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Nick Perkins, chef and owner, The Fly
Issue 54: On The Fly's simple menu, how he thinks about specials and pop-up events, and our shared love of onion rings.
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Nick Perkins is the chef and co-owner of Cervo’s, Hart’s, and The Fly in New York City. Cervo’s and Hart’s are Mediterranean-leaning, but The Fly is decidedly different with a menu of only a few dishes. The Fly remains one of my favorite restaurants because of it’s classic simplicity — it’s a place I crave and I never get bored of.
I sat down with chef-owner Nick Perkins to talk about the idea behind a simple menu, how he thinks about specials and pop-up events, and our shared love of onion rings.
Brianna Plaza: Can you tell me about your background and how you got into the restaurant business?
Nick Perkins: I've been in New York for 14 years and I’ve worked at many of Andrew Tarlow's restaurants — Diner and Marlow & Sons and Romans. I worked at all of them. And eventually I wanted to start my own restaurant with two partners, Nialls Fallon and my wife Leah.
We started Hart's in Bed-Stuy and followed about a year later with Cervo’s on the Lower East Side. We were not really looking for another project, but saw The Fly space. It's very near Hart's, so we were kind of eying it as a space and waited it out. We were intrigued by it but they were asking a lot of money. We kind of held out for about six months and then we just jumped on it.
Brianna Plaza: The Fly is somewhat of a departure from your other two restaurants. What was the thought process behind going so simple with your menu?
Nick Perkins: Well, the main focus initially was that it was going to be a wine bar. It still is a wine bar. I think the chicken has just taken off. The food has taken a little more prominence than we thought initially.
We were looking to do something different. We already had two small, Mediterranean-ish seafood restaurants. We serve a little bit of meat at both of them, but not that much, mostly just chicken. I think it appealed to us to do something different.
But it's a really expansive space, so we wanted something that was really casual. Both Hart's and Cervo’s are really small, and so we really just wanted to lean into the amount of space that we had and maximize that, I would say. And then the concept kind of evolved.
In the very first initial stages, it was like, what do you want with wine? Rotisserie chicken, fries, and a salad. Not olives, not anything else. That was it.
Brianna Plaza: Do you have any thoughts on why the food portion took off more than you expected?
Nick Perkins: I think people think of us as food and beverage people. So I think people just really expected the food to be a big part of it. I would also say that we use the same ingredients at The Fly as we use at the other restaurants. We get chickens from the same Hudson Valley-based farmers. We use the same expensive Sicilian olive oil. Same eggs.
I also think a big part of it is that the menu doesn't change as much as it does at the other two, but we still put just as much love and attention into it. The menu and food are an overtly simple concept, but we wondered what it would be like to build a menu around rotisserie chicken.
Brianna Plaza: Because the menu is so simple, how do you think about the specials? I have some favorites that I wish were on the menu all the time — specifically the onion rings.
Nick Perkins: Well, you and me are actually the same in that. I feel like it is impossible for me to resist an onion ring. I'm not even a big fried food person, but onion rings, I'm going for them every time.
I think the fact of the matter is when we built the kitchen, it’s limited in space, so we just have to rotate things. And another reason we rotate is just kind of for our own fun. Everybody has their favorite thing that they think should never leave, but we just don't have the space to do all the main menu items and not rotate everything else in.
I think also, especially in the winter, there's not as many fresh veggies available. So much of winter cooking is very long-cooked and very soulful, building flavor, braised stuff. Really long-cooked green beans and stuff like that. But the sides are just a fun way to use whatever's fresh, use whatever's popping, whether it's cucumber or tomatoes or whatever. I kind of look at specials as a way to bring a fresh pop to the menu.
Brianna Plaza: You do a decent amount of pop ups. Can you talk to me about how they fit into the broader ethos of the restaurant?
Nick Perkins: I think that when you have a simple food concept, it makes bringing people in to expand on that a lot easier. We’ve had guest chefs at Hart’s and Cervo’s, but we mostly do them at The Fly. It's kind of the perfect concept to spin the menu for one or two nights.
People can come to the pop up if they are really excited about the person. But even if you’re just a regular, we're not going to disrupt your Monday night thing (generally). You're still going to get rotisserie chicken, but you also know you're going to get different things in that vein.
I think that works really well. The other thing about it is space. When you have somebody exciting like my friends Cha (Kreung Cambodian) or DeVonn (Yardy World), there's a lot of people that want to come out and see those folks. And it's hard to cram them all into the other restaurants, but because The Fly has so much space, it just really works for that. It's just kind of the perfect spot to do pop-ups at.
Brianna Plaza: I've seen more and more restaurants/to-go spots embrace the simple chicken. Do you think we’re in New York’s chicken era?
Nick Perkins: Oh, I don't really know. I mean, everything old is new. At our restaurants we're very much getting inspiration from old cookbooks and stuff like that. We were also really inspired by French and Spanish rotisserie chicken spots. I’ve traveled through South America, and Colombia has tons of these really simple rotisserie chicken spots that were just fries and rotisserie chicken — which to me is just classic.
We certainly did not kind of invent anything. It's all out there for everybody to see.
Brianna Plaza: If there was one special that you could put on your menu full time, what would it be? Other than onion rings.
Nick Perkins: I mean, for me it would always be onion rings. But the thing is, if you only do a fried special, that monopolizes the fryer, and we only have one fryer. So fried specials are really fun, but also, It's just nice to have freshness. I mean, I always want tomato salad.
Every year we have this kind of goofy tradition that came about sort of randomly at a manager meeting. I don't remember who thought it up, but I think it was Nialls and Leah were kind of playing off each other, but doing Tinis and Weenies.
So on New Year’s Eve we do pigs-in-a-blanket and classic martinis. And initially we had just had people signed up for New Years, but we have somebody who's actually hosting a wedding reception here. I don't think they're getting married with us, but they're having a reception at The Fly, and they were like, "Can we do that?"
And then we were like ... we’ve never thought of offering that. We've never advertised it. But, yeah, people want it. It's definitely the funnest ... It's like, how often do you have pigs-in-a-blanket? Not that you need to have them a lot, but you're always going to be excited.
Oh, yeah. That was a really good one.
Yeah, we're just ... Honestly, I think we're just excited that the people have been so into it.