Underground Restaurants Continuing to Gain in Popularity

Underground Restaurants Continuing to Gain in Popularity

TrendWire

Underground Restaurants Continuing to Gain in Popularity

The Food Channel Trendwire
September 1, 2008 • Volume 22, Number 15 • http://www.foodchannel.com
IN THIS EDITION

Underground Restaurants Continuing to Gain in Popularity

 

An underground restaurant may be coming to an apartment, bungalow, townhome, or McMansion near you. These unofficial, informal (and did we mention technically illegal?) travelling supper clubs are the latest craze in the foodie movement among those who seek out new and unusual dining experiences.

 

Here’s the general way they work: A chef/cook/host invites a number of guests over for dinner, usually related to a theme of some sort. The host prepares the meal from a set menu and the guests pay a set fee (often technically a “donation”) to cover the cost of the meal. Wine and beer may or may not be included. Some parties are BYOB. Some homes have a standing party, say every other Saturday night. (This sort of setup is often called a Closed Door Restaurant or a House Restaurant, and they tend to have a smaller guest list, usually 20 or fewer a night.) Others decide to move their dinners to new locations every week to avoid detection by the local health department. Some add a hands-on component, offering a combination of cooking class or cooperative approach to food preparation. Check out the Aug. 27, 2008, New York Times article that describes a recent all-day “field trip” to a farm where guests butchered, then prepared, and eventually ate a whole boar in a variety of different ways, including in Boar Bolognese and smoked boar with collard greens.

Over the last 4 years or so, the number of underground restaurants has increased to more than 70 nationwide as tracked by Ghetto Gourmet, one of the original underground restaurants. Now billing itself as a “Dinnerparty Network,” Ghetto Gourmet (more commonly known as The Ghet) connects people interested in attending or hosting a supper club in cities throughout the country. Users can set up profiles and start their own Ghet chapters in their areas, then connect with other people who are interested in cooking and eating the same things. I followed one particularly lively discussion on the love/hate relationship many people have with animal innards, which ones to eat, what time of year to eat them, how to source organic product, and on and on.

 

The hosts and chefs come from a variety of backgrounds; some are hospitality professionals working in someone else’s kitchen as their “real job” and running their own underground restaurants on the side. Others come from a variety of backgrounds—advertising executives, school teachers. One particularly passionate foodie, Bryan Zupon, started his own restaurant out of his campus apartment at Duke University in Durham, N.C. (see last year’s full story in the New York Times).

Here are a few websites of underground restaurants that may (or may not) be located near you:

  • Zingara Cucina, literally the Gypsy Kitchen, is located somewhere in Australia. It promises that you will likely eat with people you don’t know, and it could be in a car park (parking lot), under a bridge, or somewhere equally obscure.
  • Casa SaltShaker in Buenos Aries, Argentina, describes your invitation to a small dinner party in its home for around $90 AR.
  • The Hidden Kitchen is based in Sacramento, Calif. It has lots of gorgeous foodie pics on its website, requests a $75 donation, and is BYOB.
  • The RogueApron, based somewhere in Atlanta, serves up “delicious dinners for strangers-who-become-friends, paired with awesome homebrewed beers, and located in different private locations on a semimonthly basis.”
  • The Hidden Kitchen is located somewhere near the Louvre in Paris and is a collaboration of two American ex-pats. Not related to the Sacramento, Calif., restaurant, but are you sensing a theme?
  • New York Bite Club collects donations from members and hosts dinners around the city. Beware, though; you’ll need to be a verified member to get much information about specific events.
  • The Des Moines Underground Inc. takes its show on the road atop office buildings, in downtown lofts, and at any other location that strikes its fancy.
  • The perpetrators of Homeslice West in Manhattan describe their endeavor as “a culinary speakeasy…where mutual friends (or friends of friends) could relax in a cozy space, meet new people, and eat a home-cooked meal.”

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