Friday, April 19, 2024 Apr 19, 2024
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An Exclusive Interview with Matt McCallister at Homewood

We met the chef at his new restaurant space.

If any restaurant is prominent on the horizon, it’s Homewood, the new restaurant in an old Becks Prime location into which Matt McCallister has been pouring his energy since closing his much-lauded FT33 last year. Last Friday, I joined him to talk about the restaurant set to debut in early February (the opening date is tentatively set for February 5).

On the corner of Oak Lawn and Avondale avenues, fledgling bay laurels will soon begin to fill out a patio that will add ample outdoor dining space. Nine raised beds will also function as on-site gardens, growing aromatics like hoja santa and lemongrass. McCallister is looking forward to growing whole beds of petite arugula or radishes and having space to let things grow to bolt.

As I begin the walk-through, I’m struck by the roominess Homewood affords in comparison to the tight quarters of FT33, where a single walk-in fridge the size of a phone booth had to hold innumerable brining, fermenting, and curing products.

At Homewood, there will be a hearth for wood-grilling, a pasta-cooking station. Pastry chef Maggie Huff, who, along with a fair share of the staff has followed McCallister from FT33 and even from his time at Stephan Pyles, will have her own pastry kitchen, which will double as a pasta-fabrication lab (the menu will include more pasta dishes). In the tight quarters of FT33, Huff routinely had to come in at 5 a.m. in order to vacate her station by the time dinner service prep began. No longer. About this fact, anyone who knows her superb work should be excited.

McCallister talks about the gift of extra space.

“When it was hog day [at FT33 and a whole hog came in], I don’t care what you’re doing, you stop everything to help break it down,” he says, in part because the bulky animal had to be processed before anyone else could get back to work. With extra space, he says, “that philosophy [of camaraderie] won’t change.” But the urgency will be tempered.

He’s also relaxing the restrictions on hyper-local sourcing that characterized the last year at FT33. Huff will be able to work with chocolate again; his bartenders can use citrus.

“I won’t be as hyper insane about changing the menu every week, either,” he says.

In what will be the dining room—now a sea of plywood and half-finished construction—McCallister is planning a fluid rapport between the kitchen and diners. The expediting table across which dishes will pass is embellished with mill work and cabinetry, a butcher block and apron sink. Some seats will cluster around a garde-manger station, in a view of a functioning meat slicer.

“I want it to look like a home kitchen,” McCallister says, with subtle domestic touches.

Windows as wide as a wall and a double-sided bar that follows the sloping shape of the land form one side of the dining room: the recessed bar means you’ll sit at regular-height chairs inside, while on the patio you’ll sit at bar stools. It’s all part of a big, fluid, open floor plan. Elsewhere, all the seating will be banquettes or booths, with moveable table space. Colors will include soft touches of green against white oak, tile, and hand-crafted walnut tables in two inch-thick slabs. It’s all reflective of a softer touch. A more accessible, less industrial-chic, avant vibe.

And the focus is a little different, too. Initially, McCallister says he was going to keep both FT33 and the new Homewood. But his landlord allowed him to break his lease, and the idea appealed to a new direction.

When he opened FT33, McCallister was 31 years old. “I had a chip on my shoulder. Something to prove,” he says. “I’m a little bit older now. FT required me,” he says. “I don’t want [Homewood] to be this stamp of Matt McCallister. It’s going to be the team.”

But while he says he’ll toy with fewer ingredients in each dish, the underlying aesthetic will remain the same. Fresh grains like farro verde will be milled in house. McCallister has solid muscle cuts cured and ready to be served as part of a rotating ham plate. “Using all parts of the animal was something we did really well [at FT33],” he says, and they’ll continue at Homewood, with even more space. Local farms will provide produce. He’s sent staff to a fermentation class in the Hudson Valley and to eat at Stone Barns, arguably the country’s best seasonal, farm-to-table laboratory and restaurant.

What you can look forward to? Royal red shrimp on rye toast with shrimp-head butter, pumpkin seeds and house-cured lardo. Parker House rolls you’ll slather in aerated Parmesan mornay sauce laced through with chicken drippings—this instead of a bread and butter service. Heirloom grain pastas; steak cuts from a tiny grass-fed, grass-finished ranch in Texas. And a wine list with an asterisk denoting organic, biodynamic, and natural wines.

McCallister points to the green salad on the menu. In many ways, it’s the encapsulation of his personal style, the way he likes to eat: “Arugula with a lemon-ette and Parmesan. And a roast chicken. And I’m happy.”

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