Monday, October 8, 2018

The Beehive (Armonk, NY)

The Beehive
30 Old Route 22
Armonk, NY, 10504
(914) 765-0688

Why are American IPAs so bitter/hoppy? The simple answer unlocks everything you need to know about food/drink commerce in 20th/21st century America.

American IPA is startlingly, intrusively bitter/hoppy so even the most undiscerning customer is convinced that the extra buck he's paid for his craft beer is worth that premium. The same thinking spurs upscale restaurants to offer linen napkins rather than paper. They justify the up-charge.

Real estate is all about "location, location, location", but food service is "justify the upcharge, justify the upcharge, justify the upcharge". That's the whole game. If I serve you a cheeseburger on a linoleum counter with a paper napkin in a bustling atmosphere, I can't charge you $25. You know you can find the same in any diner for half that price. I haven't justified the premium. But if I conspicuously tart it up - with Wagyu beef, or some attention-grabbing herb, or melt a stick of butter into it to add luxurious je ne sais quoi, or have it served by a stuffy French dude in a tux, you don't need to be some feinschmecker gourmet type to accept the price.

You must clobber customers over the head with the value-added. Subtlety doesn't pay. The task of craft brewers is to produce the least Budweiser-ish beer they possibly can. They compete to make the strongest, or darkest, or booziest, or weirdest brews. Whatever Bud is, their mandate is to do the opposite. American IPAs, truthfully, are nearly undrinkable unless one's palate has been so numbed that egregious over-hopping becomes tolerable. Hey, this stuff sure isn't Bud!

Twenty years into the craft beer craze, a few maverick breweries are finally starting to produce unaffected, easier-drinking ("session") beers that happen to be wonderful, but not in any obtrusive way. They depend on discerning customers who'll up-pay for subtle beer that's superficially Bud-like...only much, much better.

Likewise, in 1985, twenty years into the food craze (spearheaded by Julia Child), Danny Meyer opened Union Square Cafe, cooking what superficially seemed like same-old dishes. No status buttons were hit, but the food was subtly wonderful, and the hope was that a clientele would up-pay for unaffected greatness.

It was a cheeky leap of faith, and it worked. Alas, Meyer subsequently lost his way (if one can say such a thing of a billionaire). His subsequent restaurants were mostly conventional upcharge justifiers, and then came Shake Shack, which started out as the original USC proposition applied to a much more populist dining segment, but very quickly came to epitomize the thing he'd fought against: the same-old, hyped/tarted up for a premium. Ah, well.

Lots of people have tried to pull off upscale diner food. But none has done so quite like Beehive in Armonk. A Greek family has opened a Greek diner, erased every diner-ish vestige, and expects customers to pay a premium for unaffected deliciousness. There's no tarting up; no button-pushing. No truffle oil, nor do they Wagyu the bejesus out of the post roast. The basis of the menu is pretty conventionally eclectic diner-ish, but the room feels upscale, and the menu somehow feels likewise (despite the moussaka and gyro). And cooking quality is many cuts above the norm. I suspect I'm one of the few customers to recognize the underlying basis of the operation.

The kitchen brims with small touches, none blatantly upcharge-justifying. Their bread - not particularly lavish, just extremely good - is from a tiny artisanal bakery in Williamsburg. I doubt even a single customer has heard of this bakery. There's no cred to be gained from the namedrop. Why are they doing this? It can't possibly be just for me...???

I can't quite fathom the fine line the kitchen walks. There's nary a whiff of conventional diner cooking, yet nothing's gussied up, either. Having patronized thousands of restaurants, I find it a delightfully provocative mystery. Pure chowhoundnip! Tantalizingly unable to frame what I'm eating, I'm driven into a tizzy by the Zen-like proposition of a not-diner (even the classic black-vested, white-shirted, dish cloth wielding counter waiter is more bartender/genteel than diner/brusque). More disorienting still, the region's stocked with acclaimed fine dining places, nearly all of them mediocre, making this a stark anomaly when it comes to cooking quality. One does not expect "touch" in a place like Armonk. It's as alien to this landscape as a hovering spaceship.

Regardless of whether you buy the upscale veneer, or are hip to the underpinnings, I defy you to explain how in bloody hell they make the Thursday night $19.95 brisket blue plate so expressively flavorful. What kills me is that it doesn't taste like any other version I've ever eaten anywhere. Again: hovering spaceship! And what about the price? Should I deem it steep-for-diners (but well worth it)...or cheap-for-upscale (and an astounding value)?

Union Square Cafe was a real trip back in the day. No bullshit, high-level cooking, stripped of all rube bait. Make no mistake; Beehive isn't anywhere near as deft (nor as expensive). It seems to play the USC game from below. That's as clear as I can try to explain it, but I'm looking forward to more meals as I work to figure this all out...

1 comment:

Display Name said...

The best most funnest kind of research Jim

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