Menu items include vegetarian "burnt brisket ends" in Kansas-style sauce, plant-based queso, and hushpuppies.
Ravi Derossi, the cocktail maestro behind some of Manhattan’s most prized bars (Death & Co.) and, more recently, animal-free eateries (Avant Garden), has a fresh trick up his sleeve. Showcasing American cooking that hinges on spices and fire to yield “concentrated and refined flavors,” says the restaurateur, is the focus of Honeybee’s, the vegan barbecue and American whiskey lounge he’ll open on May 8 to replace his shuttered rum bar, Cienfuegos, in New York's East Village.
Derossi says his team has concocted "an excellent plant-based menu that truly represents barbecue,” which is exciting news for vegetarians, if he pulls it off. He adds that he and chef Amira Gharib were also inspired by the growing impact of Mexican cuisine in the U.S., hence their decision to inject Honeybee’s menu with ingredients like plant-based queso and tortilla chips, too.
Live old-time saloon-style piano music will set the tone within a crimson and black-toned, 60-seat space one floor above Derossi’s ground floor tiki bar, Mother of Pearl. Accented with gold embellishments for an added sense of luxury, Honeybee’s takes on the air of a contemporary saloon. A small eight-seat bar claims one end of the cozy 1,300-square-foot space, while tufted velvet lounge chairs offer a more plush seating option.
Here, Gharib––who spent the last six months at chef Daniel Boulud Upper West Side Mediterranean fixture Boulud Sud, and before that two years at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s lauded Matador Room in Miami––prepares bites like crispy cauliflower hot wings and queso chorizo dip to pair beside longtime New York bar vet Sother Teague’s bourbon and rye-soaked libations.
“I tried to keep my [barbecue] methods as traditional as possible,” says Gharib, who says that she’s conjuring flavors of the American South with a low temperature smoker, a stove top cooker, and a cold smoker. Her menu is built from a balance between vegetables and protein replacements made from soy or gluten, and enriched with house-made, plant-based takes on staple Southern ingredients like heavy cream, buttermilk, and sour cream––each made from a soy milk base.
To replicate the savory flavor found in meat, for her iteration of pulled pork, Gharib creates a concentrated broth using roasted mushrooms, vegetable stock, spices, plus onion and garlic to marinate a soy-mushroom mixture for two days. She then pan-sears the mock meat and serves it on mini sesame buns with barbecue sauce and pickles.
For dishes with a more smoke-forward flavor, such as the smoky burnt brisket ends, Gharib slow-smokes seitan rubbed with whole-grain mustard and a roasted mushroom blend for five hours using applewood and hickory wood in an electric smoker. Says the chef, “After a while, a bark will form, and we’ll cut it up, toss it with a our sweet Kansas sauce, and broil it until we have our burnt ends.” The rest of Gharib’s menu is littered with Southern classics and Tex-Mex inspiration, from hushpuppies and spicy guacamole to chicken and waffles and six-layer dip.
Meanwhile, Teague––who has worked with Derossi for nearly a decade via their partnership at nearby bars like the amari-focused engagement Amor Y Amargo––has built a classic cocktail list rife with juleps, manhattans, and smashes, in addition to a roughly 70-bottle brown spirit list, mostly accessible American whiskeys, with a few rotating gems and a handful of mezcals and tequilas peppered in, too.
Derossi and Teague are also excited to launch what they’re calling Honeybee’s Golden Cabinet program. The team will house an additional selection of rare American whiskeys in a gold cabinet––like vintage bottles of Old Overholt––and patrons who try each expression will receive a key to the case, snagging a complimentary ounce pour on each successive visit. Teague says that drinking through the cabinet will be a way to learn about the history of American whiskey––“where it’s been, where it’s at, and where it’s going.”
And while Manhattan might not be best known for its barbecue, in the last decade the city has welcomed in countless new smoked meats-focused eateries, with operators looking to bring a taste of the South to The Big Apple.
“Barbecue, as a technique, is finally being more understood in New York,” says Derossi. “Coaxing flavor from food is part of a deeper heritage of American cuisine …We hope to bring that down South mentality to the city.”