Eat This New York is the story of two best friends' struggle to open a restaurant in the food capital of the world. As Billy Phelps and John McCormick suffer through financial crisis, the loss of their chef, and a crumbling relationship, the filmmakers turn the camera on New York City's legendary restaurateurs who prove that dreams can come true. Billy and John's gamble to open a restaurant together takes shape on Division Street, a unique block in Brooklyn that separates the Satmar Jewish community of Williamsburg from the Latino neighborhood of the South Side. During the course of a year, they convert a former check-cashing shop located under the elevated train tracks of the J/M/Z subway lines into a retro speakeasy. But before the restaurant is fully built they come close to bankruptcy and almost call it quits on their friendship.
It will be impossible for you to walk past a shuttered restaurant and not feel a chill after seeing this documentary. The directors may not be great filmmakers — it's hard to tell based on the bare bones picture they shot here — but they know a great story, and more important, how to tell it. The movie will grip those fascinated by the restaurant business, and those who merely drift by the Food Network on the way to MoreMax or Speedvision on the cable dial. The directors demonstrate an eye for intriguing real-life drama. They get it from the film's subjects, John McCormick and Billy Phelps. The men are a pair of starry-eyed, eager would-be restaurateurs from Minnesota opening a new spot in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. As they discuss their thoughts for their slice-shaped eatery, they're like the young sisters in Jim Sheridan's "In America," their eyes gleaming with joy over a first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline. They plant their flag far from the madding crowd. "I have no food experience, no restaurant experience," Mr. Phelps admits, and then adds, "I don't know how many local customers we'll get there." The movie's subtle subtext is that restaurants are as big a reason for coming to New York as starting a band or writing a novel, only the dining path is far more treacherous. — Elvis Mitchell
2004-01-30 | Elvis Mitchell | Read the New York Times Review of Eat This New York