WHEN BEN MEYER opened Grain & Gristle last December, he took a deliberate step away from the more refined kitchen craft he’d pursued over the last few years at places like Ned Ludd and Toro Bravo. “In a lot of ways, this cooking is more my roots,” Meyer says, recalling the “incredibly ugly but delicious” fare he grew up on in the Midwest. At Grain & Gristle, he now serves food that would be familiar to his Pennsylvania Dutch great-grandmother—simple, unassuming dishes that folks can drop in for throughout the week, but with a few tweaks. Sure, there are meat and potatoes, but the meat is butchered and cured in-house. And in the place of the dreaded chipped beef on white toast, there is creamed nettles on brioche.
Although Meyer is well aware of the fear that prickly nettles can instill, he’s on a mission to spread the gospel of their superfood benefits. “Nettles are one of those magic ingredients that are good for absolutely everything,” he raves. But beyond their supply of micronutrients and regional abundance (they grow like weeds here), it’s their flavor that really wins gourmands over. “They’re so intense that they’re almost effervescent,” he says. “Even after you’ve cooked out the phosphoric acid, they still have this real bright flavor on the tongue.”
For his spring menu, Meyer pairs that punch with a rich cream sauce, riffing on a dish he created at Ned Ludd. He pours the rich, piquant concoction over a slice of eggy brioche, lightly toasted to stand up to the creamy onslaught. With a sloppy-yet-delicious treat like this, Meyer’s well on his way to luring the neighbors back, night after night.