10 Qs for Dennis Spina


Some nights Roebling Tea Room seems like Williamsburg’s living room. The restaurant offers great brunch everyday (a rare find in Brooklyn) a good burger, small plates and a solid wine list — making it the sort of indispensable neighborhood joint you visit several times a week. But the nightly specials, inspired by seasonal produce, grass-fed meat and the whims of executive chef Dennis Spina, go far and above humble neighborhood fare. Roebling is regular BB haunt, so we recently asked Spina, (second photo below, on the left) why his consistently fantastic and adventurous food is so rarely written up. His answer, “Because I never call anyone back.”

If there’s anything we like, it’s a challenge.

Not only did we get him to answer some of our most pressing questions (about Glenn Danzig and duck fat, no less) we’re lending a hand with the Wine and Meat dinner at Roebling next Thursday. Jenny & Francois, a leading importer of natural, organic and biodynamic wines, is providing the liquid part of the meal, and Languedoc winemaker Laurent Tibes will speak. On the protein end of things, Joshua Applestone will talk about the grass fed meat from Fleisher’s on the menu. Dinner details follow the interview with Spina.

How have you changed Roebling since signing on as executive chef?
I expanded the shit out of the menu, it was pretty small when I started and when my good buddy [Steven Tanner] left to start his own place [Pies ‘n’ Thighs], I went more, well, dirty French I suppose.

On your menu it says, “our pork beef and lamb are on the program.” What do you mean by that?
We get our meats from Fleisher’s in Kingston. So I guess I should state on the menu that we are on a “decency program.” To get Sysco beef or lamb would be an insane and disgusting sin. It only makes sense to serve good and decent meat.

What’s your favorite thing on the menu right now? Or that you’ve served recently?
We do a fish sandwich that I like. Our tartar sauce is a standout. We sometimes brine our duck in coca cola, when we do that I like that a lot.

You have another restaurant in the works, how will the food be different from the Tea Room?
More French in a basic and dusty way.

Any word on where it will be, when it will open?
Williamsburg, I like Williamsburg. I have no clue when it will open — sooner I hope. But I’m in no hurry. As it turns out, opening a restaurant is a lot of work. Who knew?

What’s the menu for the wine and meat dinner looking like?
We’re doing four courses, each one will be paired with a different wine: Oxtail marmalade or confit of rabbit — your choice Braised lamb belly with chestnuts, braised brussel sprouts and red wine syrup Rolled Delmonico steak with heirloom carrots, housemade beef broth, golden raisins and greens, Stichelton cheese [a Bristish raw milk blue] and honeycombs.

It sounds good to me. And probably will become much more gilded over the week.

I heard a rumor that you used to hang out with Glenn Danzig indeerhead high school. Is that true?
Nope, totally false. I met him in Columbus, Ohio once, he is short and very buff.

Dusty French, dirty French, how did you end up such a Frenchie?
Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell — just kidding. I like the whole thing, from the casual alcoholism to heavy salt use to the rudeness, it all just meshes for me.

Where do you like to eat in Brooklyn?
Egg is the best.

Why is duck fat so good? It’s all over your menu, is there anything you can’t use it for?
It destroys all tendons and unchewable meat, a real miracle worker. I suppose raw chicken sashimi and duck fat would be bad.

UPDATE: The dinner is sold out, but keep an eye out for upcoming BB/Roebling Tea Room events

Roebling Tea Room Meat and Wine Dinner. Thursday, November 13, 2008, 7:30 pm. Roebling Tea Room, 143 Roebling at Metropolitan. $65 per person for four courses, paired with wine. Winemaker Laurent Tibes and butcher Joshua Applestone of Fleisher’s will both speak.

Sent by Annaliese. Photos by asthmatic (top), Arancia Project (middle) and spreetaper (deer head) via Flickr.

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