Apiary, in the East Village, is named for a collection of bee hives, but the restaurant is not devoted to honey the way S'Mac is to mac and cheese. Chef Neil Manacle's "New American" menu is eclectic, occasionally taking inspiration from Middle Eastern spices and fusing them with familiar edibles like chicken breast and pork tenderloin. A franchise of Ligne Roset, the luxury French design house, created and owns the place, which is sleek and sophisticated without being pretentious. Up front, a modest bar serves about 30 micro brews and emphasizes New York State wine.
Amelia Lester at the New Yorker writes: "Dimly lit and darkly appointed, it is the sort of place grownups from Gramercy might go if they venture too far down Third Avenue. And if grownups are generally understood to be people who have not filled their entire apartments with IKEA, Apiary is all the more apropos, because it is a restaurant that is really a furniture showcase."
You’re from New York originally, right? Yes, born and raised in Brooklyn. Bay Ridge
I understand you were a city bus driver for a while? Yes, I was.
You must be tired of talking about it but I’m wondering how you went from that to becoming a chef. My father and both uncles were bus drivers; in my neighborhood you took the city test and you either became a cop or a fireman or whatever, and I followed the route of my family and took the wheel of the bus. I did that for about four years and I realized that I wasn’t really happy. Cooking has always been a big part of my family life, just food in general. Everything seemed to revolve around the kitchen. So you know, why not try to make a living out of this? Maybe I’d be happy. So I packed up my car and moved to Providence and worked at jobs for a while and got my education and started working in the cooking world. Was the best thing I ever did in my entire life. Eventually I came back here to New York, and worked at one restaurant here. It didn’t last very long but that’s how I met Bobby Flay; he was friends with the chef. And next thing I know the restaurant I was at closed, and a couple days later I was working for Bobby.
You were working with him for a long time, right? Yes, 16 years. Basically, after 16 years you adapt to his style of food or you take a piece of it with you. It was a great experience; he had a lot of faith in me, he let me run all three of his restaurants here in New York City and I learned a lot.
Is the menu at Apiary influenced much by Bobby Flay? Maybe just the bold flavors. I like big flavors and color. I put a lot of color into the food. Naturally, of course.
How would you describe the cuisine at Apiary? It’s basic. I’m not trying to recreate the wheel; it’s really simple, and hopefully people think it’s good food. It’s basically this: If you came to my home, chances are you would probably get something that’s on this menu.
The New Yorker review had some very positive things to say but there’s one thing I wanted to ask you about. The reviewer wrote about "a Moroccan spiced chicken had been rubbed with a host of seasonings—among them, cumin, coriander, paprika, and turmeric—but the only discernible flavor on the plate was cinnamon." He’s actually the only one who didn’t like the dish. If anything that’s the one dish that I’ve been getting all good reviews on. There is cinnamon in it. We’re just making the sauce now, actually; that’s basically cinnamon sticks and coriander, black pepper, cumin, bay leaves, all spice, paprika, thyme. She’s the only one who brought that point across. There is cinnamon in it but I don’t find it too be too cinnamony.
You didn’t tone down the cinnamon in it after reading that? I’ve been making the same recipe I’ve been making since day one. I’m not going to let one reviewer’s opinion…if it came up all the time of course I would, but everyone else seems to like it.
Adam Platt at NY Magazine suggested that Apiary is especially appealing to women, with the décor and the sangria. Have you noticed a higher percentage of female diners? You know, that’s a good question but I’m on the line cooking here, I don’t really get out to the dining room all that much. Maybe there is more women but not a great number. Maybe it has something to do with the neighborhood. I look at the reservation book and there are probably a few more women names than there are men names.
If someone was going to come in and they could only order one dish what would you recommend?Right now my favorite dish is probably the sea scallops we have on the menu. Sea scallops with roasted acorn risotto, bacon and caramelized onions
Other than the food at Apiary, can you tell us what one of the best meals you’ve had in recent memory is? Probably one of the best would be in Spain a few years ago, visiting a winery and the hosts just roasted a baby lamb. It was just roasted over grape vines and the lamb itself had basically lived on wild thyme and wild rosemary. Roasted lamb with salad. And good wine of course.
Your worst kitchen scar? When I first started cooking I slit my hand in two with plastic wrap. Years ago the plastic wrap box had an edge a serrated knife and I was switching between breakfast and lunch. And I had plastic wrap in my hand, I turned real quick, my hand left the plastic wrap and proceeded to go right down the middle of my hand right between my two fingers and cut my hand. I had seventeen stitches on the outside and like thirty-two on the inside.
How do you think New York restaurants stack up with other cities in the world? We’re the finest in the world. We’ve got such a wide variety of restaurants not just in styles of food but in price point. Almost 24 hours a day you can find whatever you want here in the city.
Do you have any favorite restaurants you like to go to when you’re not in the kitchen working?Lupa is always a favorite of mine. Mary's Fish Camp on Charles and West 4th. It’s the perfect the style of food for a night off: just a cold beer and a lobster roll, just an enjoyable time.