Secret restaurants are all around us, and some of the best are in New York City. We have a list for you. But first, a brief history.
About 80 years ago, a guy named Lawrence Frank opened an unlicensed restaurant in his Beverly Hills home. He served a menu of prime rib, mashed potatoes and creamed corn. It was the first recorded secret restaurant in the United States, and Frank was the first in a long line of chefs to invite strangers to their homes for the purpose of expanding bellies, minds and the culinary experience.
Today there are countless underground restaurants—also called supper clubs—scattered throughout the country. Operating outside of official jurisdiction, they offer patrons a creative and unique dining experience that differs from traditional eateries in menu options and style of service.
These establishments also tend to be exclusive and open infrequently, serving no more than a handful of customers at a time, once or twice a month, and requiring reservations far in advance.
New York City, often referred to as America’s dining capital, is home to some of the best secret restaurants in the country. If you’re in the area and looking for an unusual dining experience, consider visiting one of the establishments listed below.
That is, if they let you in.
1. Chinatown Cake ClubLocation: Chinatown
Housed in a nondescript tenement building, the Chinatown Cake Club opens its doors just once a month for six hours. The menu, different each month, is comprised of various deserts, tea and coffee. During their visit, patrons are invited to watch films, read books or socialize with their fellow diners. Learn more at www.chinatowncakeclub.com
2. Tchoup Shop
Location: Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Chef Simon Glenn serves up New Orleans-style barbeque twice a week in the backyard of a Williamsburg bar. Shrimp, oysters, sausage and beer — if you need anything else, you need to reexamine your priorities. Learn more at www.tchoupshop.com
3. Highlands Dinner Club
Highlands Dinner Club is a mobile underground dining experience that changes its location, menu and theme with each new event. Billed as a “farm-to-table experiment,” Highlands incorporates farm-fresh and local ingredients and involves its guests in planning and executing each new meal. Learn more at highlandsdinnerclub.tumblr.com
Studiofeast is culinary innovation (and exhibitionism) on the move. Each event features different chefs in a different location. It’s largely unpredictable. To give you an idea, one recent event involved a six-course meal served entirely on a moving subway train. In short, you have to try it to know what it is. Sadly, it’s invitation only, so whether you actually get to try it depends on who you know. Learn more at www.studiofeast.com
5. City Grit
Sarah McSimmons’ personal quest to introduce Southern cooking to the urbanites of New York City prompted her to start her own twice-monthly underground restaurant. Boasting authentic southern cooking with a twist, McSimmons cooks up such dishes as grits with bacon and gorgonzola, Mediterranean grits and grits with goat cheese and chives. Yes, lots of grits. Learn more at sarahmcsimmons.com/city-grit/
6. Forking TastyLocation: Varied
Operated by brothers Jason and Anthony Anello, Forking Tasty plays host to monthly dinner events that range from quiet, round-the-table chats to Star Wars-themed movie nights. The common thread is good food, prepared fresh by the brothers Anello. Learn more at www.forkingtasty.com
7. Bite Club NYC
Bite Club NYC might just be the most secretive supper club on this list. The website offers few details, a single page of mouthwatering food photography and a tab prompting visitors to sign up for membership if they wish to be involved. Hmm… Learn more at www.nybiteclub.com
8. Brooklyn Laundry
Each Brooklyn Laundry event is modeled after a different culinary tradition, meal, place or occurrence. One upcoming event, inspired by the historical Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s, will take place on a farm and will consist of five courses, each paired with a different type of whiskey. Creative, delicious and even somewhat educational. Learn more at www.thebrooklynlaundry.com
9. Brooklyn Edible Social Club
Created by a chef who keeps his identity under wraps (we can tell you he’s a former employee of The French Laundry if that helps), Brooklyn Edible Social Club offers five-course artisanal meals in a dinner-party setting. All ingredients are seasonal and local. Learn more at bkediblesocial.blogspot.com