There are few debates as eternal than the one which pits New York and Los Angeles against one another like two boxers in a ring. Much is made of traffic and weather, flight times to Europe, galleries and museums. And while, decades ago, in Woody Allen’s prime, when his character Alvy Singer in Annie Hall famously remarked of L.A., “I don’t want to move to a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light,” things have changed a bit. Los Angeles has stepped up to the plate, and West Coast versus East Coast conversation is a little less clear-cut. Not only are New Yorkers willing to give L.A. credit where credit is due, they’re even going for enough as to be—gasp—inspired by it. At least a little.
With its light woods and cheerful wallpaper, Gertie, an all-day cafe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, would feel right at home in, say, Venice Beach or Silver Lake. From a visual standpoint, restaurateur Nate Adler, along with partners Will Edwards (chef) and Flip Biddelman (general manager), endeavored to create an East Coast counterpoint to fast-casual L.A. spots like Sqirl and Gjelina To Go. While the shell might scream “California,” Gertie is pure New York. All three partners grew up in the city, and were raised on Zabar’s and counter joints. The influence is apparent.
The food at Gertie is far from a kitschy, greasy-spoon throwback. Edwards, who clocked time in the kitchens of Marlow & Sons, Diner, and Reynard, has created a menu that hits all the marks. It’s New York City classics with a seasonal touch. Here, you can have a bialy for breakfast, smoked fish for lunch, rotisserie chicken with “schmaltzy” potatoes for dinner. You might feel a touch of Los Angeles when you walk in, but that stops once you’re digging into your plate. The best of both worlds? We think so.
Below, these three charmers showed us around the front and back of house to talk dollar slices, failed attempts at flipping shrimp, and how a New York City bagel can soak up many a sophomoric sin.
Your cross streets growing up:
Nate Adler: West End Avenue, between 103rd and 104th.
Will Edwards: 79th Street and Riverside Drive.
Flip Biddelman: W 81st and Columbus.
Was your family in the food business?
NA: Not since my great grandfather had his Adler Café, a coffee and chocolate import business with a coffee shop in Darmstadt, Germany.
WE: Nope. One is a lawyer and the other works at the Manhattan DA’s office.
FB: Nope. Far from it.
What’s your family’s most famous dish, for better or worse?
NA: Noodle kugel.
WE: Crème brûlée french toast. My mom makes it once a year for Christmas morning. She solved the riddle of how to get your kids to sit down for breakfast when there are presents to be opened.
FB: Sandwiches with deli-sliced smoked meat from Nodine’s in Goshen, Connecticut. We now use that same smokehouse in the restaurant for our turkey! Not a very famous dish, nor very labor intensive, but we’ve got a strong connection to this little smokehouse, and I’ve been eating since I was a toddler.
NYC restaurant you went to the most as a kid:
NA: Flor de Mayo.
WE: Benihana. I unsuccessfully applied to work there for a summer.
First job in food/hospitality:
NA: When I opened my own takeout/delivery joint in college and acted as manager, owner, prep cook, line cook, phones, dish washer, and everything in between.
WE: As a camper, the older kids had the opportunity to work as waiters in the mess hall to make some money and learn responsibility. We had to set up tables, bring food out from the kitchen and clean up after. I was known to spend extra time hanging out in the kitchen with the crew.
FB: I was an “intern” at the Regency Hotel when I was 17. It was my first job and I rotated through each department, including concierge, room service, the restaurant, and even security! I learned about hospitality corners, copying keys, reservations, and challenging guests—and experienced a wide array of bizarre encounters that summer.
Favorite NYC culinary institution:
WE: H&H Bagels. They aren’t there anymore, but on the corner of 80th and Broadway they made fresh bagels throughout the day and all night. They wouldn’t toast them for you but that didn’t matter because they were always straight from the oven. In high school, after a night out, there was nothing better than picking up a fresh bagel to settle your stomach and cover the smell of alcohol on your breath.
