The day that Anderson Sant’anna De Lima and Jennifer Sant’anna Hill opened their Mediterranean-American restaurant, dubbed 508, in 2008 Lehman Brothers collapsed. Despite the odds, they continued on their quest to create a place that offered great food and wine in an approachable atmosphere.
Three years later it’s safe to say they’ve found success. “The food we started with was probably too upscale,” admits Hill. “We experimented and listened to our customers and we adjusted accordingly.”
And the West Village New York locale continues to evolve. The latest addition is beer brewed on-premise in the basement by De Lima.
“The beer theme is inherent in the place,” says De Lima. “The building used to be a brewery and bottling facility in the 1880s—United Bottling Co. Jen found a bottle searching for something else on EBay.” That bottle is proudly displayed as a conversation piece in the restaurant.
The story of the homemade brews began two years ago when Hill bought De Lima a home brewing kit for Christmas and he never stopped enjoying it. And he’s dedicated to creating great brews down to the littlest detail. When brewing, he’s there daily from 9 to 6 p.m. making sure everything is perfect. The day we visited the restaurant, they received a 1,500-pound pallet of grain, which De Lima unloaded himself.
“I do have one kid help me wash things,” he admits. “Ninety percent of the process is washing stuff. Dirty kettles will ruin your beer.”
In July 2011, they made the decision to serve only their beers and that’s when they changed the restaurant’s name to 508 Gastrobrewery. “We wanted the name to showcase that we didn’t serve your regular pub fare,” says De Lima.
The on-tap list rotates depending on the new brews with which De Lima is experimenting. Regular brews include the 508 Red Ale, 508 Strong Ale, 508 Belgian Strong Ale, 508 Dark Brown Ale and 508 Hefeweizen. For fall, he has a cider and an Abobora (pumpkin) and for the winter, he is planning to create a dopplebock, a weizenbbock, a winter ale and more. All are priced between $7 and $9. He also bottles some of his beer regularly and is planning to sell it by the growler.
The quaint location features an open layout with a medium-size bar with white lacquer stools and numerous tables for diners in the front. At the back, a 12-seat, steel, counter-level chef’s table for larger parties and a lounge area that seats seven completes the scene. One wall has exposed brick found often in New York bars, while the other features a trendy mural left by the former owners who ran a café.
The laid-back feel of the restaurant ensures everyone is comfortable. “We wanted to make people feel comfortable,” explains De Lima, adding, “We don’t really like the white table cloth look.”
The food, the creation of both De Lima and Hill, features small plates, homemade pastas and entries, much of which is made with locally grown produce. Most things are created in-house, including the pasta and sausage. “We make food that we like to eat,” says De Lima.
Keeping It Current
The menu changes more than seasonally—at times weekly. And the beer plays a starring role in some of the dishes, including the homemade wild boar smoked sausage (which is featured one of the couple’s fire-grilled flatbreads – $16), Crispy Beer-Battered Zucchini Planks ($10) and Short Rib Beer-Braised Chili ($19).
“Beer adds moisture and a malt character,” says De Lima. “Darker beers are good for braised meats—the tannins come out and add to the dish.”
In addition to beer, wine director Fred Hill, sommelier Brian LaBrasseur and mixologist Sarah Hartmant round out the bar offerings. 508 features some 100 plus wines (priced $39 to $285), many of which are from smaller producers and are what De Lima calls value wines. Spirits are also favored from small producers —including local Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey, Hudson Manhattan Rye and Kings County Distillery. The cocktail menu rotates regularly with signature cocktails and classic libations, including the Dark and Stormy ($12), made with Goslings Rum, lime juice and ginger beer, and the Skinnydipping ($13), made with Skyy Vodka, St. Germain, prosecco and lime and grapefruit juice.
So what’s next? “I’m thinking about opening a brewery in Brooklyn,” reveals De Lima. And if he had his dream, “I’d have a small vineyard in the back [yard] like they have in Italy.”