[Photo: Brian Samuels]
It's been one week since chef Paul Sussman opened his new Downtown Crossing restaurant Back Deck, serving up New England backyard grilling. But mind you, that does not mean barbecue. You won't find any ribs or pulled pork here. Instead, Sussman set out to create a restaurant that recreates a summer day on a patio, complete with an open kitchen that has three charcoal grills. Back Deck offers the city dweller who doesn't necessarily have a grill or patio the opportunity to enjoy a charcoal grilled meal outside on a summer day. Eater spoke with Paul about how things are at the restaurant one week in.
How was the first week? We had a very good first week. We saw more and more business every day. People in the neighborhood were curious to see the completed restaurant after having watched the place come together over the past several months. Overall we had a very nice first week.
What's the most popular dish? We're selling a lot of hamburgers, which actually surprised me. We put it on the menu as a low-cost item. We wanted the restaurant to be accessible to a broad range of diners but they've ended up being more popular than we expected. The other dish that people are ordering a lot is the grilled chicken breast with garlic gravy, mashed potatoes and grilled zucchini. Our aim is to grill perfectly, grilling is our main concept, after all. We're very technique-oriented. We keep the menu simple which allows us to pay more attention to technique. It allows us to grill everything just right.
Knowing what you do now, if you could have given yourself advice for the opening, what would it be? Nothing major but definitely some minor things. There are always challenges to opening a restaurant. One of the biggest problems, is that there's a limit to the amount of training you can do before it gets very expensive. We did two or three days of training with our cooks and waitstaff. It's always a little rough around the edges until you get into a routine. That's just the way restaurant openings are. Luckily we had a relatively smooth opening.
Any menu changes so far? There will be. Next week we'll be making a few adjustments, mostly just based on seasonality. We opened with a menu meant for late spring and we're already into summer. For instance we'll debut a new soup: grilled corn and poblano chili served chilled. We also started off with a slightly condensed menu just until the staff got into the swing of things. Some of the items we'll be adding back in are a grilled vegetable plate, Provencal style, with chickpea panisse and rouille, a spicy red pepper sauce, and also a grilled scallop dish. We don't run specials but we intend to change the menu every month or so, just a few dishes off, a few on.
Any plans for the future? There are a few dishes I'm looking forward to adding once we're ready, one being grilled stuffed lobster. I need to make sure that we have the level of business needed for a dish like that. You don't want to have surplus lobster sitting around. I also wanted to make sure everyone is up to snuff on technique During opening the chef is always running around. Once things settle down a bit, I'll hopefully find time to play around with it. Another dish we'll add when the time is right is lobster with chorizo and cornbread stuffing.
Any interesting feedback so far? I can tell you, the most misunderstood dish we have is the chicken wings. They're a holdover from my old Cambridge restaurant, Daddy O's. There we would fry them. Here we confit them, then they are grilled to order. People are expecting this crispy chicken wing out of fryer, instead it's a very tender grilled chicken wing with a nice charcoal flavor. We hit it with butter mixed with chipotle chili, lime, and spices, and serve it with gorgonzola dressing. Occasionally people have returned them and asked for them crisper, but there's not much we can do because they're grilled, not fried. Luckily though, if people give them a try, and understand they're not the traditional fried wings, they love them.
So how did you decide on this concept? I teamed up with my business partner four years ago and he had this idea: a restaurant specializing in straightforward charcoal grilling. Not barbecue, just grilled food. The concept just took off from there. We thought about what kind of environment that should be. If you live in a condo downtown, you probably don't have a place to grill. We wanted to design a place that looked like a party in your neighbor's backyard, with your dinner being grilled up. This space lends itself well to that backyard feeling with lots of windows that open onto Washington Street. There's also teak furniture, plants everywhere, and patio umbrellas. On a nice day, you can relax and enjoy the breeze and really feel like you're on someone's deck.
So there's been a lot of confusion with people thinking that this is barbecue? I suppose you could say we're doing New England barbecue, but the problem with that is people come in expecting barbecue ribs. We don't have that, or pulled pork. I love that stuff, but it's not what we're doing here.
How do you plan to change it up for winter? We want the restaurant to be a respite from the cold during the winter months. Clearly we won't have the windows open, but we want you to be able to come here even in January and once you get inside, to have that feeling of a warm summer day.