Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Reason for Not Eating Out #31: Because Supper Clubs are Blowing Up

Last week, I received half a dozen emails from various supper clubs I’d signed up for the mailing lists of. Each dinner sounded more delectable than the one before: roasted local grass-fed goat loin chops with farro-spinach salad and sweet onion soubise, kombu cured fluke with yuzu, brown butter, wakame and preserved nori, a dinner with a puppetry theatre accompaniment, an Argentinian asado of grilled offal, a backyard barbecue of grilled flank steak with chimicurri and chorizo. And the list goes on.

You see, every supper club, in New York City at least, has their own flavor. Or every dinner they hold — and this is key, that they’re so occasional — has their very own pomp and circumstance. What in the world is a supper club? you might be asking. Well, it can be as formal as the ones I receive bi-weekly dinner announcements from. A team of well-organized chefs and servers who host dinner parties out of someone’s home kitchen. But really, if you don’t want to run a committed club, all it takes is a home chef with wiles to spare.

I’m going to strip the veneer off of “underground supperclubs” for a moment to bring it back to a more earthy level. Who hasn’t attended or thrown an all-too elaborate dinner party in one of their friends’ homes? With a resident playing chef de cuisine for the evening, and a room full of guests, some already friendly, some separated by a few degrees, and some total strangers? I have a hunch that that’s exactly how most of today’s supper clubs began. Often, the Brooklyn bunch that I speak are held in loft apartments with big, open-kitchen spaces. The kind of space that makes one wonder, why am I paying $7 for a drink and $20 for dinner to be squashed in between multiple chairs at the trendy restaurant down the street?

Loft living situations may have revolutionized domestic culture some, or for a certain set of spendthrifty, yet socialable young people. And supper clubs are an offshoot of that communal living spirit to some extent. But even if you don’t own a very large kitchen, or living space, a frequent dinner party host at heart is sure to happen in one of every, oh, eight of us. I certainly had a fun run of holding a few monthly dinners at a friend’s home over the winter, in which we each chose two or three friends to invite over who hadn’t met each other before, and let everyone mingle over our food. I don’t know if I would call it a supper club or an unqualified ego trip over our cooking capabilities, but I sure enjoyed it when others stepped up to the stove to participate in the cooking process (which I often winged from a few random thoughts during the day).

Supper clubs, at-home speakeasies, underground restaurants or whatever you want to call them, have always had an aura of mystery surrounding them. Okay, it’s illegal to charge people for food that you’re cooking out of your home, unless it’s been inspected by the city/gotten its proper permits. That’s why most supper clubs call their dinner prices “contributions,” and operate on a somewhat hush-hush level (email dinner announcements only, dinners only when announced). For me, that mystery has long since worn off. Not that I don’t fully enjoy getting worked up in finding out the location of the dinner a day before it takes place, but the bare fact is that there are so many people doing it, and doing it well, that it’s almost like going out to a restaurant to eat. For me.

In the past two years of not eating out — strictly speaking — I avidly sought out these supper clubs. As luck would have it, more kept cropping up as my journey went on. In total, I’ve dined at or cooked with or hung out with the renegade cooks at A Razor, A Shiny Knife, Whisk & Ladle, Ted & Amy’s, Peerless Platters, Studiofeast, Gastronauts, SocialEats, One Big Table, Underground Food Collective, and Humunculus Eat-Easy; and soon plan on sitting at the tables of Sunday Night Dinner, and Brooklyn Edible Social Club. Are those the only ones I’m missing? I highly doubt it.

More and more supper clubs seem to be cropping up these days than ever. I’m not going to blame solely the recession, which has gotten many folks back into their kitchens (or their friends’), or to their gardens more frequently. Some of these supper clubs run comparable prices to that of a prix-fixe restaurant dinner. But what they have in social prowess is second to none: at a restaurant, you’re not supposed to talk to the other people in the room, unless you want to be that crazy yet typical New Yorker who also sings opera on the bus. At a supper club dinner, you’re automatically geared to chat with your fellow guests, who are, too, even though they may have zero ties to the host or hostess, or to you (as at a regular home dinner party).

