On the spot: John Mooney, Bell, Book & Candle

Published on
August 29, 2010

Serving sustainable seafood and produce is the philosophy of the owners of a unique restaurant opening in Greenwich Village in early September. Bell, Book & Candle, named after the classic 1958 film that was set in the restaurant’s neighborhood, stands apart from any other restaurant because of its unique produce and herb growing system. The roof of Bell, Book & Candle sports 60 hydroponic tower gardens that produce more than 70 varieties of herbs, vegetables and fruits. The rooftop garden, designed by Future Growing, is also used by commercial nurseries and buildings, as well as homeowners, who want to grow produce without chemicals and with limited space.

John Mooney, co-owner of Bell, Book & Candle, recently talked to SeafoodSource about the seafood and produce that will be featured at the new eatery.

Blank: Describe the atmosphere and food offerings at Bell, Book & Candle.
Mooney: It is contemporary American food, with reasonable prices and casual service. I have traveled all over and found that people still perceive American food as hot dogs and hamburgers. I want to do contemporary American with regional influences.

We have a very nice wine list and all fresh, responsibly-sourced ingredients. We have around 70 seats in the restaurant and a full-service bar. We have a lot of transient people coming in from New Jersey, Westchester [County, N.Y.] and other areas, from young professionals to seniors. We try not to exceed USD 30 on average for dinner entrees, and our wine is around USD 7 to USD 14 to per glass. The starter section of the menu will be larger than normal, so we can offer more of a variety at a lesser price point.

What’s your seafood sourcing philosophy?
I like sourcing fish from sustainable sources. I went to Iceland last year and they have a marine dynamic farm where they produce Arctic char that is a model for fish farming. I use only sustainable fish and ideally seafood that comes from less than 500 miles away. From the East Coast and Chesapeake Bay, I can get great oysters, clams and lobster.

What seafood species will you feature on the menu?
I use Laughing Bird shrimp along with Kona kampachi and other fish from Honolulu Fish Co. Yellowtail snapper is a very diverse fish for raw and cooked applications. I do a lot of raw applications, including some ceviches. I love shellfish, including softshell crabs from the East Coast. I change the menu daily, and I will serve oysters, clams, sea urchin and different types of crab. Florida stone crabs are definitely great. The way to control costs is to buy when the season is open.

How did Bell, Book & Candle’s rooftop garden come about?
When I worked in India, we had a 120-acre organic farm. When we got a house in Florida with a lot of land, we thought we would try to be as self-sufficient as we could. We didn’t realize Florida soil wasn’t conducive to growing. We heard about the Future Growing hydroponic technology and started to test it. And we used the produce and herbs in our restaurant in Florida.

We now have 60 hydroponic towers on the rooftop of our restaurant, where we are growing six varieties of heirloom tomatoes, heirloom melons, red okra, purple tomatillos, strawberries and really good varieties of mint, cilantro and sage. I like exotic ingredients, but I also just like good quality seasonal varieties. We want people to have an interesting experience and know those ingredients are cared for. We have the rooftop garden and seafood that is always fresh, never frozen.

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