When he opens Peck’s Specialty Foods in Brooklyn this fall, Theo Peck will be continuing a family tradition that started over 100 years ago.
Peck’s great grandfather was the founder of Ratner’s, the Lower East Side dairy restaurant (and kosher institution), which opened in 1905 and closed its doors in 2004.
“I grew up at Ratner’s,” says Peck. “I distinctly remember going there after school on Fridays, and eating pierogies and potato pancakes in the bar room off the side of the restaurant. My relatives — who all worked there — would sit around drinking whiskey, smoking cigarettes and talking about their friends and family members’ upcoming surgeries.”
In 1996, Peck returned to the family business, opening The Lansky Lounge, a speakeasy-style bar attached to Ratner’s. (“We were the only nightclub in New York City that was closed on Friday nights,” he says.)
After leaving the lounge, Peck went to culinary school. He planned to open his own restaurant in 2008, but his funds were lost in the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme.
Now, he’s getting back into the game with Peck’s Specialty Foods in Clinton Hill, the Brooklyn neighborhood in which he lives.
The 850-square-foot shop, set to open in mid-September, will feature a deli counter and an outdoor space (open seasonally) complete with picnic tables. The store will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Take-away offerings will include homemade baked goods, sandwiches (such as housemade gravlax and tongue), soups, rotisserie chicken and Peck’s specialty sausages, pates and terrines.
Though Ratner’s was kosher during its later years, Peck’s will not be. “There will definitely be treyf,” he says, pointing to pork sausages and pates in particular. Instead of chopped liver, he’ll serve chicken liver terrine.
But Peck will try and emulate some of the classic, Ashkenazi-style dishes for which Ratner’s was known. “I’m going to have homemade matzo ball soup and borscht every day. I’ll also play around with kasha varnishkes, but with a gravy that’s a lot lighter and more mushroom-y,” he says.
Devotees of Ratner’s will remember their famous onion roll bread basket. “I remember quite a few older women who’d stuff those rolls into their purses as soon as the waiter walked away,” Peck says. Unfortunately, he won’t have the kitchen capability to make bread the same way they did at Ratner’s.
But for Peck, inspiration comes more from the sense of community that thrived at Ratner’s, rather than the food. “I’m not going to try and do Ratner’s. But I am looking to make a place that brings people together the way Ratner’s did,” he says.