Shallow Digging in the Dining Underworld

April’s edition of Bon Appetit, in addition to discovering small-batch bourbons, designer sporks, and, uh, beets, pulls the lid off of the “secrets of underground dining.”

The legitimately intriguing phenomenon of restaurant-like meals being served off the grid has deep cultural, culinary, ethnic and economic implications. Bon Appetit chooses to explore it in a 300-word “hot trend” box that pegs it to web-based dining clubs for yuppies.

But the aspects of underground restaurants not addressed by the filler text are far more interesting than what the magazine’s surface skimming provides.

For example: the economics of underground restaurants. Can you get rich doing this? Have any legitimate restaurants arisen from off-the-books eateries? What are the fines (or jail time?) involved if you’re caught? In a city such as New York, for example, how many off-the-books eateries get busted in an average year?

Ethnic influence comes to mind, too. Many underground restaurants specialize in food native to a particular far-away country (or province, or city) and grow organically out of an extended family of immigrants. That’s pretty cool, right? Even if there’s no website involved?

And what about the health hazards? How worried should you be about navigating this quasi-legal world?

And what if you, in defiance of the authorities, want to jump into the underground dining scene as a host? What do you need in order to get started?

But rather than tackling any of these points, Bon Appetit saved its editorial firepower for an 8-page spread on a dinner party… where even the kids are invited!

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