LOWER EAST SIDE — A trendy farm-to-table restaurant was shut down by the health department earlier this week after it found evidence of live vermin, “inadequate” personal cleanliness and other violations, records show.
"Black Tree was closed due to a public health hazard that could not be corrected at the time of the inspection. In this case, they had a severe pest infestation," a spokesman said in a statement.
In addition to evidence of live rats and mice, the agency cited the restaurant for inadequate personal cleanliness after an inspector spotted a worker without an “effective hair restraint” wearing an outer garment stained with a “possible contaminant,” records show.
Other critical violations included storing food at improper temperatures and the failure of a worker to use a utensil “to eliminate bare hand contact with food.”
The restaurant was closed Friday morning, with a handwritten sign on its half-open rolling gate.
“Closed for repair. Sorry for any inconvenience,” it said. A worker inside the restaurant declined to comment.
Black Tree co-owner and chef Sandy Dee Hall disputed the health department's findings and said he planned to appeal the inspection.
He said the only mice were in the basement and that the vermin issue was found in a section that the restaurant is not responsible for and does not use.
“It’s considered for some reason part of our area even though we don’t use it all," he said, adding that the walled-off space dedicated to the restaurant was clean and free of vermin.
Hall also disputed the department's citations about personal cleanliness. An inspector issued the violation after he found an employee with her hair tied up cutting meat for a dish behind the bar.
Hall said he expects to reopen Black Tree late Friday afternoon, although the health department could not immediately confirm that the restaurant was authorized to reopen.
Black Tree specializes in “Urban American Dishes,” made with ingredients sourced from local farmers markets, according to their website. The menu changes seasonally.
The Wall Street Journal called its food “incredibly fun and imaginative” when it profiled the eatery in 2013 and the Village Voice called it one of the “10 Best Restaurants in the Lower East Side” later that year. The restaurant was also featured in an episode of "Diner's, Drive-Ins and Dives" on the Food Network.
Hall, is also the owner of the lamb spotted dining outside a Greenpoint restaurant in March, according to the New York Post.