"I love open kitchens. You get to be a part of the action."
Watch Noel Cruz at work for just a few mintues and you can immediately sense his dedication to his craft. His years of experience at Punch & Judy, craftbar, Dani, Elettaria, and elsewhere shine through at his newest venture, Carmine Club Cafe, where you'll feel welcome from the moment you walk in. He's recruited a crack team including Joe Vigorito (formerly at Lupa and dell'anima) in the kitchen and Davis Anderson (formerly at Il Posto Accanto) behind the bar at the West Village eatery. We caught up with Noel just as he brought the restaurant into full swing after a few weeks of limited service; they're now serving in both the upstairs bar and cafe area and the downstairs dining room.
I've loved your prosecco on tap. What other surprises are in store for the future at Carmine Club Café? We love it too—sometimes too much. It was so unique when we stumbled upon it so we had to have it. Wine on tap is gaining a lot of momentum so we wanted to find something very fun to pour.
You started your culinary career going to cooking school to be a pastry chef. How did your path lead to becoming a restaurateur? I attended both the Culinary Institute of America for culinary studies and the French Culinary Institute for a pastry degree—but the reason I came to the front of the house was having to pay my bills. Also, I love to interact with people and have that personal connection, which you don't often get as a cook.
After your last project, Elettaria, closed, was it difficult to motivate to open a new restaurant? Absolutely. Elettaria was a very heartfelt and personal project. I was lucky enough to get to work with uber-talented Chef Akhtar Nawab. We had talked about doing a place together way back when in the original craftbar days, where we first crossed paths. For a while I was in a pretty dark place having had to deal with closing that business and all of the aftermath associated. It's almost harder to close a business than to open one.
How did Carmine Club Café come to be and how did you hook up with your chef and beverage director? I was approached by an old friend to do a wine bar project; after a few meetings we started looking for spaces. I must have looked at 20 -30 spaces before stumbling upon the Carmine Street location. Oddly enough, I had seen this space about 5 years ago looking to do a project at that time with another chef.
I wanted to get an experienced sous chef type ready to take the next step—and over a few beers asked a friend, Joe Vigorito, to take on the position. I brought on Davis Anderson to handle the beverage program. I had been a patron at a wine bar in the East Village where he was working at for a number of years. I just wanted young talent ready for moving up in their career.
Other than the open kitchen, there are very few similarities with Elettaria. Why did you decide to carry over that feature? I love open kitchens. You get to be a part of the action. You get a real connection with how your food is prepared and cared for. You have to always be on your game being that exposed. Most people never get a chance to peer into the inner workings of a restaurant. I think that guests really respond well to the open kitchen. It is fun for them. It's like a show.
What was your inspiration for the decor? We wanted to capture the essence of Carmine Street past. The décor evokes kind of an old social club you may have found years ago on the street. Carmine Street has a great history in the South Village and we were paying respect to that. The space has great bones and we didn't want to hide that.
When you're not working, where do you like to eat and drink in the city? When am I not working?!
Carmine Club Café, 41-43 Carmine Street, New York NY 10014 (map); 212-933-0527
About the author: Laren Spirer is yet another lawyer (and freelance writer) obsessed with food and drink. When she's not eating, drinking, cooking, or thinking about what to eat, drink, or cook, she can often be found cycling, running, or swimming, likely in preparation for a triathlon. She also blogs at Sweet Blog o' Mine and tweets at @sweetblogomine.