HUDSON CLEARWATER'S BROOKLYN BROTHER
Christopher Brandon and Matthew Hechter have built up their West Village spot Hudson Clearwater into one of the most buzzed-about restaurants in New York City. Now, with their new Low Country–inspired restaurant, the Heyward—with partner Che Stipanovich—they cross the East River to make their mark on Williamsburg.
Occupying the space that formerly housed classic New York venue Zebulon, the team took inspiration from the industrial roots of the area, mixed with the classic culture associated with the Southern Atlantic to develop the concept for the restaurant. Hechter explains, “Williamsburg is very industrial, the building is very industrial. There are elements of the building that we didn’t totally strip down. Even the exposed brick, which you see everywhere in New York, we dressed up and gave that Southern charm that you find in Charleston, balanced with industrial Brooklyn.”
Original pieces such as an elevator from the building’s beginnings peek at diners on the far wall, and a beautiful, lively open kitchen fills the back of the space once occupied by the stage. The kitchen is surrounded by a striking marble bar with a unique brass frame as smooth as the chefs cooking behind it. The walls are painted with a soft green—meant to inspire visions of a Southern home—while classic jazz and bluegrass play over the speakers.
When it came to putting together a chef team, Hechter explains that he had a less conventional approach. Instead of choosing a name from the bevy of talent in the now predominant celebrity chef world, he decided to choose two individuals who would grow with the brand and develop their culinary identities as a team. With this in mind, they recruited Max DiMare, of Abigaile and Wood Tavern fame, to oversee the culinary development of the Heyward, and Derek Orrell as the chef de cuisine to run the restaurant on a daily basis.
Prior to partnering with Hechter, Brandon, and Stipanovich, Orrell spent time in some of New York’s most notable eateries, including Lafayette, the Fat Radish, and, most recently, Locande Verde. It was his passion for market-driven fare, especially seafood, that drew him to working with the Heyward team.
Orell explains, “I really, really fell in love with food on a different level in Milan. When I was there working as a model on a tiny budget, I discovered the cheapest, best food is at the markets. So I’m in Paris shopping at markets, I’m in Milan shopping in markets, I’m in Barcelona shopping markets, eating fresh prosciutto that is the best in the world. Cooking for my wife was the first time I cooked for someone else and not just myself, and I fell in love with that idea—cooking for other people and making other people happy. Through that, my cuisine has evolved into something fresh and light, while still giving you that comforting feeling.” This concept rings true throughout the menu at the Heyward.
The locally sourced “heritage cooking” menu is a vast departure from the classic California vibes of Hudson Clearwater, but just as successful. Diners are invited to start at the immaculate raw bar, featuring seafood native to the Southern parts of the US. Bright pink peel-and-eat shrimp and freshly shucked oysters are paired with a wonderfully sharp and herbaceous house-made jalapeño sauce and classic cocktail sauce. Fresh tuna tartare comes garnished with perfectly bitter microgreens as well as a sweet and well-balanced red pepper broth, the chef’s homage to the Southern staple pimento. Perfectly butchered pork chops are topped with a tangy mustard marmalade and nestled over a nutty, smooth, and surprisingly light cauliflower purée that will leave diners wanting to lick their plates. As for dessert, the Southern charm of the establishment shows again, with a whimsical take on a classic apple dessert, this time in the form of freshly shaved Honeycrisps with lemon mousse, pecan crumble, and crème fraîche anglaise.
In addition to the remarkable food, the restaurant also has a masterfully curated wine and beer selection and cocktail list. By sourcing only craft and local beers, as well as small-batch wines and spirits, Brandon, who oversees the liquor program, looked to create an exceptional experience for the diner not only through food, but through drink as well. The cocktails all pay homage to the Southern roots of the restaurant, with classics like the mint julep taking up most of the menu real estate.
Hoping to become a neighborhood staple, the team has worked tirelessly to create a vibe that appeals to regulars as well as the artist community. The goal is to supplement the diners’ experience by hiring staff with something to say. Hechter explains, “People like coming to our establishments not only for the food and the ambiance, but for the people that work here as well. And we approach hiring like that too. If you come in and don’t have experience, but you’re doing something interesting, we feel that your interaction with a guest is going to be so much more pleasant. We want to give the diner, no matter their background, the ultimate dining experience.” Southern hospitality is alive and well in Brooklyn.
The Heyward is now open at 258 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn.
Grace Seymour works in the food industry in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn and enjoys all things delicious and beautiful.