joins a growing movement of gastronomes who are taking back food culture from the staid and pricey world of restaurants and bringing a DIY approach to eating and community.

At first, I admit, it was almost too intimate to stand in Heather’s home and watch her race around, given that i had never met her until this evening. But the closeness also built a sort of excitement, a mystery––what will happen next? What are the rules? Less formal than a restaurant but not as relaxed as a dinner party, supper clubs skate a fine-line between private and public spheres. The blurred boundary entices.

For the first thirty minutes or so, my cohorts Steve, Kimberly and I made jilted conversation with the other guests, a group of strangers a decade younger than us. Steve recognized someone from Think Coffee. I bummed a cigarette from Jon Bozeman, a folk singer. We started to loosen up as the hors d'oeuvres arrived. The collard leaves stuffed with cheese grits were a playful and utterly delicious take on stuffed grape leaves and the black-eyed pea hummus on cornbread was homey and satisfying.

Finally dinner was served and everyone sat down at a simple table adorned with tulips in glass milk bottles. There were some really beautiful moments with the food–– the roasted Jerusalem artichoke salad was lovely, the pea shoots offering an ideal accompaniment to the crunchy sweetness of the tubers. The bread pudding was perfectly rich and spotted with bittersweet dark chocolate. The pheasant, on the other hand, was tough and stringy. And the carrot soup was too heavy; the freshness of the vegetables was lost in the cream. But, strangely, even for such a critical and picky eater as myself, it didn’t matter.

At One Big Table, it’s not that the food is beside the point—it is ethically sourced, lovingly cooked and creatively put-together, but more that the meal is not separate from the whole experience. Not to sound overly taken with Heather, which I am by the way, but eating at someone’s home, and knowing that they’ve been cooking for days, for you, is affecting in a different way than eating at a restaurant. It’s like going to a friend’s house for dinner. If one dish doesn’t work out, who cares? You forgive them in a way you would never a chef, particularly if you are paying forty dollars for an entrĂ©e, let alone the rest of the meal. Restaurateurs are out to make money; Heather is trying to break even. For her, the supper club is an experiment in bringing people together and giving back. Her earnest and giving nature infuses the evening.

After three hours at the table and several bottles of wine, everyone loosened up. Kimberly and I tried to talk Jon into becoming a nanny. Steve met a young graduate student studying Cuban history. Someone rolled a joint. Coffee was served. Brian Peck and Jon Bozeman sang sweet folk songs while VJ Sarah played beautiful ambient video clips. The mood was open and bohemian in a 1970’s Laurel Canyon, Joni Mitchell kind of way. Us forty-ish folks were smitten and didn’t get home until two am, a rarity. We all agreed—the best dining experience we’ve had in recent history.


  1. I always think about going to these underground supper clubs, but am usually afraid that they will be missing exactly what you described yours was so plentiful in -- a sense of generosity and community. I think I assumed that not knowing the host and the other guests would make it seem too intimate in a bad way and yet not intimate in the good way (like a dinner party with people you actually know and like). But this has inspired me. Maybe it's time to bite the bullet and go!

  2. What a cool experience! thanks for sharing it.

  3. Im so sad to have found your blog now that youve stopped writing! You can find more underground dining / supper club experiences here on my blog:

    Best wishes to you!

  4. It must be a very interesting experience. I would participate if I could