Insiders

Chef Greg Baxtrom's Brooklyn: Insider Tips from the Owner of Olmsted & Five Acres

When Greg Baxtrom opened Olmsted in Brooklyn's Prospect Heights neighborhood in 2016, it quickly became a staple of the city's farm-to-table, fine-dining scene, paving the way for other such restaurants (like 63 Clinton and One White Street) that prioritized seasonal, local ingredients—served with creativity in chic yet comfortable settings—over elaborations and formalities. The opening of Olmsted marked Baxtrom's first independent venture as head chef and owner, after stints at New York's legendary Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Per Se (and studies in Spain and Norway), and it immediately collected accolades along with local favor, particularly thanks to its garden oasis—where guests can dine and lounge while gazing upon the roots of their plates. Last year, Baxtrom opened his first restaurant in Manhattan, 5 Acres, within the new Rockefeller Center development (where neighboring foodie heavyweights include Jupiter, Le Rock and Naro). This came on the heels of his March 2022 Prospect Heights opening, Patti Ann's, a more casual establishment that celebrates the home cooking of Baxtrom's native Illinois (and, more specifically, the kitchen of his mother, for whom the restaurant is named)—as well as Petite Patate, which opened in February 2023. Safe to say, he has been busy (with James Beard nods along the way).

Below, I spoke with Chef Baxtrom about his approach to his restaurants—and where he gets his inspiration—as well as his favorite places in Brooklyn and beyond to eat and explore.

What inspired the creation of Olmsted and having a kitchen with an urban garden in New York?

Greg Baxtrom:

My experiences at Alinea and Blue Hill at Stone Barns were a major source of inspiration for Olmsted because of the attention to sustainability, creativity and thoughtfulness when it came to sourcing ingredients. I wanted to wrap all of that into a neighborhood-friendly restaurant with a manageable dining room. The best compliment I ever received is that Olmsted felt as though those two restaurants had a casual baby.

I got lucky with the current Olmsted space, which came with a backyard. I didn’t want to just add a patio for seating, so I built a garden first, then integrated seating into it. In small ways, we try to mimic farming practices in the garden, like using succession planting, raising quails and keeping fish. We try to find small ways to weave in sustainability.

What challenges did you face in setting up the restaurant?

GB:

At the beginning there was no budget. It was an old, beat-up restaurant, and any changes that I wanted had to be done by me or my dad. In a lot of ways, the limitations helped foster creativity.

You recently opened 5 Acres in the new Rockefeller Center development. What attracted you to this project? How does it compare to Olmsted?

GB:

Olmsted, which is a neighborhood restaurant, was my first restaurant, and it was such a personal experience to open. 5 Acres is in a totally different part of the city, and we were aiming for a fine-dining-adjacent vibe that felt fitting for Midtown. We’ve been learning what the Midtown neighborhood is interested in, and we have been shifting to serve comfort food that still incorporates close attention to ingredients and technique.

Related: What’s New in New York City: Hotels, Restaurants & Culture in Manhattan – Fall 2023

What trends are you seeing in the farm-to-table dining space? And in New York restaurants, generally?

GB:

The obvious one that comes to mind is that people are looking for more accessible and more approachable dining experiences across cuisines. At the same time, people are also expecting things to be more affordable, which is not always doable. More broadly, New York’s interest in pasta never seems to fade.

What are some of your favorite destinations for sourcing culinary inspiration?

GB:

I’m a creature of habit. When I’m looking for inspiration in restaurants and bars, I tend to visit Paris, Norway and San Sebastián.

Related: A Perfect Day in Williamsburg

What's your favorite spot in Brooklyn for lunch with friends?

GB: Rucola

—It’s a small, cute restaurant in Boerum Hill that’s been around for a while now. They always have what you want when you’re looking for simple Italian food. And there's always someone famous there.

Favorite spot for dinner in Brooklyn with people from out of town?

GB: Walter’s

in Fort Greene.

Favorite spot in Brooklyn for a solo bite?

GB: Han Dynasty

is great.

Related: New Restaurants in Brooklyn to Know Now: Fall & Winter 2023

What are your favorite shops/cafés/haunts in your area?

GB: R&D Foods

on Vanderbilt is a great place to grab a sandwich, and they have a nice home goods store next door. I also like grabbing some vanilla ice cream from Van Leeuwen for something sweet.

Do you have any favorite hotels—in Brooklyn or beyond in New York?

GB:

I always recommend people stay at 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge.

Related: Indagare’s Most-Booked Hotels in New York City

Are there any other chefs whose work is particularly interesting to you right now?

GB: Sunny Lee

has a great menu at Achilles Heel and Victoria Blamey is doing great stuff. I haven’t been yet, but I would love to try Emma Bengtsson’s food at Aquavit. I really admire how strong the brand of all of Missy Robbins' spots are.

Are there any new projects you are working on that you are excited about?

GB: Petite Patate

is moving from Vanderbilt Avenue home to Illinois in an old restaurant in my home town of Frankfort. It’s a space that means a lot to the town, so there’s a lot of local excitement and some pressure to do right by it.

What is your favorite dish on each of your restaurants' menus right now?

GB:

I love the club sandwich at 5 Acres. We roast the turkey in house and use Nueske’s bacon, and a simple harissa mayonnaise that adds a subtle kick. We serve it with shoestring fries. At Olmsted, I love sitting in the garden with s’mores. It’s something we’ve always offered, and it just remains one of my favorites (plus, our garden has never been better). And at Patti Ann’s, I always order the Spud.

When you cook at home (if you cook at home), what are some of your go-to dishes?

GB:

I recently made some braised short ribs and potatoes au gratin. It was a bit of a gut-buster, but it was great.

Where are you traveling to next?

GB:

My next trip is back home to Frankfort, Illinois.

Must-have item(s) in your carry-on?

GB:

Earbuds to maintain some quiet.

Related: Brooklyn by Design: PORTA’s Alice Russotti and Francesca del Balzo

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