Humans We Heart: Sohail Zandi & Sara Elbert, Founders of Brushland Eating House
Fall is prime time for exploring the cute little towns and scenic natural wonders of upstate New York. One of our favorite places to visit is Brushland Eating House in Bovina, a restaurant-slash-B&B serving up uncomplicated, delicious food and super-welcoming accommodations. We stopped by to chat with the owners, Sara and Sohail, about their unique menu philosophy, adjusting to life in the Catskills and more.
First things first, let’s start with introductions.
Sara: Hi there! I’m Sara, cofounder of Brushland Eating House.
Sohail: And I’m Sohail, the other cofounder of Brushland. We also happen to be married.
Before we dig in deeper, what are your go-tos?
Sara: Latte, always and forever
Sohail: Light and sweet (I'm from New Jersey)
and a vintage T-shirt or a mechanic's
Sohail: Canvas work pants, a white tee and Blundstones. Oh, and a hat. Always a hat.
Sara: Neil Young, After the Goldrush
Sohail: The Notorious B.I.G., Life After Death
Sohail: We are so aware of how different an answer this will be compared to people living in cities. Here in the Catskills, we spend a lot of our down time outdoors, taking the dogs on walks and looking for mushrooms. Our hangout is our backyard and all of the wilderness just beyond.
So what exactly is an eating house, and how did you decide to open one?
Sohail: Eating houses were some of the earliest incarnations of restaurants in our region, modeled after the dining cars found on trains. All-encompassing and unwavering in providing reliable service, they were the space between home and work that took on the job of gathering community.
Sara: Exactly. Our goal was to be an open door and warm space for all the people that live in and travel through Bovina. The concept of an eating house felt more like stopping over at someone's place for a bite than the pomp and circumstance that surrounds “going out to eat.” We love that so many of our guests feel like they’re in our home, that we’re hosting them in an intimate way, because that was the heart of our mission.
What’s your day-to-day like running things here?
Sohail: We wear all the hats, willingly. Our days vary a lot because of our mom-and-pop model—but I'm usually at our wine shop, Dixie’s, in the morning, working on a project out in the garden midday and then in the kitchen to prep for dinner service. If we’re open, we’re both here, which is a part of this lifestyle and business we love so much. We’re closed Mondays and Tuesdays, which is when we tackle our personal stuff (not excluding having a bottle of wine outside by the fire with a game of cards).
We’ve gotta talk about the food. What kind of menu can a visitor expect when they visit Brushland?
Sara: In a lot of ways, our menu reflects what's outside—the colors, the smells, the length of the days. Our goal is for the food to capture a season without being so literal like, it's August, we should be eating tomatoes.
Tell us about making the move from Brooklyn to Bovina. Think you’ll be upstaters for life?
Sohail: Leaving Brooklyn was about recalibrating. What a weird bubble to live in, especially in the service industry. Everyone in our world was seemingly aging backwards, which made it hard to see what the future held for us without stepping away from it all. We made a pit stop in Martha's Vineyard for a year where I made cheese, and that was the perfect vantage point to see what might be next. We weren't looking for something super specific when we moved to Bovina, but instead took some time to tour around upstate, feeling out the tiny towns, and ended up falling hard for an old building.
Sara: We’re lucky that kismet brought us here, where we could do all the things we couldn’t do in the city—buy an old farmhouse, spread out across some land, raise chickens and serve people delicious, unpretentious food. We’re both constantly excited by Bovina and feel we could be here for a long time, but we’re afraid of saying forever. It's romantic to think we stumbled upon and fell in love with this place for good, but we also go to Southeast Asia and say, when can we come back here and never leave?! Isn't that more fun than being certain?
And finally, since this is our Humans We Heart series—is there an inspiring person in each of your lives you’d like to shout-out?
Sara: My mom was the most inspirational person in my life, laying a really solid foundation for the way that I host, entertain, gather people around food and make a home here in the Catskills. She's no longer with us, but almost everything I do in this role as restaurant and hotel owner is because of her love for making beautiful, inviting spaces.
Sohail: OK, I'll double down on that. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in and around the kitchen with my mom, who is an amazing cook. Some of my fondest memories are spent with our family, in the kitchen, telling stories and eating great Persian meals. I look to her as a source of inspiration, support and strength, which has been so crucial as I make a kitchen and memories of my own.
Thanks for having us, Sara and Sohail. Meet more Humans We Heart right here.