For those who ever thought they’d never have another occasion to experience college dining once they graduated from university, along comes Hudson Hall, an upscale version of a collegiate mess hall that is nothing like any Ratskeller ever frequented before.
Location: 356 W. 58th St., New York, N.Y.
Opened: June 9, 2010
Check average: $40 per person
Best-selling dishes: sliders, tuna tartare and flatbread pizzas
Menu maker: Steve Peterson, director of culinary
Owner: Morgans Hotel Group
Developed by the Morgans Hotel Group, operators of the Hudson Hotel and a number of other upscale boutique hotels across the country, Hudson Hall in New York is the brainchild of food and beverage director Howard Wein and Steve Peterson, the hotel company’s director of culinary. Brian Young, former executive chef of now-shuttered Tavern on the Green, is Hudson Hall’s executive chef.
Reminiscent of an Ivy League mess hall, Hudson Hall, which opened in June, anchors the newly renovated Hudson Hotel in midtown Manhattan, and comes complete with communal tables and a self-serve cafeteria-style food bar. But the big difference is the menu items, which are served in small-plate portions and are a lot more chic and interesting than the mystery meat served at school. Offerings include skirt steak with chimichurri sauce, shrimp in chorizo vinaigrette, sliders with tater tots and flatbread gourmet pizzas. Customers can mix and match the items, which cost between $4 and $12 each. In addition, the drinks menu features such old-time favorites as Salty Dogs, Kamikazes and Lemon Drops.
“I don’t think there is anything around here that is anything like it,” Wein said. “We make the food fresh as people approach the line, and it’s easily customizable. There are no full-sized portions ever. What we’ve seen so far is if someone comes in and wants to eat [a large order of] steak and potatoes, they’ll take two or three. It’s not going to be on one plate per se.”
And that’s the way people want to eat nowadays, Wein said.
“Everyone is interested in sharing small plates,” he said. “They can craft their own meals, graze on flavors and pick several of them rather than just one large [item]. People don’t want to be limited to one flavor profile for their whole dining experience. They want to try a bunch of things without necessarily having to share. And add to that the social aspect of it — the ability to eat while you drink and drink while you eat. All we did was capitalize on that.”
Wein’s idea for Hudson Hall resulted from his nostalgia for his college days. He then took it a step further and got to thinking about past generations, how they frequented their own college dining halls.
“It is an updated version of a mess hall,” he said. “But it’s not so much about a particular time. I kind of like to think of generations that were ahead of me; guys wearing collegiate sweaters and small-talking on the [food] line, trying to pick up a date. The idea was to make it really fun, bring you back to an idea you may not have thought about for a long time.”
For Peterson, the challenge was about simultaneously appeasing the tastes of New York’s hip, late-night crowd as well as the hotel’s guest roster. He thinks Hudson Hall has gotten it right so far.
“From a food standpoint, their palates evolve like everyone else,” he said. “They want good food and are willing to pay for it. Here, they can craft their own meal trays that are specifically developed [for them], go to the line as many times as they want, and get cold food or sliders, charcuterie or côte du boeuf. There are some really crazy items to graze and nosh on.”
Wein agreed. “We needed to be able to be open until 3 or 4 in the morning when the bars let out and people are looking for late-night, drinking types of foods,” he said. “We need to have a built-in flexibility in terms of what we were serving rather than just be a built-in steakhouse. It had to be something that allowed cooking flexibility.”
That flexibility also means there is no set menu at any given time, Peterson noted.
“There is no written menu per se that a guest is handed,” he said. “Depending on the day of the week, they will receive information about what food will be served that night. There will be a variety of fish, chicken or beef. And we’ll always have a tartare and a crudo. And late at night, there are more comfort foods. We pull off the heavier items and add more bar foods.”
Wein said the main objective is to ensure guests can choose to stay in the hotel for entertainment and then enjoy food and drink afterward without ever having to leave the venue.
“We’re running a $20 million to $25 million food and beverage operation here,” he said. “You have to program it so things complement each other. We always are making sure that the people who come here for entertainment can bounce around and go from one great drinking or eating experience to another without leaving the building.”
Wein said the best aspect of Hudson Hall is its ability to be many things to many different people.
“Oftentimes hotels make the mistake of creating [a generic brand] and menu that appeals to everyone who pays for a room in the hotel,” he said. “But those restaurants end up being failures. They don’t mean anything to anyone. Our concept allows us to flex as we need to. We can be different things to different people at any time.”
Ahi Tuna Tartare $10
Seaweed Salad, Avocado, Crispy Lotus Root, Truffled Soy Vinaigrette
Heirloom Spinach Salad $6
Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese, Candied Marcona Almonds, Dried Raspberries, Sherry Vinaigrette
Whole Grain Chopped Salad $6
Purple Barley, Farro, Green Lentils with Watermelon Radish, Pickled Hearts of Palm, Tomato Confit, White Asparagus
Compressed Watermelon Salad $6
Lively Run Farms Feta, Kalamata Olives, Mint, Violet Mustard Vinaigrette
Organic Egg Salad Sandwich $6
Slow Poached Organic Quail Egg, Cornichon, Dried Tomato and Petite Romaine
Hudson Slider $8
Dry-Aged Beef with Cheddar, Bacon and Remoulade
White Flatbread $6
Roasted Artichokes, Parmesan, Ricotta
Mac And Cheese $8
Ricotta Besciamella, Tasso Ham, Golden Bread Crumbs
Contact Elissa Elan at [email protected]