Nate Adler, Flip Biddelman, and Will Edwards grew up on Manhattan's Upper West Side, where diners and delis are plenty, Barney Greengrass remains a century-old institution, and a world's worth of food is literally just a subway ride away. So when it came time to open a new restaurant, their hometown was good inspiration.
Meet Gertie, the trio's bright, airy all-day spot in Brooklyn. The menu focuses on "updated takes on New York classics," says Adler, where rotisserie duck meets fried rice with everything spice, patty melts with sauerkraut, gravlax on bialys, and boozy sodas. To Adler, Gertie is like "a retro New York diner upgraded—taking the food we grew up eating, taking inspiration from that, and modernizing it." Makes sense: Adler's Queens-born grandmother, Gertrude, is the restaurant's namesake.
At VICE's Williamsburg office, we're lucky enough to be basically just down the street. For everyone else, you're in luck: Adler and Edwards recently paid a visit to the MUNCHIES Test Kitchen to share their recipe for a no-nonsense mushroom melt. Salty and cheesy, this open-faced sandwich is perfect with potato chips and a fizzy drink—what you might expect from New York's classic lunch counters and delightfully friendly to vegetarians.
Edwards unpacks cheese, mushrooms, and a sesame sourdough loaf that's still warm from the oven. A big perk at Gertie is the sourdough-focused pastry program, led by Savannah Turley, a young, accomplished baker who has been nursing her starter for over five years, Edwards estimates. As he slices the bread and dices the mushrooms, we chat about the sandwich.
The mushroom melt is a few simple steps: toasted bread, cheese sauce, a mixture of "salt and vinegar mushrooms" that's just as craveable as the chips of the same name. It comes together quickly, and in just one pan. "It's cheese sauce, and then Savannah's sourdough, and then a vegetable," says Edwards. In the winter, though, it was cauliflower. "We're trying to find that sweet spot where you know what you're getting, but it's still exciting enough to work with seasonal stuff."
The mushrooms owe their snackability to salt and a mouth-puckering tang. Edwards throws chunks of creminis into a cast iron pan, moving them slightly but not much, since letting them brown will add a nice crust. He seasons with salt and grated garlic, drops in sherry vinegar, and lets it all cook down a tiny bit longer (too long and it gets too potent). "With the sherry vinegar at the end, it keeps the balance," Edwards says. At the restaurant, they also serve the mushrooms alone—a bowl of finger food to work on while you drink.
We all talk nostalgia foods as we wait, since this is one of those. For Edwards, it's his mom's Rice Krispies treats, made in the microwave. "She would send it to me in college and it could sit for two weeks and not go stale," he says fondly. Meanwhile, at Gertie's house, Adler recalls, "We had Velveeta mac and cheese and chocolate milk."
Edwards removes the mushrooms and then toasts slices of bread in a little olive oil. Taking them out, he cooks down butter and flour in the same pan still and adds milk and cheese. But this isn't the cheese sauce of Adler's childhood; instead of Velveeta, they add hot sauce made in-house and use a blend of cheeses from Vermont's Jasper Hill Farm. "It's not the same every time, and it's got some funkiness to it," says Edwards. (The farm's Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, which often makes it into the mix, is a good swap at home.)
The assembly of the sandwich isn't fussy. Edwards heaps mushrooms onto a slice of bread, ladles cheese sauce on top, and throws on a dash of scallion greens. Don't forget the side of chips, because if you end up with extra cheese sauce, chips and dip is the move here.
Gertie's sandwich might be a twist on a classic, but it feels just as nostalgic as the diner sandwiches of yore.