For the past six months, residents who walk or drive past, no doubt, have noticed it: the construction of what looked to become a swanky new café on Dekalb Ave.
From the beginning, it stood out. Because, apart from a parking lot, a corner bodega and a slew of new apartment complexes, Dekalb near Spencer Pl. was quite bland and a bit barren-- definitely not a consumer destination.
But on Monday, February 3, the newly finished Dekalb Restaurant, celebrated a soft opening, adding yet a little more seasoning to the otherwise insipid Spencer-Dekalb-Wallabout corridor.
The restaurant serves mostly vegetarian, gluten-free dishes, a few meat dishes (lamb and fish) and some raw food dishes, prepared with seasoned precision. It's fine dining at diner prices:
- Fried brussels sprouts with toasted mushroom vin, $5
- Parsnip gnocchi with pine nuts, parsley and mustard, $8
- Mushroom ravioli with greens, skordalia and smokey eggplant butter, $20
The restaurant's owner, Stefan Fahrer, calls it "a community-based restaurant," that brings farm-to-table culture to Bedford-Stuyvesant by cultivating local resources to grow food and build community.
Sounds idealistic. But the key word is "re-purpose:"
All of Dekalb Restaurant's furniture was made in the backyard from recycled and repurposed materials. The restaurant's floors come from a doctor's office, the tables are made from old hardwood floors, and much of the glass and marble products from Evan Blum's Demolition Depot and Irreplaceable Artifacts and the Stone Mason Brothers.
The restaurant also works with a non-profit that teaches school children how to garden. They have agreed to allow the non-profit to use their backyard space to grow a garden and then buy the farmed products to cook in the restaurant. Whatever is not used will be sold at a farmer's market they will hold every week in the back.
"I don't know what happen during the fast food era, but people forgot that food came from farms," said Fahrer, who is the son of famed caterer Mark Fahrer.
"I just wanted to make food, good food and make sure it's accessible. I just wanted to try doing it my way. And I've been lucky enough to meet people in this community who wanted to work with me."
One of those people who had made Fahrer very lucky was Ras Levi, a well-known builder in New York City. His creative handiwork can be found in dozens of restaurants throughout Central Brooklyn—so much so now at Dekalb Restaurant, he has become a partner in the establishment.
"The vision was to use what already exists, as respect for the things that came before us," said Ras. "Usually it's people of color that build. But once a business is established, they're no longer the ones that work there nor can they afford to buy there."
Ras says the team at Dekalb Restaurant is what he is most proud of, from the kitchen staff to the front of the house, "because it speaks to the vision that Stefan and I both share that it should be inclusive, not exclusive."
"Our low prices, that's part of the vision of keeping it affordable and accessible to everyone. Every sector of the community should be able to come and have the same experience."
By spring, the restaurant plans to open the backyard garden to the public, where they'll hold concerts, a craft market, a farmer's market, and yoga and martial arts taught by the restaurant's employees.
But for now, and until their liquor license arrives, they are working on tweaking their menu—which is seasonal and changes often-- to figure out what works and what doesn't work for their customers:
"I try to get 12-13 choice seasonal items and figure out how far I can expand that to offer the tastiest options as possible," said Alexandr Skarlinski, head chef at Dekalb Restaurant. "I'm very considerate to make sure that my cooks are challenged but my guests are also comfortable with the food."
"For the longest time while it was still in construction, we referred to this as 'the site,'" said Fahrer. "Now, it's actually a restaurant, and I'm so happy with how things have turned out. I've had the chance to be in touch with many people's lives this way. And I know we have good food, good business and great information."
Dekalb Restaurant, located at 564 Dekalb Avenue, is open Tuesday through Sunday, from 5:00pm — 11:00pm. This Sunday, it will open at noon for brunch.