Aug. 28, 2020 By Michael Dorgan
They say timing is everything but for one Long Island City restaurant — the timing of the coronavirus pandemic couldn’t have been worse.
American Brass, a stylish new brasserie located at the corner of 49th Avenue and Center Boulevard, opened its doors at the beginning of March following a $3.5 million renovation — only to have a large portion of its business shut down days later due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The upscale restaurant had been in the works for two years but owner Robert Briskin had to roll out contingency plans once the city announced mid March that it was suspending indoor and outdoor dining.
“It was a mad scramble,” Briskin said.
American Brass wasn’t equipped for takeout but it was the only service the restaurant could offer customers to prevent it from fully shutting down.
“We had to set up the restaurant where customers could pick up food and we didn’t have any of the technology for that,” he said.
Briskin said it would have been better from a financial standpoint to temporarily close but he felt a sense of duty to the community during an uncertain period. Briskin also co-owns owns the nearby Italian restaurant Maiella which also remained open.
Briskin, who lived in Long Island City for 10 years until 2019, said that many people in the neighborhood don’t cook much and rely heavily on restaurant food. Most were also home all day due to the shut down.
“We just thought in this time, whether we lose money or not, we need to be there for the neighborhood,” he said. “We also had to support our kitchen staff, keep them employed and that was sort of our mentality.”
American Brass, having weathered the initial storm, opened for outdoor dining in June and accommodates 84 guests with views of Gantry Plaza State Park and the Manhattan skyline.
The restaurant will expand its dining services further this weekend when it opens up for brunch for the first time.
The new brunch menu is being spearheaded by Michelin star chef Kevin McGinley who was previously at the Manhattan-based restaurant Bâtard.
Briskin nabbed McGinley after Bâtard temporarily closed with the shutdown.
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Introducing Executive Chef Kevin McGinley. Kevin comes to us from Bâtard, where his menu received a michelin star. Prior to that he was cooking at Gotham Bar & Grill which also was michelin. His aim for American Brass is straightforward delicious food. Local fare meets inventive flavors that make sense. If you haven’t tried his menu yet, stop what you are doing and make a reservation.
Briskin said that getting McGinley on board was one of the few upsides for the business during the last few months.
“We were thinking long-term – how do we come out of this even better,” Briskin said.
McGinley’s American Brass brunch menu will kick off Saturday and will be available every Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
“It’s very straight forward, elegant, delicious brunch,” Briskin said.
Customers will have several choices, such as the Belgian waffle which comes with blueberry compote, maple whipped cream and crispy pecans; the vegetarian omelet, which is filled with wild mushrooms, baby spinach, taleggio cheese and crushed fingerling potatoes; or the fried chicken sandwich comprising of smoked chile BBQ sauce, red cabbage-cilantro slaw, aioli with a side of hand-cut fries.
Brunch at American Brass, Briskin said, is also a great excuse to devour a burger early in the day. The American Brass 28-day dry-aged burger comes filled with mild cheddar, bacon jam, dijon aioli and house-made pickles.
There’s also a steak frites option to choose from which is cut with Wagyu flank steak, as well as the smoked salmon benedict, wild mushroom hash, or the sausage, egg and cheese dish.
For those looking to eat later in the day, American Brass is open for dinner from Sunday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The American Brass dinner menu was also crafted by McGinley.
Briskin said the restaurant’s food is sourced from local markets and its beer comes from breweries close by.
“We introduce people to some beautiful lager or pilsner that’s made within 3,000 feet of our place, it’s going to blow your mind,” he said.
Customers are still restricted to outdoor dining only – as per city guidelines – but Briskin hopes to showcase the restaurant’s expansive indoor dining area in the near future. The dining area – a key feature of the restaurant – boasts 150 seats that are surrounded by white tiled walls and brass lighting.
“I’m sure one day when the virus is brought under control we’ll be able to use it,” Briskin said.
Briskin said business has been as good as he can expect but that a rainy forecast – whether it materializes or not – scares customers away.
“The rain really destroys business,” he said.
“Out of nowhere it could rain like 30 mins before we are supposed to open and then you just see all the cancellations… it’s just been a wild wild west for sure,” he said.
Briskin is frustrated by the lack of direction from the mayor who has failed to lay out a blueprint for city restaurateurs.
Indoor dining was initially earmarked to resume on July 6 as part of Phase 3 but has been postponed indefinitely.
Briskin fears that the majority of restaurants will shutter permanently if indoor dining doesn’t resume this year.
“Probably 90 percent or more of New York City restaurants will go out of business… it will be lights out for New York City for a long time,” Briskin said.
“We need more guidance… but as it stands right now the only thing we can do is put out an amazing product and continue to support the community,” he said.