Farm to City: How Polo Dobkin's Meadowsweet Channels the Countryside and the Mediterranean
When Polo Dobkin and his wife, Stephanie Lempert, opened their restaurant Meadowsweet (149 Broadway, Brooklyn, 718-384-0673) in South Williamsburg earlier this year, it was something of a homecoming: Dobkin had helped open the Dressler in the same address in 2006, building on a small Williamsburg fiefdom that also included Dumont and Dumont Burger. Those were good years -- he worked with the group for a decade, and he and Stephanie met when they both worked at Dumont. Making their first foray into ownership at a place that held personal significance provided a nice, fairy tale-like twist to their journey.
Dobkin grew up in New York City, and both his paternal grandparents and his parents were avid cooks. His mother was part Spanish, and so she'd take her family to Barcelona and Southern Spain in the summer, exposing them to "incredible seafood that was simply prepared," Dobkin says. The other half of her lineage was Austrian, which meant similar pilgrimages to that country, where the young cook gained some understanding of Eastern European technique and fare.
Still, Dobkin didn't begin cooking professionally until he was well into his 20s; after jumping around from job to job, he began helping out at the Institute of Culinary Education (then called Peter Kump's New York Cooking School) so he could take free classes. When he'd ramped up to spending three or four nights a week in the kitchen there, he decided it was time to try working in a restaurant.
His first job was at La Lunchonette, a Chelsea restaurant his parents frequented, where, he says, he was first exposed to the workings of a French kitchen. Dobkin soon moved down to The Screening Room, an American restaurant in Tribeca, owned by Mark Spangenthal, and his experience there convinced him he was passionate enough about the career path to go to culinary school.
After graduating from the French Culinary Institute, Dobkin followed Spangenthal to his next restaurant, The Dining Room, and then landed at Gramercy Tavern, where he worked with Tom Colicchio. A short stint in catering followed, though Dobkin quickly realized he preferred restaurants. In 2002, he got a call from Cal Elliott, who asked him to come help run Dumont. He's been in Williamsburg ever since.