With warmer weather here, my summertime food cravings have really been kicking in. So when I heard about Galinha, a new Portuguese barbecue operation that recently opened in that odd little area west of SoHo known as Hudson Square, I happily heeded the call of smoky meats seared over an open flame.
Galinha's menu offers several solid combo deals including my bountiful, $35 Refeição em Familia, or Family Meal, which amply satisfied me and my picnic companion in Spring Street Park on a lovely evening earlier this week — there are no seating options at the restaurant, because it's actually run out of a ghost kitchen.
Galinha is owned and operated by chef Franklin Becker, a Brooklyn native whose career in the kitchen includes stints as a private chef, a corporate chef, and running the veggie-friendly minichain The Little Beet. Here Becker is making a bet on the future of ghost kitchens, whose only infrastructure is the kitchen itself, with no front of the house, no servers or counter people, your food available via remote ordering for delivery and, occasionally, pick-up.
There are three different meats available here, and all of them are included in the Family Meal. The half chicken--the namesake Galinha--was maybe the star of the show, the bird brined before getting slow-roasted, then quickly grilled to crackle the skin and seal in the juices. Also good were the five Pork Ribs, prepared in much the same way and pleasantly chewy and fatty. You also get a substantial length of Linguiça, the classic Portuguese sausage, which adds a good bit of funk to the party.
The sides are all carb-heavy: gloppy Rice and Beans, chunks of seasoned Roasted Potatoes, and some well-salted French Fries. Everything is given a welcome boost by some sweet and fiery Peri-Peri sauce, as well as the kicky Salsa Verde. For dessert, there's Rice Pudding or those reliably delicious custard tarts, Pastais de Nata, from Joey Bats.
In addition to Galinha, Becker operates three other "restaurants" out of the ghost kitchen here, the hummus-heavy Middle Eastern Shai, the sandwich shop Butterfunk Biscuit, and Universal Tacos (varieties include Moo Shu and Chicken Shawarma). And although he misses the interaction with customers, Becker says he's committed to the ghost kitchen.
"At my age, I'm 51, I'm interested in scalability," he said. "I invested $350,000 in this space, and can test out four different concepts at the same time for less than half the price of a single brick-and-mortar."
Personally, as a diner, I am less enthusiastic about the rise of the ghost kitchen. True, I've only ordered delivery a handful of times in the last four decades or so, but even during the early days of the pandemic, before outdoor dining and when the only option was takeout, at least I could pick up my food from a familiar storefront, often from a familiar person who greeted me like a friend.
At Galinha, et al, which rents space along with at least three other ghost kitchens at a place called Zuul on Vandam Street, the experience is reduced to one that's purely transactional. However, with high rents and other struggles that come with running a brick and mortar restaurant in NYC, it will be interesting to see if they can find a permanent place in the city's dining landscape.
Galinha is located at 30 Vandam Street, and delivers river to river from 23rd Street on down to the Battery from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily (646-759-3064; eatgalinha.com)