Hungry House, a ghost kitchen upgrade
My kingdom for a torta, a style of Mexican sandwich that I think deserves wider adulation – a puffy roll, quesillo (Oaxacan string cheese), avocado, fresh pepper, onion, refried beans and a main ingredient, such as Pollo Milanese (fried chicken cutlet), carnitas, or even chilaquiles with a fried egg, for a breakfast of champions. There are plenty of tortas in New York, but they rarely get the spotlight. Could their moment be near, thanks to Tony Ortiz, the Brooklyn-based chef behind Chile Con Miel, a “self-proclaimed online platform and brand that explores ancient Mexican food practices through a queer lens”?
Last month, two of Ortiz’s Super Tortas were added to the listing on Hungry House, a platform that explores takeout and delivery options. I ordered them both the other day, a pair of beauties that wink at cemitas, as tortas are known in Puebla, named after their lightly sweetened sesame seed buns. from Ortiz cemitas– Orwashers hamburger buns, technically – were grilled and piled high with guacamole, lemon aioli, pickled red onion, quesillo, a smoky tomatillo and morita salsa, papalo leaves, a potently herbaceous Mexican plant adjacent to cilantro, and arugula. Each Featured Milanese: Pleasantly oily breaded chicken thigh on one side, and steep and relatively light fried maitake – from Brooklyn’s organic mushroom farm Smallhold – on the other, no less superb.
Hungry House was founded last year by Kristen Barnett, the former COO of a company that ran so-called ghost kitchens, which prepare food only for delivery apps. “I became frustrated with what I was seeing in terms of brand building in ghost kitchens,” she told me. “I felt like it was turning into this kind of commoditized, shoddy, chicken-wing universe. The potential was so much greater for the chefs and for the storytelling. She had befriended Rawlston Williams, the chef-owner of Food Sermon, a Caribbean-inspired counter restaurant that moved from Crown Heights to the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 2020 (and is now on hiatus). Williams invited her to use his kitchen; she facilitated the preparation and delivery of her food, and sought out other talented chefs and entrepreneurs in need of back-end support. For season 1, she signed with Woldy Reyes, the Filipino American chef behind the restaurant shop Woldy Kusina; Indiana-based power restaurateur Martha Hoover and her pandemic project Apocalypse Burger; and Rachel Krupa of the Goods Mart, a “socially responsible neighborhood convenience store” in lower Manhattan that specializes in packaged goods such as vegetable pulp chips.
Barnett and her team work with each resident to design a small set of offers for pickup or delivery in Brooklyn (she plans to expand to Manhattan soon), through the Hungry House website, as well as apps such as Seamless. (There’s also a customer-facing counter in the Navy Yard.) For Season 2, she added Chile Con Miel; Caffè Panna, Hallie Meyer’s famous Gramercy ice cream parlour; and Pierce Abernathy, a charming recipe developer with a huge following on social media.
It’s incredibly satisfying to watch Abernathy whip up a chopped salad on TikTok, in an ASMR video, and even more satisfying to have one delivered to your door – endive and radicchio tossed with crispy chickpeas, feta, olives Castelvetrano, marinated onions, apple, celery and cucumber, in a bright mustard vinaigrette. Reyes’ chicharon, made from Smallhold oyster mushrooms and inspired by the Philippines chicharon bulaklak (fried pork fat), is truly spectacular: salty and sweet, crispy and juicy, dipped in coconut milk and dusted with rice flour and potato starch, then fried and served with a hot chili sauce and with rich yet tangy Fresno coconut. . For his sisig, the usual chunks of pork are replaced with chewy cubes of deep-fried tofu, coated in a “starter” from Omsom, a sauces and seasonings company founded by Vietnamese American sisters Vanessa and Kim Pham: vinegar of cane, garlic, calamansi mash, porcini powder, chili flakes – a row of assassin potential, realized. (Dishes $6-$14.) ♦