Williamsburg has a new neighbor, and that neighbor is delivering an unexpected and surprisingly sweet concept. Gertie opened its doors on February 22, 2019, and since then, has been whipping up squash toasts and gravlax bialys in the morning, big salads and sandos in the afternoon, and roasted chicken and fish with seasonal vegetables in the evening. A respectful nod to both California cafes and NYC diners, Gertie just might be the first in a movement of fast-casual, healthy diners to come.
A concept from Huertas-fame restaurateur Nate Adler, Gertie started as a pop-up in a Crown Heights food hall but didn’t stick around in the neighborhood for long. A year in the making, Adler found a permanent home for the restaurant in Williamsburg.
The area was Adler’s target market for Gertie based on the high density of foot traffic and the demographic they were looking to attract: young to middle-aged families who lean health-conscious. The eatery also stands as a trendsetter in Williamsburg: “An all-day concept where you can get simple, wholesome food was needed,” Adler says.
You can come in the morning, grab a coffee and a pastry and type away on your laptop; pull up a stool at the counter for lunch; or bring your friends back later for dinner, splitting a bunch of shareable apps with a few drinks.
The bright, beautiful, and open restaurant space exudes a warm and casual vibe. But it’s different than the 100 other fast-casual concepts in NYC: as part of the “modified full-service” model, you order your food at the counter, but then you’re seated and taken care of by wait staff.
Creating this hybrid concept was a bit of a leap, and it has taken some getting used to. Since the restaurant presents itself as a daytime space, Adler notes that the biggest challenge has been getting people in the doors for dinner and drinks. Part of this challenge is due to the fact that people aren’t used to sitting at a table in a dining room setting but ordering at a counter.
But that neighborly feel? From the baked goods and bread made in-house to the coffee bar, it’s by design. “All of the owners and managers here grew up on full-service, fine dining establishments,” Adler says. “We’re looking to take that ethos and reinvent the counter-service model in a way that makes sense to a wider population.”
It starts to make a lot more sense when you look at the food choices. While the wholesome, mostly-vegetarian, ingredient-driven menu is super straightforward—especially at dinner when you have a choice between five entrées, five starters, and five sides—there are plenty of items to get excited about. Dishes like the afternoon option Veggie Gyro taste like you’re eating meat, but instead, Gertie puts its vegetables through the same rotisserie treatment as classic spit-roasted chicken. Meanwhile, the Big Salad + Tahini Ranch already is developing a reputation. And the drink menu is super creative, including house wines and draft beers but also made-in-restaurant boozy sodas like the Gin + Tonic and Mezcal Mule on tap.
“My ideal dinner is to sit at the bar, get a half chicken and rice and beans, drink a glass of wine or a beer, and be out of there,” Adler says.
Gertie—with its locally-sourced and sustainable foods, sunny and easy-going vibe, hip design and branding, and fast-casual organization—is managing to bring everything today’s eater is looking for together, in the same environment as mega-chains like Dig Inn and the billion-dollar salad concept Sweetgreen.
“For me, Sweetgreen is an incredible inspiration,” Adler says. “I love their story. I wanted to go there all the time when they first opened. I know their ingredients are good, and the food is so cravable.”
While Gertie is certainly channeling some of the same tenants as Sweetgreen, they’re also trying to set themselves apart from establishments that treat dining like an assembly line. Here, your meal isn’t prepared or cooked ahead of time, but it’s still pretty fast and casual. Sit down, have a drink, and enjoy the ambiance while a chef works his magic. It’s a compromise for ultra-busy yet hard-to-please New Yorkers and has the potential to set a new precedent for a neighborhood eatery in an ever-changing and crowded dining industry.
We’re calling it now: you can expect to see similar concepts inspired by Gertie popping up in NYC and cities everywhere in the future. But until then, you should make Gertie your local eatery and hangout of choice.