Upstate Comes to the East Village, Bringing Oysters and Beer

oystersNoah Fecks

Last week The Times introduced us to an East Village couple that found hipness upstate. On the flip side of that coin is Shane Covey, a man from New Hartford, N.Y., who, last week, opened Upstate in the East Village. The restaurant’s woodwork, including 150-year-old hemlock, is from a barn in Mr. Covey’s hometown, and breweries represented on the draft beer list include Ithaca Beer Company and Keegan Ales of Kingston.

Despite the out-of-town allegiance, Mr. Covey’s first instinct was to call the restaurant Local, and offer a menu of exclusively local, sustainable food. “I was thinking, man, it’s going to be tough to do that 100 percent,” he said. “I do it probably 85 percent if not more, but you’re going to get someone who comes and asks, ‘Where did the tomato come from?’ and I’m going to be like, “I don’t know— I got it at the bodega next door!” (Mr. Covey also gets his wines from down the block, at Tinto Fino.)

It was Mr. Covey’s wife and business partner, Jennifer Gavin, who suggested he call the restaurant Upstate.  The wood isn’t the only thing that comes from up north. Mr. Covey took much of his staff (including the chef, Kary Goolsby) from a restaurant in which he partnered, Shaffer City (that restaurant, now closed, was all the way up on 21st Street). Just like Shaffer City, Upstate will serve oysters and seafood, though Mr. Covey says price points at the Flatiron restaurant were “at least 65% higher than what I have them at now.”

upstate_frontCourtesy of Upstate

Mr. Covey initially wanted to open a restaurant in his West Village neighborhood, but discovered that landlords there “don’t take losses. They don’t budge.” So he looked east. When he walked through the space that held Permanent Brunch and then Steak Shoppe until it was taken by the landlord a year ago, he was hesitant at first. “The first time I saw it, I said, ‘No way. You’re crazy. This has got lawsuits all over it.’ The plumbing was bad, the electrical was bad. The sheriff shuttered the place so there was rotting food in the place. It was a huge undertaking.”

Mr. Covey, along with his father and his chef, built out the space himself, to the tune of an estimated $4,000 to $6,000. One of the things he threw out: The freezers. He says he doesn’t have a single one in the kitchen, a sign of the food’s freshness. “The stuff is very loosely prepared. We don’t over[do] anything,” he said. “We just put the fish on the plate so people understand the value of it.” The menu will change daily and a brunch of “seafood tapas” will eventually be added as well as late-night items like an oyster po boy. For now, here’s a look at this week’s offerings.

Dinner Menu

Upstate; 95 First Avenue (East 6th Street), no phone yet.