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Michael Ginsberg and his partner Michael Barrett opened El Original in April of 2015. Stemming from four years of success with The Tippler, the bar they opened on the ground floor of Chelsea Market four years ago, El Original was their next venture.
Originally coming to New York from Texas in 2000 to write and work in film, Ginsberg ended up being tossed into food by working in Chelsea Market to throw events and create festivals, working to keep it’s live spirit going. With an ever-loving passion for food and music, it was a goal for Ginsberg to apply the communal experience that existed in his work at Chelsea Market, to El Original.
About 15 to 16 years of Ginsberg’s career was spent working on the ground floor of Chelsea Market running events. About a year before El Original opened, Ginsberg’s partner found the space, realized it was open and that the previous owners were ready to sell the lease. The size of the space and destination factor of Hell’s Kitchen, coupled with the action around them and the diversity of the clientele made it a no-brainer.
Not only was the space in an incredible location surrounding them according to Ginsberg, but also a Texas sized experience in a warm and cozy atmosphere. Ginsberg says he’ll be forever trying to connect to the community and this is clear with the piano in the restaurant and the live shows, events, etc. that are hosted consistently in the location.
It’s Ginsberg’s “cook intuition” and hard work that has gotten him so far. He has worked with around 20 restaurants on their strategy and growth, and has always had a passion for food and beverage. Barrett, Ginsberg’s partner has run restaurants in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, the Hamptons and Europe.
Specifically with El Original, the idea was clear for Ginsberg. The idea of hanging out and talking over Tex Mex the communal factor of the food in general, made the idea of opening a place come to life. Ginsberg’s ideas struck a chord with Barrett as “gut feelings” about food have worked out in the past (i.e.: The Tippler, and now this one).
Ginsberg says that he didn’t want to overwhelm people with TEXAS! as soon as they walked into the restaurant. He wanted it to be an organic feel, just like the passion you’re meant to have for the food. One of the key décor items in the restaurant is the elements of old barn doors that are visible everywhere.
The barn door elements were collected from after a snowstorm had caused a barn to collapse. At first, the restaurant had red brick from the floor to the ceiling and ultimately that was changed with a little bit of white paint, barn doors, and Christmas lights. In addition, Ginsberg knocked down a few walls and took the bars out of the windows (half a blocks worth), which gave it a more “homey” feel. There are flowers and ivy in almost every window.
Ginsberg’s chili is award winning. It has won second place of 27 at a recent chili festival and most importantly, has won the hearts of El Original customers. He speaks passionately about the chili indicating that it can be multiple things: frito pie, on French fries, on nachos and more.
It’s a team effort when it comes to the menu at El Original. There’s a head chef who works diligently, but everyone works together when it comes to deciding what stays and what goes. Ginsberg describes Tex Mex overall as “Texas comfort food… we like to just call it food.”
Some of the specialty dishes include the guacamole, queso, chips and salsa, frito pie, crispy beef tacos and the beef/veggie fajitas. The menu is mostly Gluten Free by nature. Most menu items are served in the corn variety, unless you ask for flour (tortillas, chips, etc). Most menu items can also be made vegetarian upon asking.
The three quesos on the menu are most popular among diners: house chili, plain with pico and the “El-O” which includes beef, guacamole, black beans and a little spice.
Most ingredients are purchased local. Ginsberg says that if they cannot locate them nearby, they don’t really tend to keep or put them on the menu.
There are 170 seats inside the restaurant and 24 outside. It’s nostalgic food they serve at El Original, but with a comforting feel. Ginsberg says that Texas is so big and recipes differ from house to house, neighbor to neighbor, grandma to grandma. El Original aims to reflect that with a cozy feel, but enough room to also walk around.
Ginsberg says that some of his daily rituals include coming in and smelling the fajitas, as the aroma that goes through the restaurant reminds him of being in Texas. Not to mention tasting some of the margaritas to make sure that they stay fresh and up to date with constant additions of newly crafted combinations.
When it comes to drinks in general, there is almost always at least 10 beers on tap, most of them Mexican/from Texas. There is also a rotation of some local beers. Margaritas at El Original are an experience that you must have. Try either the fresh margarita base with limejuice and humidor tequila, or any one of their other specialty-crafted recipes.
Specialty margaritas include concoctions with ingredients such as blackberries, habanero/poblano puree, and grapefruit (not all in one drink).
The kitchen opens at 7 a.m., so be sure to try El Original’s breakfast menu including breakfast tacos and the famous 7lb breakfast taco that comes with rewards! What happens if you finish it in 30 minutes? You get a t-shirt, a picture on the wall of fame and a free drink.
El Original hosts a happy hour from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., which includes $5 tacos and $5 margaritas. When you think of Tuesdays, you normally think of tacos right? Well here, it’s Taco Mondays! There are always events happening at the restaurant, mostly on Thursdays and Saturdays. Ginsberg describes it as a great place to have jams and find community things going on.
Ultimately, Ginsberg is always trying to change up the menu and tweak it here and there. He wants to make sure that there are menu items that you cannot get anywhere else.