Roebling Tea Room New York
Over the last seven years, Williamsburg's The Roebling Tea Room has grown into one of Williamsburg's most exciting restaurants. Chef Dennis Spina does not have any formal training — he learned everything on the line as a cook at places like the now-shuttered Relish — but he has a great intuitive mind for food. On an average night, you might find things like a raviolo with egg and cockles, or chicken with corned beef and dumplings on the menu. Before coming to The Tea Room, general manager Arryan Decatur spent time at a number of pioneering Brooklyn restaurants including Roberta's, Five Leaves, and Vinegar Hill house, where he met manager Natacha Stojanovic. We recently chatted with Arryan and Natacha about what's it's like getting a table at The Roebling Tea Room on an average night.
It's 8 PM on Saturday night. What's the wait for two? Natacha Stojanovic, manager: Well Saturday at 8 PM, you can expect like a 30-45 minute wait. Somewhere in that range. It’s not so bad, and sometimes people actually enjoy it. Arryan Decatur, general manager: We switched gears like eight months ago, just because we’re becoming a much more focused dinner restaurant, you know? So we took the couches out and put that big table back there and it’s been great. On Fridays and Saturdays it’s a little too hectic to put dinner guests on them, but it’s been great just having drinks back there and it really eases the wait a lot.
Is 8 PM your on Saturday your busiest time of the week?
Natacha: It’s actually around 9:30 PM where we have like a big rush on weekends. Like from 9:30 PM to 10:30 PM, it starts to become busy. But there is a different atmosphere at the bar and all that. So, yeah I’d say like 45 minutes on like a 9:30 PM table.
Who are your VIPs here? Arryan: I mean, it sounds cliche at this point, but I really think the regular customers are the VIPs. Regular customers and friends. I really like to go out of my way for the people that are obviously coming back a lot and are just friends of the restaurant. It helps if there are people that are big spenders, but at the end of the day, your bread and butter, and the people that are keeping the room happy and fun, are those people who are coming back and having a good time all the time.
Do you guys ever get any celebrities? Arryan: We do, yeah. I actually haven’t seen him, but I hear that Justin Timberlake is a huge fan of our restaurant. I guess he came back a couple of weeks in a row or something like that. And with all the production going on, there’s a lot of TV people.
What’s the strangest request you’ve accommodated here?
Natacha: We had a big group of people, and before they even sat down, the first thing they asked was, "Do you have Nachos?" We do not actually offer nachos on the menu, but I told the chef and he was up for the challenge. So we went to the supermarket and found some fresh tortilla chips and they never even thought for one second we didn’t have it on the menu. Yeah, so that was actually a fun challenge. Arryan: Yeah, and it inspired Dennis too, I think, because maybe a month later, we hosted the Diner and Marlow & Sons holiday party, and it was just some really fun food items that had been the culmination of all these things he had been working either off the menu or the nacho thing. He was going on about being the inventor of the monkfish tripe parmesan. He did like this gigantic six-foot hoagie that he and one of his cooks brought onto this back table here and everyone went crazy about it. Not everyone ate it, but a lot of people ate it. And he did a full Thanksgiving dinner for one of the courses for that party. He’s really capable?but if it was some other request other than nachos he may not have done it. He probably just felt like eating nachos that day.
Have there been any requests that you guys haven’t been able to accommodate? Arryan: I think the toughest thing that we come up against is the fact that we're thought of as a tea room, and there’s many definitions of a tea room – that’s the hardest part. So there are the people that come and just want to have tea and hang out in a quiet room for hours. You can’t get mad at that, because I love doing that too. In fact, when I first started, I was getting the reservations program in order, and I took this call. This woman asked for a reservation for two. I told her you don’t really need a reservation, but she was like "we were thinking of coming in for tea at 4:30 PM on Friday afternoon, " and I was like "you’ll be fine, don’t worry about it." So I think that the hardest part is the preconceived notions that come with having the tea room in the name and making sure everyone stays happy given what we can offer them. Which is a lot.
Roebling seems to have evolved a lot over the years. What are the big changes? Arryan: I’ve been coming here as a customer since it opened like seven years ago. And when I took it over, it’s probably like eight or nine months ago now, I was really excited because it’s come into its own as a very good restaurant. It’s been my favorite restaurant for a long time. And it went from literally just a tea house — you know the model was just tea and hanging out — and the food evolved so much when Dennis came on around six years ago. He just pushed the food so much that it’s really becoming a destination for dinner, which is great.
There's a lot of focus in the food media about Brooklyn. Where do you think this neighborhood is going right now? Natacha: There is definitely a new population coming into Williamsburg, that is more, let's say, "free to spend." Here we have three beers here that are under $4, which can attract the old neighborhood people, like the artists or the youngsters, but we also have amazing food to offer, so that attracts like both, because it's still like kind of a mix here. So, here there's like a great balance between very excellent food, that can sometimes are considered to be high end, and more affordable options like burgers. But when some other restaurants just focus on the new population, sometimes they don't survive because they might attempt something that's too fancy. Arryan: If you don't understand the neighborhood, you won't stay open, probably.
Tell me about your favorite customers. Natacha: My favorite customers are honestly people from the industry. When they go out, they enjoy it — it's for something special. They're understand the ingredients. Those people are actually easier, but also pleasant, because they'll have a dialogue. Arryan: Yeah, they really light up. We're pretty playful at times, even though our food is pretty serious, so it's fun with those customers that are steeped in restaurant culture come in. We had an option of bottarga available last week, to "turbo up" the raviolo that we had, and restaurant people came in were like "Yes, please!" A lot of kids from Diner come in here a lot and say "turbo it up." It's kind of a thing now.