Though New York City is home to countless cuisines, the flavors of the American Southwest have been few and far between over the past decade. However, The Banty Rooster, a recently opened restaurant helmed by hospitality industry veterans Delores Tronco-DePierro and her husband John DePierro, is hoping to rewrite that narrative. “Southwestern cuisine—not Tex-Mex or traditional Mexican cuisine—is essentially nonexistent in the city, and it also happens to be the food I feel most personally connected to, so it was an easy decision to go that direction,” Delores explains.
John, who serves as the restaurant’s executive chef, grew up in El Paso, Texas. The duo have spent significant time traveling throughout the American Southwest, including hosting their wedding outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Though Tronco-DePierro gained acclaim for her Denver restaurant Work & Class, the owner decided that New York City was where she needed to open her next spot. While John worked at kitchens including the late Mettā in Brooklyn, Delores waited tables at also defunct The Eddy in Manhattan’s East Village. An encounter with guests one evening led her to connect with Dave Barber, a co-owner of Blue Hill, who eventually helped her open The Banty Rooster.
“Opening a restaurant is always an exercise in patience and determination, but in New York City, the whole process is on steroids,” Delores recalls on the process of getting the proper lease, permits and materials needed for her Big Apple debut. “It’s a true test of patience, tenacity and resolve to make it to the finish line for an opening, which is really just the beginning of introducing a new restaurant to the world,” she adds. However, the kitchen and what dishes it would make for a city that’s seen so many also presented a predicament.
“The real challenge was trying to bring some Southwest ingredients and dishes into the lens of modern American cooking,” John shares. Though the restaurant noted some guests expressed frustration that tacos and enchiladas do not appear on the menu, those who appreciate geography will see plenty of references to the distinct region they are trying to honor, especially when it comes to spice.
The focaccia here is made with roasted chile, while the pork collar entree arrives with cotija cheese, pickled onions and the region’s famed hatch chiles. Starters revolve around fried chicken skins served with buttermilk and hot sauce, while albondigas (chicken meatballs) and roasted pepita squash drizzled with squash mole also call attention to the region's influences.
The references aren’t just relegated to spice, as sweet regionally popular desserts are featured prominently when closing out a meal. Those include New Mexico’s state cookie, the bisochito, along with sopapillas stuffed with horchata cream. However, the restaurant is centered around the inclusion of Southwestern ingredients as part of a globally diverse menu. “I have never been a fan of restrictions when it comes to menu development. The biggest detractor to creativity is borders,” John says. There’s a charred eggplant served with tahini as a starter, and entrees include grilled octopus served with aji blanco and paprika. While the menu is overseen by John, the restaurant makes it a point to highlight the work of its sous chefs Grego Otero and Jack Tippett, who contributed dishes like the charred eggplant and a roasted cabbage entree.
To drink, the restaurant worked diligently to offer a cocktail, beer and wine list that kept the kitchen’s fondness for spice in mind. "Pairing wine with spicy food is always tricky, so we opted to bring in some beautiful Rieslings in a range of dry to sweet, which always pair well with spicy food, and also some fun, lighter whites like Txakolina and classics like white Burgundies,” Delores explains. The red wine selection focuses on Tempranillos, Burgundies and Pinot Noirs. For cocktails, there’s a focus on using gin, mezcal, tequila and rum as base spirits for some intriguing combinations. The Don Agrio cocktail includes mezcal, lemon, Giffard apricot brandy, chile, saline and acid phosphate for a slightly sour and tart tasting drink; there’s also a gin-based cocktail that counts olive oil and black peppercorn as some of its ingredients. The 55-bottle wine list predominantly includes selections from Spain, France and Portugal.
Those hoping to find a traditional atmosphere that might transport them to Taos will be out of luck. The 75-seat restaurant’s decor was inspired by artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basqiuat, with framed prints from those artists and more occupying the whitewashed walls of the establishment. However, the restaurant is focused on being a regular neighborhood destination despite the uniqueness of its cuisine. “I think we’re in a great position to create our own narrative about what we’re doing within the four walls of The Banty Rooster,” John says. “We don’t overdo it. We ride the line of keeping the menu challenging, but not to the point where we lose the neighborhood restaurant vibe.”
Banty Rooster is currently open for dinner seven days a week from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, with dinner service extended until 11:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The restaurant plans to debut weekend brunch service in the coming months.
Photos courtesy of The Banty Rooster.