ELBERTA RESTAURANT AND BAR: Dem love you like cook food

By :- Janette Brin


Lobster Roll
Marinated Sardine
Sorel Lamb Ribs
Jerk Fried Oysters
Elberta Chefs
Carrot Soup

Located at 335 Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, Elberta Restaurant and Bar is described as; " a new American Restaurant and Bar serving mid-priced familiar favourites for brunch, dinner and late-night; inspired by the Prohibition era. “ This is the description you will find on the restaurant's website and Facebook page. While it is accurate, Elberta is so much more. Elberta is the product of husband and wife team Erwin Caesar, originally from Guyana, and his wife Dr. Erica Phillips, whose family is from St. Vincent. 

Heading up Elberta's culinary team is Chef Kingsley John; also part of the culinary team is Jeremie Tomczak. Together they create the Elberta experience.  They have a carrot soup that is smooth, creamy, and presented with citrus foam, and a mix of toasted bread crumbs and fennel seeds. You can have seafood stew (one of our favourites) or try the goat ravioli. Whatever you try, the menu offers a variety and blend of flavours that are a real delight. Erwin admits that he's had to make some adjustments along the way. As the restaurant approaches its first year in business, Edwin Caesar reflects on the journey. 

P: Erwin, have you had a lot of experience in the restaurant business?

E: This is my first restaurant; I've never owned a restaurant. I actually still have a nine to five, I work for a management consulting firm it's very demanding in terms of time, and focus. I believe in life you have to take a chance and try to chart your own course. It was a coffee shop back in 2006, one of the best coffee shops in Flatbush. It so happened that the previous owner and I were good friends, and he wanted to do something different. I made him an offer, and we did this. I think to some degree it's an asset that I never done it before. It's not about my preferences. It's not about, I come from Guyana so I like cool up, or I like Pepper Pot. It's not about that, it's about what is needed, then what is the right way to present that.

P: Your wife also works with you in this venture, correct?

E: My wife works extremely hard, in addition to the restaurant she's a physician. She's a general practitioner she's also a director at a hospital, she trains physicians. We both have very demanding jobs, and we have a two year old. When you want it you just do what you have to do. I think it's a testament of her support for me, she's very supportive. It's not easy, but she's a soldier, we understand what the end goal is.  It's an ownership kind of thing, its accountability. On an average night we were still up at 3am on the computer. Sometimes we look at each other and say, "I think it's time to go to sleep." and that's been our lives for the past year.

P: So were neighbourhood residents surprised with the cuisine you chose of the restaurant initially?

E: When I started a lot of folks particularly from my community thought I was going to do a traditional Caribbean Restaurant curry chicken, oxtail. When I gave them my vision and let them know the direction I was heading in, I got a lot of flak.  It's a mixed reaction, there were folks that were excited about it, and there were people who said, "I can't eat that kind of food" and that's ok. I think if I continue to engage the community at large including my own West Indian culture that eventually they will come around. We started out as a southern cuisine restaurant, and we had to make a change. Based on the numbers and feedback I realized the menu was not something we could support every day.

P: How did the restaurant get its name?

E: Well, originally the restaurant was opened as a southern cuisine restaurant. I don't know if you are familiar with the Elberta peach? The peach came from Asia; it was named the Elberta peach after the family that brought the peach to the United States.  Elberta actually has another meaning in addition to the peach. Elberta is also an old English name that means bright, and noble. To kind of ease the whole change with the community I thought that to change the menu and the name could be very disrupting. 

P: What were some of the factors that indicated changing the menu was better in the long run? 

E:  I started to notice some things with the Southern menu.  For example; we had chicken wings, had ribs, and had Mac and cheese on the menu. People would come in and say I just want a side of Mac and Cheese. They would just want an order of chicken wings. You never really get a presentation in front of someone like that. Nine out of ten times when people come in here, and they taste the food, they say “wow, it's different, but it's good."

P: Did any of those customers that were unhappy with the menu change come back?

E:  I've actually come to a compromise with some of my original customers. What we're doing is we're setting up a Southern Cuisine Sunday. Right around Easter we're going to start Southern Sunday brunch. The brunch has Sunday flair to it, and we'll continue that kind of theme into dinner. So it will be really authentic family style Sundays, I think that helps keep everybody together. 

P: How did you put together you amazing chefs and the rest of the great Elberta team?

E: In regards to the chefs; in a managing consulting firm, one of the things we do is talk a lot, and you have to be able to influence people and get them to buy into your vision. What I was able to do was to get two really good chefs to buy into what I was trying to do. I said to them, I have this really great space, and all I want to do is to create great food. 

P: Describe what customers can expect when they visit the restaurant during the week and on weekends?

E: On Tuesdays we do a "Tasty Tuesday." We do a prefix meal, for about $20, you get a starter, and main course. On Tuesday you'll find a lot of foodies who love a good deal.  Every other Wednesday we have a live performance by a talented young man from St. Lucia, Michael Aubertin – who sings and plays guitar. Thursday and Friday is our traditional dinner menu. We play some funky music like Fela, and we just try to make the environment lively. On the weekends we do a brunch up until 3:30pm, and then a dinner in the evening. I would say that the entire week allows for a different audience but it's appealing to everyone.

P: How has this experience influence your own perspective when it comes to cuisine?

E: I'm partial to West Indian food myself, but this experience has really opened my mind. There are so many other things out there, so many different foods, and so many different palates.  I'm confident that we'll be able to get a really diverse group here. I want that when folks walk in here they feel like, "wow, I'm comfortable". I want it to be a place where people want to come back to. Fundamentally it's a restaurant, I want it to work as a well run restaurant. A place where the owners and staff cater to the customers that is the number one goal here.

Caribbean POSH Magazine would like to thank Erwin Caesar and the staff of Elberta
for more information on Elberta Restaurant and Bar please visit ; http://www.elbertarestaurant.com/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elbertabrooklyn


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