ASTORIA — The owner behind the Uncle Jack's Steakhouse chain says he's on his way to opening his newest outpost in Queens, a farm-to-table bar and grill with a speakeasy in the basement that patrons can only access with a password.
Willie Degel, who also hosts the Food Network show "Restaurant Stakeout," is renovating the former Square Hardware space at 36-16 Ditmars Blvd. and turning it into a new eatery called Uncle Jack's Meat House, with he hopes to open by this fall.
Though he originally expected to open months ago, he said the construction process has been held up by the "bureaucracy" in getting plans approved by the city. They're now expecting to open their doors in November, he said.
The Meat House will differ from the three existing Uncle Jack's Steakhouse locations — two in Manhattan and one in Bayside — because it will offer a more affordable menu to appeal to younger customers, with an emphasis on foods cooked from scratch.
"This is completely different. This is a whole new concept for me," said Degel, a Queens native. "It's Uncle Jack's, toned down. Younger, hipper, cooler and more like a grill."
The plans include turning the basement into a speakeasy-style bar that's accessible through a door in the bathroom that leads downstairs, where customers will then pass through another door fashioned to look like the outside of a meat locker, Degel said.
A password is required to enter, and the code will change each day, given out to the restaurant's regular customers and through social media.
Upstairs, Degel plans to add outdoor seating on the sidewalk, as well as a charcuterie station in the main dining room filled with dry-aged meats made in-house.
The restaurant will serve some of Degel's signature dishes from his other eateries, including the "Fred Flintstone" steak from his steakhouse menu — a 24-ounce rib chop — and the steak sandwich that Uncle Jack's serves at its concession stand at Madison Square Garden.
But the rest of the menu will feature new dishes, with appetizers like chicharrones, Spanish octopus and lobster tacos that will range from around $8 to $18 each, he said. There will also be burgers and sandwiches priced between $12 and $19 and entrees starting at about $20, he said.
The chef will be changing the menu "constantly" based around what's fresh, according to Degel.
"Everything's done based on the season and where the produce is coming from," he said. "All farm to table fresh food, everything made from scratch."
The Astoria site is one of two Uncle Jack's Meat House locations that Degel has planned — the second is expected to open soon in Atlanta, GA, he said.
"This has been a baby of mine. I've been working on this concept for two years, I can't wait to bring it to life," he said. "It's going to blow people's minds."