June BYOB in Collingswood Brings New Life to Classic French Dishes

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Just months before he landed with some despair in the soapy dish pit of someone else’s restaurant, Richard “Todd” Cusack’s professional life had been filled with foie gras, braised rabbit and precious game. with feathers crushed on the antique French table.

It was early 2020, when he was still running June’s first BYOB, the sleek 24-seater he opened less than a year ago on East Passyunk Avenue with his wife, Christina Cusack. It had been the culmination of two decades of intensive training, having climbed the ranks of the salad station of his uncle’s restaurant and bar in South Philly to the Michelin-starred heights of Daniel in Manhattan, flanked by several stints under Peter. Calmels. at Bibou and Le Chéri, Starr restaurants (Parc and Dandelion), and private chef duties for Sixers star Joel Embiid.

But everything collapsed a few months after the pandemic. Cusack, 34, had quickly switched this spring from his French gourmet menu to comfort food take-out in order to save his restaurant. But business evaporated in the summer of 2020, and he soon found himself cleaning pots and pans at a friend’s house and then running the hamburger grill at the famed Chatterbox in Ocean City, just to pay the rent on his old space. and feed his wife and two young children. : “I came to terms with the June closure. It was bad. But I was also determined that this was not the end.

He landed a new job at a steak house chain and Christina confesses that she hoped he would stick to his regular weekly paychecks and reasonable hours. But she also knew that “it was upsetting, he was not happy … and reopening June was his dream”.

And so they saved. And I kept looking for a new space. And suddenly it was there: a bustling corner room in the middle of Collingswood’s bustling dining scene that at one point was 90% Italian eatery, now looks ripe for a more diverse menu. (Lebanese Li Beirut is another promising pandemic addition.)

READ MORE: Li Beirut, a new restaurant in Collingswood is a taste of Lebanon

June BYOB’s new Jersey edition opened in August with 42 seats, almost double its previous space. They had their same old padded upholstered chairs, gilded silverware and crystal chandeliers hang above lavish white linen tables, plus a vintage silver-plated duck press that a generous customer permanently loaned Todd after a successful dinner with a shrug of ‘shoulders and the compliment: “You’re not a schmuck!” “

June makes good use of this sparkling 1942 grinder almost every night on her reserve whole duck “trip” for two which is served in three acts for $ 170. It culminates in the table pyrotechnics of cognac flames and duck juice thickened with foie gras and blood flowing from the beak of the press when the carcass is crushed. If you can ignore the medieval method of extracting the essence of this bird, the end result is sublime. The herbed and port marinated Muscovy brisket from birds once bred for Daniel Humm before the chef at Eleven Madison Park went vegan was incredibly tender, the sauce superbly layered despite its surprisingly richness. In addition to the opening dish of a foie gras parfait, a free salad of Lillet and duck confit, as well as more flames for the finale of the crêpes Suzette, I can think of a few duck shows in the more worthy area, even at this price.

June has never been a bargain destination compared to most restaurants. And its current à la carte menu, with entrees ranging between $ 30 and $ 54 for a trio of ducks with a generous portion of pink breast, seared liver and a dome of pithivier puff pastry stuffed with chopped duck, do not reduce the sticker shock. But that doesn’t mean June is bad value. In fact, Cusack serves up sizable servings of premium ingredients, from the box of Venetian ossetra caviar offered one night on special with a free serving of Moët, to a piece of fresh, rosé halibut on cranberry beans and peas. frozen lobster snacks. richness macerated with an American sauce.

One can certainly wonder if the great French cuisine inspired by Larousse Gastronomique on the June coffee table even has its place in 2021, following a traumatic year in which restaurants have reappeared much more relaxed and more avant-garde than previously, and culinary trends. continued to move away from the meat-broth-rich traditions of French cuisine that have long reigned in American kitchens and culinary schools.

For all of these reasons, I would say that a place like June BYOB has become even more valuable. With the sad disappearance of Bibou during the pandemic, Cusack is now one of the few skilled guardians of the long Gallic tradition of Philly, dating back to Bec-Fin and La Panetière. And he’s certainly not brazing pig’s trotters and roasting their plucked meat in fat-wrapped clubs because it’s all the rage. Cusack was brought in to do the dishes and work six odd jobs for over a year following the closure of his first restaurant so he could reopen June here as it is clear that he is passionate about this food. . I can taste it.

So when I saw Bibou’s famous nautilus platters reappear on Cusack’s Collingswood table, I was struck by the unexpected emotion of witnessing a generational transfer with every beautiful bite. The plump snails that tumbled alongside perennial beans through its swirling channels from Bordeaux to mahogany weren’t just as delicious as ever, they were imbued with the satisfaction of a heritage that had been successfully preserved.

You will see echoes of Cusack’s French mentors throughout this menu, from this pig’s trotters, a signature Bibou served a little differently here on Tarbais beans, to the hot mustard vinaigrette borrowed from the old crab pancake. de Le Bec used to dress the hot potato salad that accompanies the duck in a hurry. His crispy sweetbreads sautéed in Madeira sauce with roasted chanterelles were a classic as it should be.

But Cusack, ultimately, also creates his own identity here, too. You enjoy it in ricotta cavatelli mixed with pieces of sweet crab in a roasted corn broth enriched with sherry cream. (Cusack improved his noodle craft at Daniel’s pasta station).

I could also taste this in the delicacy of a fluffy rainbow trout fillet sprinkled with Espelette pepper and steamed in fresh fig leaves which are carefully unwrapped at the table by manager Constance de Uriate and covered with an ivory white butter flavored with orange. This dish was inspired by the fig trees that grew outside the Chatterbox in Ocean City, where Cusack spent two summers after June on the grill, still dreaming of his return.

The way back was not easy. The Cusacks were virtually out of bank savings by the time they finally opened on June 2.0 in August, several months later than expected. The cooking this first month was very good, but not entirely flawless Рtoo much vinegar in the head cheese; a disappointing vanilla cr̩meaux for dessert which was bland and runny. And hiring staff has remained a perennial challenge, as Todd currently only has one other cook working alongside him.

But for the Cusacks, who live in South Jersey, there is renewed energy in reopening their project closer to home in a bustling dining hub like Collingswood that continues to grow. Christina says they even filled their dining room with a visibly young date night demographic alongside their many previous regulars, a crowd of vastly older wine collectors who made old June a stop. regular on the BYOB route in Philly.

And Todd, who has been working on making that dream come true since he was 14, isn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves. This is literally the case every night after the last table service, once the dishwasher has come home, and it steps in to scrub the last sizzling plates, the leafy trays and restore shine to his well-used duck press. He’s back in the moss. But at least this dish pit that he can call his own.

690 Haddon Ave, Collingswood, 856-240-7041; junebyob.com

If you are going to: Dinner Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, 5 pm-9:30pm; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday brunch, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (the brunch service will launch on October 10).

Entries: $ 28 to $ 56. Duck à la presse three courses for two, $ 170 (must be pre-ordered at least one day in advance).

Accessible to wheelchairs.

Street parking and public parking only.

The Inquirer is not currently rating restaurants due to the pandemic.

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