A quarter century ago, the perfect ingredients came together to create Superfine, the queer- and woman-owned restaurant and live music venue located in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood under the Manhattan Bridge.
A mainstay in the neighborhood, Superfine’s owners and friends Tanya Rynd, Cara Lee Sparry, and Laura Taylor are proud of what they’ve created and maintained for 25 years. Superfine has made many “things to do” lists and received many accolades since it officially opened in 1998.
“We’ve been active in this neighborhood first as artists, always as residents, and then as a very impactful business,” Rynd told Gay City News over lunch cooked up by Taylor.
Sparry, who is originally from Texas, moved into a warehouse in Dumbo in 1989. She was an industrial design student at the Pratt Institute. Rynd and Taylor moved from Santa Fe into the same warehouse in 1995, where they met Sparry. Rynd, an oil painter, is originally from California. Taylor, a chef, is originally from Ohio.
All three women were attracted to Dumbo because of the space the buildings offered that enabled them to create their artwork. The flat Rynd and Taylor moved into had a full kitchen setup and a garland stove, perfect for Taylor. They loved the neighborhood, but at the same time, there was a lack of nightlife in Dumbo in the 1990s. The friends had to walk a long distance to go out for a drink — and that’s when they got the idea to launch Superfine.
I sipped Dyke Beer’s Tall Girl while we snacked on addictive string fries and talked about how Superfine came into being while we waited for our buffet of heirloom tomato and goat’s milk robiola caprese, grilled calamari, and pan-seared local Bluefin tuna. We topped off our meal with key lime pie.
Each bite was refreshing and full of flavor. The juicy heirloom tomatoes were perfectly ripe with the earthy creaminess of the goat’s milk robiola. The calamari was perfectly cooked and tender, dripping with olive oil and lemon juice. I could taste the freshness of the Bluefin tuna flawlessly seared. After a trip to Florida, and having my fill of key lime pie, I have to say the best pie I ate was at Superfine.
Taylor changes the Mediterranean menu daily depending on the season’s offerings from the land and the sea and the core dishes. The only time she flies something in from somewhere else is the weekly shipment of green chilies from Albuquerque, New Mexico for the Bluegrass Green Chili Brunch. Superfine is one of the only places in New York that has an authentic Southwestern brunch, on Sundays. Taylor uses the chilies to make the sauce she puts on the burritos, quesadillas, and tacos.
Not being able to experience the brunch due to other plans, Taylor’s exemplary mastery in the kitchen is worth planning for a return trip to Superfine.
A “Superfine” plan
The pioneering restaurant, Superfine, was the first of its kind in Dumbo back in 1998, when Rynd, Sparry, and Taylor made the restaurant official.
Superfine started first as the original pop-up dinner party, “Superfine Supper Clubs,” in Rynd and Taylor’s loft in the mid-90s. The dinner parties spread like wildfire through word of mouth about a decade before the rise of social media and when cell phones were just starting to emerge. Superfine quickly outgrew the team’s home before it moved into its current home in a former vacuum-cleaner-and-car-parts warehouse completely redesigned by Sparry and Rynd. Taylor’s domain, naturally, was the kitchen.
The mission from the beginning was to create a place that met the definition of superfine, meaning “refined taste or texture,” to give a “versatile experience,” Rynd said.
“We never want it to just be a restaurant,” she continued. “We also wanted to have a very strong emphasis on visual arts and live art…”
Rynd played up Superfine’s versatility, noting that patrons can have an “amazing visual art experience” on the restaurant’s 30-foot-long wall or listen to a live band playing. The space has a sunken bar, wrap-around dining area, and game space.
Rynd spoke excitedly about Superfine’s rotating art shows and music roster. For 18 years, the venue hosted live music weekly. Rynd recently added Jazz every second and the fourth Wednesday of the month. This year marks the ninth annual Brooklyn Americana Music Festival produced, curated, and directed by their friend Jan Bell every September.
The women’s second goal was to create an inviting space for all types of people to enjoy.
“You can be as fabulous as you are whatever your background,” and “feel comfortable going up and meeting another person,” Rynd said.
Lastly, the team wanted to bring the farm-to-table concept to Dumbo. The slow food movement started in the San Francisco Bay Area hadn’t hit New York City yet. Taylor brought her version of affordable, good, and fresh food to Dumbo and maintained that despite being in “now one of the fanciest neighborhoods in New York City.”
The plan worked. Each owner has a role: Rynd produces the art and bands, Sparry reigns over the bar and DJs, and Taylor cooks. The friends have remained clear on their mission to create a creative community space filled with good food for everyone.
Reassessing Superfine’s purpose during the pandemic, Rynd said, “It became more and more clear to me that we were more valuable right now in this city than we’ve ever been.”