From hosting intimate soup parties like Queer Soup Night to experimental cooking collectives like Spiral Theory Test Kitchen, northern Brooklyn has always been home to queer community spaces in the food world. But many of the local restaurants that have helped build that community, like Glady’s Caribbean, MeMe’s Diner, and Babydudes, have all been forced to shutter their doors as dining restrictions cut revenue and government aid continues to be elusive.
Among those that have closed was the Awkward Scone, a Bushwick spot for New Mexican-style breakfast burritos and experimental desserts. Their business model focused partially on catered events — an industry that may be struggling even more than restaurants, as social distancing has made hosting events virtually impossible. But as the virus wreaked havoc on the hospitality industry, co-owner Eric See opened a new venture, named after See’s grandmother, Ursula.
Starting out as a pop-up at Hunky Dory in Crown Heights, See was eventually able to expand Ursula into a brick and mortar last October. Since then, their breakfast burritos have attracted a cult following and are explicitly only served until twelve and where the line often stretches down the block. The burritos all feature a New Mexico-style chile and are offered with both vegetarian and vegan options.
See wanted to use the visibility to provide opportunities for other chefs in the queer community and started hosting a series of community take out-pop ups. Collaborations like these have been a benchmark of the queer food scene — other projects, like Totes Gay, have been organized through collabaorations with the recently shuttered Meme’s Diner and the group that runs Queer Soup Night in order to benefit The Okra Project, a mutual aid fund that’s received more attention amid the pandemic.
Now that See has his own restaurant, he is continuing that tradition by inviting other chefs to use his space in an effort to help chefs who have been put out of work or have lost business. Jessica Quinn, a former pastry chef at Rezdôra in Manhattan and one of the owners of a Eastern European influenced pop-up called Dacha, is among those coming to Ursula.
“I think that opportunities don’t always present themselves the same way to queer communities and queer chefs and just minimally funded small businesses, obviously, a lot of these businesses, they don’t have the same financial backing and investment,” Quinn told Bushwick Daily.
“This sense of community has really risen to new ranks since COVID,” Quinn added. “There’s obviously this new level of transparency, but also this new level of wanting to extend your hand out to each other. There’s just more shops and restaurants willing to open their doors to each other. And, you know, when one of us succeeds, we all succeed.”
Woldy Reyes, who owns the boutique catering company Woldy Kusina, was the first of the chefs to pop up at Ursula. “In the last year, or even prior to that we were just seeing more visibility of queer chefs coming up, and then this pandemic happened and basically watered it down. We’re all trying to just be as resilient as we can and just maneuver during this time. And I think that we’re still keeping our hopeful eyes on what we really care about doing is obviously making food and nourishing our community,” Reyes told Bushwick Daily.
Reyes’ pop up launched just after Valentine’s day with a menu that featured creamy pancit noodles; fresh egg noodles in a coconut miso sauce, bibingka waffles and Reye’s take on a Filipino coconut rice cake, among others. “What’s great about the hospitality community, especially in Brooklyn, in the queer community, they’re been given spaces to do what they enjoy doing, which is cooking,” Reyes added.
Following Reyes is Jessica and Trina Quinn’s Dacha, which will be featured at Ursula on March 2nd. Dacha was born originally when the couple —Trina used to work at Red Hook Tavern — initially lost work to the pandemic. But with this new found freedom they were able to get creative and designed a menu based on Jessica Quinn’s Ukrainian-Latvian background: “we’re not a Russian pop up, but essentially Eastern European, [so] we’d like to kind of make that differentiation. We kind of are cooking across a multinational platform, you know, with our food and trying to create just a little bit more of a modern, accessible and refined version of what people think of as Eastern European food,”Jessica Quinn explains. The menu at Dacha will feature their house pelmeni (dumplings); pork and onion tossed in a homemade creme fraiche, kapusta piroshki; sauerkraut and caramelized onion stuffed fried yeasted dough, alongside other dishes. Pre-orders are already sold out, but Quinn assured Bushwick Daily that there will be plenty made for walk-ins, as well as some surprise items available.
After that, Tony Ortiz, a chef from California, will take over during the weekend of March 13th with a seasonal menu of recipes that hail from the Zacatecas region of Mexico. Soon after, Zacarias Gonzales, who co-runs the local food studio Ediciones along with Ortiz, will be offering a menu of gluten free pastries. Hender Gonzales, who already works as a chef at Ursula, will be next with a Peruvian pop-up.
But See has also said he doesn’t want to see it end at Ursula, “I’ve seen the positive impact of sharing space with our community members and what it can do for people” See told the Infatuation earlier this month.
Reyes hopes so too.
“We’re all struggling, but we’re all helping each other in different ways,” Reyes told Bushwick Daily. “I think that’s the great thing about being in hospitality — is making sure everyone is taken care of and that’s what we’re doing.”
Top photo credit: Ursula’s Instagram.
For more news, sign up for Bushwick Daily’s newsletter.
Join the fight to save local journalism by becoming a paid subscriber.