Nick Morgenstern may have built up an impressive resume as a pastry chef in some of New York’s top kitchens — Daniel, Gramercy Tavern and Gilt, and at his own restaurants, Goat Town and Brooklyn’s General Greene —but it wasn’t until last May that he realized his lifelong dream of opening up a classic Ice Cream Parlor. Of course, Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream is a far cry from your average scoop shop. Especially now that it’s summer, the chic Lower East Side establishment is reliably swamped ’round the clock, with patrons scrambling for cups and cones of frozen dairy, in flavors, like Szechuan Peppercorn, Fernet Black Walnut and Sweet Potato, and towering sundaes, such as “The New God Flow” (comprised of raw milk ice cream, Japanese white bread and caramelized honey), and the “Dream NY,” with labne sorbet, pickled pineapple, olive oil, and the bracing Mexican herb, papalo.
But Morgenstern is hardly content to simply pass his days making Salt & Pepper Pinenut Milkshakes, and ultra-modern Banana Splits. He also recently announced plans to close his well-received East Village favorite, Goat Town, and reimagine it as GG’s this fall, a casual 45-seat eatery, serving everything from light bites, like Swiss Chard and Parmesan Dip, to oven-baked pastas, such as hand-made Pea-Stuffed Agnolotti with Crispy Lamb, and a signature Burger, pan-seared with White Cheddar, Melted Onions and Kale Slaw.
We chatted with the on-the-go restaurateur about what else we can expect from GG’s, his favorite current culinary trends, and the best career advice he ever received from friend and mentor Daniel Boulud.
What do you think you would have become in life, if not a chef & restaurant owner?
An Auto Mechanic.
What job would you say really kick-started your culinary career?
Working at Aqua in San Francisco.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from a chef friend or mentor?
“Don’t make shit! There are enough people making shit!” Daniel Boulud.
You have an impressive resume as a pastry chef, but what led you to open an ice cream parlor?
I learned to make ice cream through my years as a pastry chef, and honestly, opening an ice cream parlor has been my lifelong dream.
What do you think sets Morgenstern’s apart from other ice cream places in the city?
Our attention to detail, our customer service, and, of course, our ice cream! First of all, we make our ice cream without eggs, and we design each recipe specific to the flavor we are making.
What made you decide to close down Goat Town?
My partner, Robert Hellen, wanted to do something different with the kitchen. His vision would not have worked for Goat Town, so it was time to pass the torch.
What we can expect from the upcoming GG’s!
It will be a welcoming neighborhood place, with friendly and familiar service. We’ll serve both lunch and dinner every day, and a lot of the food will be cooked on the deck of our oven, including pizzas, pasta, fish and meats. We’ll also be using beautiful fresh veggies from our own garden.
What current culinary trends do you really embrace?
I love to see people enjoying salt in their dessert. It gives me a lot more room to create intense flavors without compromising our integrity.
What do you consider to be some of the most over and underrated ingredients?
Overrated: housemade bitters. Underrated: jicama.
What’s the strangest item in your home fridge right now?
My fridge is generally empty.
What do you like to do (and eat!) on a day off in NYC?
I love eating at my local Italian; Lavagna.
Besides GG’s, what else is on the horizon for you? Food T.V?
Maybe an ice cream book? We’ve been thinking about a book. Maybe…
What do you consider to be your greatest personal achievement in your career thus far?
Without a doubt, opening Morgenstern’s!
You’re on your deathbed; sex or dinner? And no, you can’t say both!