First: Don’t call it Eleven Madison Park. Will Guidara, co-owner of the restaurant group Make It Nice, which boasts, among its properties, the Number One Restaurant in the World Eleven Madison Park, wants you to know that. The name is now EMP Summer House, and if you haven’t already heard (though I’m willing to bet you have), EMP is occupying the space formerly occupied by Moby’s, picnic tables and all. A table in the dining room may be this season’s most coveted reservation.
If Eleven Madison Park is the anti-beach destination restaurant, EMP Summer House is its bizarro sibling, the “not Eleven Madison Park.” But how does a restaurant known for its cheeky nod to New York City culinary tradition—for its hours-long tasting menu—dress down for the Hamptons? For one, it ships its loyal, talented staff from the Flatiron straight to East Hampton. The reinvention of EMP—a one-summer-only affair designed to keep staff employed while the restaurant undergoes a major renovation—is a flirtatious, casual take on fine dining. “We needed to find a way to keep people gainfully employed,” Guidara told me. “We’re nothing without them.”
And so, the idea for a restaurant was born, rooted in the closing of Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park, the space for which Guidara and chef-partner Daniel Humm recently signed a 20-year lease. Demo one restaurant, build another, and keep staff employed in the meantime. Guidara’s loyalty to his staff is impressive. The restaurant is closed on Wednesdays, in order to lessen the burden on his Hamptons family. It’s a little insight into how Guidara, the 37-year-old restaurant whiz kid, has accomplished so much in the past decade. He and Chef Humm have made a business of the restaurant adage “make it nice,” which refers to embracing perfection in service.
If diners are expecting fine linen, fine china, and a finely honed tasting menu, that’s not what EMP Summer House is serving up. Instead, Chef Daniel Humm has created lunch, dinner, and bar menus showcasing local seafood (while still retaining some of that cheekiness that Eleven Madison Park offers when, say, they prepare a chocolate egg cream tableside—see: The black truffle-adorned Humm Dog, served exclusively in the outdoor picnic table area). “The more time we spent working on this the more we realized that the experience out here that we wanted was different than the one we have in the city,” Guidara said. “This is definitely us with our hair down.” EMP Summer House sees your citified poached lobster and raises you a brown-butter lobster roll, served on a picnic bench. It’s still Eleven Madison Park, just a more relaxed version, preparing the kind of food you want to eat when you’re on vacation in the kind of place where you want to eat it.
Indeed, Guidara and Humm have found a way to harness the spirit that is the Hamptons, with an abundance of fun, smart options that make dining less labor, more love. “What better way to reinvest in New York than to do as New Yorkers do as the summer?” Guidara wanted to know, and he seems to have good insight into what New Yorkers like to do and eat. The restaurant serves a lobster boil, which can be reserved in advance, where servers dump the spoils—crustaceans, bivalves, potatoes, sausage, and corn—onto a “tablecloth” of brown butcher paper. The team is also now selling reservable picnic baskets, filled with cold fried chicken, cucumber salad, German potato salad, biscuits, and aioli. The beach-ready basket, which can be picked up between 11 and 12 on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, is an actual basket, filled with glass jars of food, a foodie dream I imagine Ina Garten has had on more than one occasion.
Produce, fish, and honey are, in keeping with the Hamptons ethos, local. EMP counts among its vendors Bhumi Farms, Balsam Farms, Amber Waves Farms, Quail Hill Farms, Bonac Bees, K & B Seafood, and Gosman’s. Artwork is local, too; the restaurant displays the work of local artists Bastienne Schmidt, Philippe Cheng, and others.
I wanted to know if EMP Summer House would be back, in coming years. Could we expect more pretty picnic baskets and butcher paper-covered tables? Guidara was resolute. “It’s meant to be a moment in time,” he told me. “The thing that made this possible was that we had our entire team with us.” But! What if I can’t get a table right here, right now? Sunny days, it turns out, are the safest bet for walk-ins, who can enjoy the patio or the restaurant’s sun-friendly front space when the rain’s at bay. And so, dear readers, as with all summers, this summer is ephemeral. Let your hair down and catch your brown-butter lobster roll, your Humm dog, your clam flatbread, your warm Parker House rolls… now, before the season’s gone.