For anyone uninitiated to this unique bridge between restaurant and home dining (which I’ll call home, still, since that’s where they’re held, and the chefs for the most part are untrained enthusiasts — like me!), I wonder if you aren’t tickled to give them a chance. For a first-timer perspective, Katherine Goldstein (who I might add I sat across from at the latest One Big Table dinner) wrote a lovely recap of her first underground dinner for The Huffington Post.

Then, if you want to check out what’s going on behind the scenes, and before the dinner, Food2 recently launched the first few episodes from their series on a certain Brooklyn supper club, called Kitchen Confidential. It’s starring some very familiar, good-looking faces, and I’m so proud of the project and their keeping it real by still holding dinners over the four or so years they’ve been operating (okay, it’s Whisk & Ladle supper club!) on a pretty regular basis, despite the show.

I’m sure there’s plenty more to be said about supper clubs, and as more surface, plenty more innovations to be had in that realm. In the meantime, I wonder if someone won’t snatch up the idea of creating a site sort of like MenuPages to navigate through them all. Would make my life much easier!

28 Responses to “Reason for Not Eating Out #31: Because Supper Clubs are Blowing Up”

  1. Mark says:

    Hey Cathy, I am just curious if these are at risk of being shut down by the Health Inspector if they become too “popular”. Seems like they are riding on the thin edge of a service that would be covered by health code issues — preparing food for resale, etc. — how do they address this I wonder?

  2. jenene says:

    I was wondering if you could suggest any vegetarian or pescetarian-friendly supper clubs?

  3. waisze says:

    Love your blog! This is very interesting. I’ve never participated in a supper club but find it quite intriguing! I’ve been trying my hardest to cook most meals at home and it’s been great.

  4. Giff says:

    I think it’s a great trend, personally. The city government probably thinks otherwise but so be it. If I lived in the city still (or didn’t have kids!), I’d definitely try some (sigh, that statement can be applied to so many of the interesting things you blog about!)

  5. anna says:

    @jenene – Four Course Vegan is fantastic.

  6. Meghan says:

    4coursevegan.com is *fantastic* I’m not veg/vegan, but I love this place (and Chef Matteo is super-nice); I’ve taken die-hard meat eaters and they’ve raved about the food. Highly recommend.

  7. liz says:

    Hey there, Cathy -

    I just discovered your blog today and LOVE it! Thank you too for all the suggestions on supper clubs – many tend to include too much meat and are expensive – excellent to learn of several clubs that focus on fresh, local food that are more veggie-friendly right here in Brooklyn!

    Thanks too for the tip on Gastronauts!

  8. Not Eating Out in New York » Reason For Not Eating Out #32: The Wait says:

    [...] the coldness factor for now, and admitting first-off that dinner parties, supper clubs and all sorts of communal cooking activities can create just the same lags in time for food, when [...]

  9. Reader: June 4, 2009 « updownacross says:

    [...] – Hapa Kitchen is a crew of chefs of mixed race including Cathy Erway of Not Eating out in NY. They are having a throwdown at Brooklyn Yard this Saturday, I’m very excited about it. Yard also has Sunday Best dance parties which should be a great work out. On a side note, a list of supper clubs. [...]

  10. Apartment 2024 » Blog Archive » Chefame Chefayou! says:

    [...] kitchen on a quiet evening and throw a big, old dinner party. It’s sort of like the supper clubs that have been sweeping New York, but with a unique Philly [...]

  11. john rocke says:

    going 2 usa at xmas.how do i go about getting an invite 2 a supper club or where.stayin in fresh meadow.jon from ireland

  12. Underground Dining says:

    thanks kathy for the info! ive been to a couple on your list and am looking forward to adding on more!

