First, it was lobster rolls
in Brooklyn. Now it's coq au vin
in Fort Lauderdale. What's the common thread? Apartment dwellers taking a chance -- and flouting the law -- to make a go of it as underground restaurateurs right in their home kitchens.
These types of less-than-legal establishments have come to be known in the food media as "rogue restaurants
", and have received validating coverage from major publications like Bon Appetit
and Food and Wine
(it's a telling sign of how new the trend is that recently-shuttered Gourmet
didn't get in on the coverage).
While some of the eateries only offer takeout, some proprietors open their dining rooms (or Airstreams
) to sit-down customers, serving up tasty spreads of family-style food. It creates an interesting social dynamic, with mixed groups sharing not only communal entrees but also a thrillingly illegal experience.
How does the word get out? As was the case with the Brooklyn lobsterman, the buzz usually starts with friends telling friends. It's a carefully controlled underground PR machine, with insiders treading the fine line between keeping their food fix in business and getting them busted for operating an unlicensed eatery.
Social media has become a major part of the game, as well, with unpublicized, invitation-only Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts quietly spreading the word. It becomes an exclusive club, with the #1 unspoken rule of the rogue restaurant being you don't talk about the rogue restaurant.
And while many underground chefs are content to stay just that, some use their rogue period to incubate an idea that will one day become a fully licensed and health-department-approved restaurant.
It's a high-stress, high-stakes balancing act between health codes, tax laws, fire regulations, and any other number of buzzkilling (but important) governmental rules -- but if your passion outweighs your better judgment, it might just be time to go rogue.
Here are a few samples of our favorite (or at least favorite named) illegal eateries:
The Ghetto Gourmet
The Hidden Kitchen
a razor, a shiny knife
A good Google search can probably find you an underground eating establishment near you!
See more about apartment dwellers running small businesses out of their homes.