Food: Haimish Is Hip At Mo­tel Mor­ris

Swank ‘Mo­tel Mor­ris’ Keeps It All In The Fam­ily

Forward Magazine - - Contents - By Liza Schoen­fein & Michael Kaminer

Ak­ib­butz with de­li­cious food in New York City’s Chelsea neigh­bor­hood? Well, kind of.

“We call it the kib­butz,” Brett Nidel said of the build­ing on the cor­ner of 18th Street and Sev­enth Av­enue, where he lives and works. Nidel and his brother Sam Nidel, along with part­ners Matt Mogil and Ta­mara McCarthy (who is mar­ried to Brett Nidel), own Mo­tel Mor­ris, a new restau­rant that oc­cu­pies the ground-floor cor­ner of the build­ing. The brothers live in apart­ments above the eatery, as do their aunt Vicki Hart and var­i­ous cousins.

The fam­ily-kib­butz theme runs right through the busi­ness. Their cousin Bill Pa­ley’s wife, Jes­sica Corr, de­signed the restau­rant’s fur­ni­ture and light­ing (the stu­dio for her de­sign and light­ing com­pany, Tour­ma­line, is in the build­ing, too); McCarthy, a graphic de­signer, came up with the eatery’s logo; Brett and Sam’s mother, Ar­lene Novick, makes the daily dessert spe­cial.

“She lit­er­ally bakes it,” Sam Nidel said. “It’s her recipes. When she can’t han­dle it, we bake it.”

And then there’s the restau­rant’s name. Per­haps it’s not a shock to learn that the Mor­ris in Mo­tel Mor­ris is the Nidel brothers’ late grand­fa­ther, Mor­ris Pa­ley. He was their mother’s fa­ther. Their grand­mother, his wife Sylvia Pa­ley, who came over from Poland when she was be­tween 18 and 20 years old, was a phe­nom­e­nal cook. And be­cause their grand­mother lived the first part of her Amer­i­can life in Alabama, the brothers say she was cook­ing South­ern foods when she moved to New York.

“She cooked a fu­sion of South­ern and Ashke­nazi,” Brett Nidel said. “I re­mem­ber corn frit­ters that we used to dip in maple syrup, and fried chicken,” his brother ex­plained. “That’s where we get the gene from. My grand­mother was the cook in the fam­ily and my mother has the gene.”

While the restau­rant’s gen­eral man­ager, Jamie Stein­berg, and its ex­ec­u­tive chef, Bill McDaniel, aren’t ge­net­i­cally linked to the clan, they are ro­man­ti­cally linked to each other. “Both of them are veter­ans of this in­dus­try, and that’s how they met,” Sam Nidel said. “They wanted to work to­gether again.”

McDaniel, formerly the chef at The Red Cat, is turn­ing out thought­ful plates that look busy

enough to in­spire wows, but sim­ple enough to let top-notch pro­vi­sions shine. Roasted sweet potatoes ar­rive fork-ten­der but not mushy, their orange flesh beau­ti­fully set against tart Greek yo­gurt. A grilled let­tuce plate plays pi­quant pick­led veg­eta­bles against mel­low haloumi cheese — an ideal warmweather starter.

Moist, juicy chicken rests atop a bright-green garlic puree. Only an “ev­ery­thing bagel tuna,” which sounds so promis­ing and looks beau­ti­ful, ul­ti­mately lands with a thud. The dish is es­sen­tially that mid­dle-of-the-road New York standby: sesame-crusted tuna, with a few ex­tra grains at­tached but mi­nus the salty-garlic kick of an ev­ery­thing bagel. Dessert’s a must here. The night we vis­ited, Novick’s con­tri­bu­tion was a lush, just-sweet-enough cheesecake, and it paired per­fectly with po­tent espresso.

The food and the retro-chic room have drawn se­ri­ous crowds since Mo­tel Mor­ris opened in April. Most of its din­ers look like mil­len­ni­als with money, and for a Chelsea restau­rant, the throngs seem over­whelm­ingly straight. With non­stop con­ver­sa­tional roar, and wait­staff in per­pet­ual mo­tion, the place car­ries as much of a party vibe as it does a din­ing mood. Sweet, smart touches in­clude a (non­func­tion­ing) pink wall­mounted rotary-dial phone in one bath­room and a vin­tage blow dryer in the other. A very clever graphic iden­tity car­ries through, from the restau­rant’s logo to its menu to the pink pens with which you sign your re­ceipt; you can grab a 1950s-look Mo­tel Mor­ris post­card and coral-pink match­books on the way out.

What, we asked Brett Nidel, would Mor­ris think of all this hoo-hah in his lit­tle build­ing?

“He was a mod­est, sim­ple, quiet guy; a se­ri­ous man,” he said. “He was old­school — it was a dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tion. But I think it would be his great­est joy to see his fam­ily in­volved in this to­gether.”



BUSI­NESS BROS: Sam (left) and Brett Nidel in their restau­rant, Mo­tel Mor­ris.



Sautéed skate wing was fea­tured re­cently on the restau­rant’s menu, which changes sea­son­ally.


STORY TIME: Mor­ris Pa­ley read­ing to his grand­chil­dren.


BALABOOSTA BAKES: Ar­lene Novick’s


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