  13. Underground Dining says:

    sorry–cathy with a C

  14. elton says:

    hello
    i’m visiting newyork in november, how can i get an invite to a supper club? just watched Jamie Oliver here in the uk today at one and i think the idea is brilliant.

  15. Lottie says:

    Hey … I with Elton above .. I hitting the big apple in November and would love to see the ‘real’ new york and eat some great food. Any ideas??

  16. steve & lisa! says:

    Hi all,

    my wife and I are visiting your city from Manchester in the UK for my birthday, and would love to get the chance to join a supperclub for the evening. Its a long shot but the dates we have are as follows – 30th November, 1st/2nd/3rd December. Could anyone help/advise.

    Thank you so much in advance

    Steve & Lisa in sunny Manchester UK!

  17. Neil says:

    I am visiting NY on December 29th – January 7th and would love to attend a supper club at its home origin. this bog is awesome an have checked out many of these links. Thank you very much for your post cathy, great idea about a echo of menu pages website.
    If any supper clubs are on around my visit I would be very honored to be invited.

  18. Maynard Riesenberg says:

    Welcome I completely agree with your post. Very useful I can see that a lot of effort has been put into it. Keep up the effort.

    Thank you
    Co2 bazooka

  19. Rae says:

    Hi Cathy,
    Do you know of any supper clubs in NYC that are still active? I didn’t have any luck with the links in your blog post. My partner and I are visiting Manhattan from Australia in October/November and would truly love to have dinner with some local foodies. Are there any you would currently recommend?

  20. Quora says:

    Why are supper clubs illegal?…

    Here’s a good blogpost that nails this question: > What in the world is a supper club? you might be asking. Well, it can be as formal as the ones I receive bi-weekly dinner announcements from. A team of well-organized chefs and servers who host dinner…

  21. Lin says:

    Supper clubs in NYC are a bad idea because there are NO health regulations and most condos and/or apartments would not allow renters/owners to have businesses such as this in their HOA’s. Cooking at home is great for close friends and family but not for paying dinner guests. There is no insurance for guests attending should they get sick or injured while visiting and a lot of cooks I know that call themselves chefs are only average cooks. It’s a gamble and could be expensive $75 pp is a lot to spend on a meal you’re not sure will be palatable.

  22. Dylan says:

    For those looking for a pescatarian club, try sending an email to tgagelee@gmail.com; they might connect you to one in brooklyn. pan-seared dover sole with preserved lemons, toasted garlic, and basil from their roof? no complaints by me.

  23. emoni says:

    Hey everyone, I am a pastry chef who is looking for a chef, inspired culinarian,or just someone that loves trying recipes. A reliable and well organized person that lives close to philly that would like to team up to start a dinner club in philly. If your interested in putting philly on the underground culinary map please email at sinopoli80@yahoo.com first event mid October.

  24. A supper club grows in Bed-Stuy « make something happen says:

    [...] New Yorkers have heard about the underground “supper clubs” that have been popping up here and in other cities. People love supper clubs because the [...]

  25. Supper Clubs versus Shabbat Dinners: Shabbat Dinners FTW! » Mixed Multitudes – My Jewish Learning: Exploring Judaism & Jewish Life says:

    [...] and how they’re sweeping the nation. Here’s a description of supper clubs from Cathy at Not Eating Out in New York: What in the world is a supper club? you might be asking. Well, it can be as formal as the ones I [...]

  26. Jenny says:

    Epic Eats is a newer supper club and is really delicious and fun! The chef is from Eleven Madison Park and I think worked at Nobu too. I highly recommend checking them out. http://www.Epic-eats.com

  27. of the month club says:

    of the month club…

    [...]Reason for Not Eating Out #31: Because Supper Clubs are Blowing Up » Not Eating Out in New York[...]…

  28. Post Brothers says:

    Post Brothers

    Reason for Not Eating Out #31: Because Supper Clubs are Blowing Up » Not Eating Out in New York

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