NEW YORK — New York City's Tavern on the Green, once America's top grossing restaurant, will soon be back in business, but not with the same meat-and-potatoes fare.
Instead, visitors to the bankrupt Central Park establishment will line up at vendor food trucks for dining al fresco, starting Oct. 15. The trucks will roll in with trendy street eats like Turkish tacos, Chinese dumplings and chili sesame noodle salad at the spot where the Tavern's Crystal Room stood.
The city still plans to field bids to take over the entire Central Park landmark, which remains idle inside.
For now, four vendors will set up shop facing Sheep Meadow from about 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
One is called the Ladle of Love, serving homemade soups and stews – and other taste-tempters like fried truffled chickpeas in an environmentally friendly, compostable cup.
"New York City is not only the city that never sleeps, it is the city that always eats – everywhere," Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe said Thursday. "We are thrilled that high quality food will continue to be made available to the public at Tavern on the Green."
Don't expect burgers or hot dogs. Or low prices.
Pera Mediterranean Brasserie, which operates a restaurant on Madison Avenue, promises to be the nation's first Turkish taco truck. With fillings including a house-made lamb bacon BLT and tuna nicoise, they'll go for $4 to $6 apiece.
Ladle of Love soups and stews like beef bourguignon will cost $5 to $6.50 – for 8 ounces, with a whole-grain roll. Also on the menu are BBQ pulled pork sandwiches for $7.50 to $8.50 and over-the-top brownies at $4.50 to $5.50, stuffed with fillings like pecan caramel and handmade marshmallows.
"We had to compete to be here" in one of the most glamorous, priciest city neighborhood said owner Leslie Lampert, who was inspired to start her farm-to-kitchen food business in suburban Westchester County after spending months bringing soups to firefighters going to work at the World Trade Center site.
Each vendor had to petition parks officials for the Tavern on the Green venue. City officials were particularly keen on attracting so-called "green" vendors.
Lampert's truck is "green," meaning cutlery is made from corn and vegetable products and the vehicle is hybrid-electric, using about half as much power as other such trucks.
Ladle of Love signed a one-year $100,000 concession with a renewal option; the other vendors are operating there under similar terms.
Rickshaw Dumpling Truck will have a menu of dumplings with flavors like pork and Chinese chive, chicken and Thai basil, with sides of chili sesame noodle salad and miso soup.
The Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream Truck features flavors such as pistachio, currants and espresso, plus various coffees and pastries.
The four vendors were selected from a pool of 15 applicants. They may also apply for liquor licenses.
The original Tavern on the Green served its last meal and closed its doors on New Year's Eve after 75 years, its faded magnificence buckling to the recession.
About three years ago, it was still one of the world's top-grossing restaurants, plating more than 700,000 meals a year that brought in about $38 million.
In January, everything in the bankrupt restaurant was up for auction – from the kitschy chandeliers of capitalism to a banner touting the motto of communism. Proceeds went toward the $8 million debt.
A former sheepfold off Central Park West, the defunct Tavern sits on city property. Warner LeRoy took over its operating license in 1973, refurbishing it with whimsical objects purchased around the world. From the Soviet Union came a red velvet banner inscribed in Russian with the international communist motto, "Workers of all nations, unite!"
In New York reality, the cost of keeping a large group of unionized workers was the reason the restaurant did not reopen earlier this year under a new operator, industry observers say. Restaurateur Dean Poll said he would not go forward with plans to take over because it was impossible to come to an agreement with the Local 6 of the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees International Union.
The city has set no date for requesting new proposals for the Tavern.
For now, workers are fixing the roof and renovating the red brick building, while they finish setting up the vendor terrace with tables and chairs.
City Department of Parks and Recreation: http://www.nyc.gov/parks