FB: Gray’s Papaya and H&H Bagels.
Dish that most embodies NYC:
NA: Hot dog with multiple condiments.
WE: Everything bagel toasted with a fat layer of scallion cream cheese.
FB: A dollar slice of pizza to go on a paper plate.
Let’s set the scene. You’re leaving Zabar’s. What’s in your bag?
NA: Chocolate babka, sliced smoked salmon, smoked whitefish, herring in cream.
WE: Mini lemon poppy muffins, cinnamon buns, and some weird culinary tool that I found upstairs.
FB: I could never leave without getting a taste of smoked salmon at the counter and a few slices for the road, olives and pickles, and, of course, rugelach. Zabar’s is also where I learned to love coffee. I always go home with a cup of coffee in my hand, bag of beans for the road, and sawdust on my shoes.
Describe your first-ever trip to Williamsburg:
NA: Got off at the Bedford L before it was filled with chains and banks, then went to the Bedford Cheese Shop, the Blue Bottle Roastery, and maybe snuck a beer at Brooklyn Brewery. It used to be rebellious, or so we thought.
WE: Checking out an apartment to rent with friends. We got out of the subway on Driggs and walked south for a bit. There was nothing going on, just construction all over the place and not many redeeming qualities. We moved in anyway and I haven’t left since.
FB: When I was a teenager, I went to Peter Luger’s with my family and our close friends, the Rothsteins. They had a Peter Luger credit card and were our guides through the intimidating ordering process. I felt at home once that sizzling porterhouse hit the table.
Your ideal order at Gertie:
NA: During the day, a turkey, egg, and cheese with pickled peppers on an English muffin, grilled corn muffin with butter and jam, and, of course, a cup of Parlor coffee. At night, the relish tray to start, followed by the rotisserie chicken with rice and beans, all the sauces, and a draft gin and tonic.
WE: Relish tray with a cocktail, followed by rotisserie chicken and wine, then finish up with a slice of the daily pie.
FB: A glass of whatever funky Grimm we have on tap at the moment.
Ingredient you go through the most of at Gertie:
NA: On the bev side, coffee beans, mezcal, and orange wine.
WE: Potato chips. We basically spend all day frying potato chips to keep up.
FB: I’ll leave that to Will!
Best seat in the house:
NA: Sitting at the bar looking over the kitchen and dining room.
WE: At the end of the bar. We call it B1, but you can see the entire restaurant, including a unique view into the kitchen as well. Most importantly, you are closest to the booze—because who likes to wait for refills?
FB: At the bar right by the living room. You get the whole view of the dining room, kitchen, bar, backyard and even get to people-watch those walking by and peeking inside. A great spot to overload the senses!
What’s NY got that L.A. doesn’t?
WE: Real seasons. The change in seasons gives us four opportunities a year to reflect on everything and to make large-scale changes to the menu and the restaurant. It keeps things fresh and exciting throughout the year.
FB: New York has more hole-in-the-wall cozy bars and restaurants. And deli’s, bodegas, corner store—whatever you like to call it. NYC runs on them.
What’s L.A. got that NY doesn’t?
NA: Good weather.
WE: No freezing winters. There’s nothing worse than getting up in the morning when it’s cold and still dark out.
FB: Cliche, but L.A. has excellent taco trucks. My favorite being Mariscos Jalisco. I always get a shrimp taco when I get off the plane and one before I depart. Also, L.A. has an endless supply of strip mall eateries!
On a scale of 1 to 10, how tired are you of the L.A. versus NY conversation?
WE: 10, because it isn’t a conversation. NY is better in just about every way.
FB: I enjoy it, because every time I go to L.A. I grow more and more fond of the city, and find little idiosyncratic things to compare to my hometown. Whereas when I first went to L.A. I thought it was just being stuck in a car…
What would it take for you to leave New York?
NA: Opening a Gertie in another city.
WE: Cheaper rent. The rent is too damn high!
FB: My fiancé forcing me to leave.