Dennis Spina and Homer MurrayRiver Styx, New York City
"I followed that passion and perfected the recipe. We had all these knots and nowhere to put them. So Dennis had the idea to put them with clams."
Dennis is Dennis Spina, Murray's co-chef and partner at River Styx, a restaurant in Brooklyn's nearly-post-industrial Greenpoint waterfront district.
The restaurant is sort of an offshoot of Roebling Tea Room, which Spina has run for ten years and is where he recruited Murray, a college pal with no formal kitchen training.
The clam and garlic knot dish is indicative of their offbeat collaborative style. The third main ingredient is inedible: twigs. The "sticks," as they call the pieces of wood gathered for them by a friendly farmer, steep with the clams and knots, imbuing the buttery broth with a hit of wood smoke.
The paint on the walls is artfully peeling. Simple, smart food bubbles away in the wood oven. Here is Spina, sounding a bit like a William Carlos Williams poem, describing a dish on the menu called Anchovies That Have Been Sitting By a Fire: "They are just anchovies that have been sitting by a fire. We take white anchovies, put them in a pot, stick them really close to the fire. They pick up some of that smokiness--and they are anchovies that have been sitting by the fire."
Murray, who traveled the world as a fashion photographer's assistant before Spina introduced him to his true passion, displays a wry storyteller's gift when talking about their food. (The winking humor is perhaps inherited; his father is Bill Murray.)
On a sandwich called the Big Chef that involves pizza dough, mortadella and copious bechamel: "Throw it in an oven that's about a thousand degrees in the back where the wood's at. Let it char it up--a little burn is always good. Yank it out. Cut it in half. More cheese on top of that; more oil on top of that. I've never heard anyone say a bad thing about it in my life, and I never plan on it."
The Big Chef, Spina elaborates, is an homage to the Small Chef, a diminutive, elegant sandwich served at Saltie, a restaurant owned by friends.
"What we did is make it big and stupid," Spina says. "That's where our character comes from. We take things and make them a little more corrupt. Does that make sense to anyone?"
Murray: "I'm into it."
We are too.