By Jon Schuppe
MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — Last week, Michael Ennes got a call to his soup kitchen on Broadway that delivered the most unusual bit of news.
“Chef, we have some caviar for you,” the caller said.
Ennes replied, “Yeah, right.”
But it was true. City Harvest, the group that distributes food unused by New York restaurants, had received a 550-gram tin of Petrossian Paris malossol caviar, worth about $1,100, from an anonymous donor.
Unsure of what to do, they called Ennes, who has a reputation for serving high-end seven-course meals to down-on-their-luck New Yorkers at his soup kitchen, Broadway Community Inc.
When the delivery truck arrived, Ennes put the can in a locked refrigerator. It remained there until Tuesday, when his staff began preparing the next day’s meal.
And on Wednesday, the first course of Ennes’ lunch menu was an amuse bouche of cornmeal blinis, topped with a small spoonful of those precious dark eggs.
Visibly giddy, Ennes showed the can off in his “four star soup kitchen," cradling it in his arm like a football. Serving the caviar, he said, fit his ethos of providing quality, nutritious meals to people who typically don’t eat very well.
“This is a time of year that is very hard for people, especially people with low incomes, who are estranged from their families,” Ennes said.
“There’s a lot of conspicuous consumption all around, and this is an opportunity to empower people with a little touch of what the bankers and power brokers get to have.”
About 150 people showed up for the meal, most of them unaware of the treat, and many unsure what caviar was. They raised the blinis tentatively to the mouths and bit down slowly. They described a taste not unlike cream cheese, with a salty, fishy punch.
“That’s what it tasted like to me,” Felix Torres, 54, said, after signaling with a thumbs-up. “But then again, I don’t eat caviar very much.”
Jerome McCrimmon, 52, ate the caviar off the top of the cornmeal blinis, which he didn’t care for. “It tastes like… salmon,” he said. “It’s good.”
Broadway Community, housed in the Broadway Presybterian Church at 114th Street, serves meals three days a week to needy locals. The organization also offers a range of other services, from beds to “healing arts” programs.
The soup kitchen, run by Ennes and a staff of volunteers, gets about half of its food from local restaurants, catering halls and universities, and from City Harvest.
A former chef at gourmet restaurants who owned the short-lived Orfeo in the East Village, Ennes works his connections in the industry to stock his kitchen with fresh seasonal vegetables, high-grade meat and fish, and anything else that others aren’t using. Hardly any of what he serves comes out of cans, and all his sauces and soups come from homemade stock.
“He believes people in need deserve good food because if they lack good nutrition then they’re at risk of having high blood pressure and diabetes,” sous chef Maureen Fitzpatrick said.
Monday’s lunch was a fairly typical meal: lamb tagine, lentil soup, green bean casserole, mixed green salad, banana pudding, bread. Another recent menu included oven-roasted tilapia and butterscotch lemon parfait. In addition to the caviar blinis, Wednesday’s menu included London broil, Portobello mushrooms and julienne carrots.
“They’ll eat it. They always do,” Fitzpatrick said of the kitchen’s guests. “They never turn their noses up at anything.”
She and Ennes have been speculating on who donated the caviar. They’ll never find out for sure, but the two of them have narrowed it down to a few possible sources, which they won’t reveal.
They’re just glad City Harvest made the call.
“I’m pleased and glad they chose us,” Ennes said.