When served the first course at Greenport pop-up restaurant PawPaw — three slices of cured, smoked carrot “salami” just slightly larger than a nickel — one might wonder if the ensuing meal will be able to fill a rumbling belly.
But by the 16th course and fourth dessert of a dinner that includes tastes like Long Island duck tongue and a mushroom-filled chocolate éclair, a diner might find their waistband cinching their midsection like a 19th-century corset.
PawPaw, a weekly 16-seat dining experience that takes place Monday evenings at The Cheese Emporium by Bruce and Son, is the brainchild of North Fork chef Taylor Knapp. It features mostly local items, many of them foraged, and the menu is dictated by season. Knapp prepares the meals while his fiancée, Katelyn Luce, runs the front of the house.
Patrons dine family-style and seats, at $65 a pop, are frequently reserved several weeks in advance.
“I think it’s a really good snapshot of exactly what’s happening in Long Island agriculture at that moment,” said Knapp, who is the former chef at First and South in Greenport. “We do a different menu every single week, so we’re getting a really clear picture of what’s happening.”
An Indiana native, Knapp studied at Johnson and Wales and later worked at Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark, widely considered one of the world’s best restaurants. He’s also the owner and head snail wrangler at Peconic Escargot snail farm in Cutchogue, which he expects to be operational by the end of the year.
The name PawPaw refers to a fleshy, grapefruit-sized fall fruit found in Knapp’s native Midwest and is a nod to the weekly dinners’ seasonal and hyper-local origins.
At PawPaw, diners don’t choose their own meals. Instead, the night’s offerings are planned in advance and the same food is served to everyone in attendance.
But if there is a theme that unites the dishes, it’s that common ingredients are presented in unexpected ways.
At a recent dinner, for instance, a chocolate éclair was stuffed with savory fungi and topped with chocolate so dark its bitterness overcame any sweetness.
“You’re not going to pick up on the sugar at all,” Knapp told diners before they indulged in the night’s third course.
Even those working in some of the North Fork’s most respected kitchens found the meal surprising.
“It’s not what you’re expecting. I’ve never had this before,” said Rich Day, 23, of Southold, a line chef at Caci North Fork in Southold. “My tongue was totally deceived.”
What was probably the night’s most unusual dish, though, were two fried duck tongues served on a skewer with mustard and micro greens.
It was a favorite for Jonathan Shearman, 25, a sous chef at Caci who was dining with his girlfriend, Caci pastry chef Jessica Melendez, as well as Day.
“It was salty and tasted like duck confit,” he said. “And I liked that mustard paired with micro greens.”
Other standouts for the trio were the Condzella Farms asparagus served with Goodale Farms goat cheese, buckwheat and horseradish; and the bone marrow biscuits with hay butter.
Knapp noted that he is able to make a profit with PawPaw by running the event “pop-up” style and by purchasing inexpensive ingredients prepared with care. He plans to continue the venture for the foreseeable future.
“I’m thinking about peas right now even though I can’t get peas yet,” he said. “I’ve been out here for five years so I know what’s coming up. I’m always thinking about what’s next.”
PawPaw, located at The Cheese Emporium by Bruce and Son (208 Main St., Greenport) is held Mondays at 7 p.m. For reservations, visit pawpawpopup.com.