If there is one word to describe Indian Road Café (218th and Indian Road), it is character. Indian Road Café simply and quietly exudes outsized portions of character, charm, and charisma. Even though it has only been around for 3 years this summer, it already has the feel and the makings of a neighborhood institution. When you walk through the doors of this multi-function establishment, you instantly feel at home. The IRC is warm, cozy and comfortable. It is as it slogan states “the last cafe on the only road”.
The Indian Road Café’s proximity and complimentary relationship with the majestic Inwood Hill Park is one of the things that make this place so special. In many ways, Indian Road Café is to Inwood Hill Park what the grand and stately New Leaf Café is to Fort Tryon Park. It was after one of the Urban Park Rangers sponsored hikes of the park that I first encountered this amazing eatery. I had a superb Cuban sandwich, which is saying a lot in neighborhood where above average Cuban Sandwiches are ubiquitous, and an incredible Russian Imperial stout suggested by the friendly and knowledge bartender Steffan. After that exquisite meal I knew I would be back. On my many forays to the Indian Road Café, I have never had a bad meal.
Indian Road Café is many things to many people – it is, get ready, a family restaurant with a serious organic, seasonal and localvore bent, a wine bar, an ale house, a coffee bar and a community gathering and performance space. Not to mention, that Indian Road Café also serves as a remote office for a huge continent of Uptown’s creative community. The Uptown Collective sat down with Indian Road Café’s owner and proprietor, Jason Minter, to talk about this Uptown gem.
Q. How long have you lived Uptown?
A. I have lived Uptown since I moved in to my girlfriend’s family’s house on 173rd Street between Audobon and Amsterdam in 1992.
Q. What are some of the things that make Uptown special?
A. Its incredible and beautiful geography of flat and hilly land, forested and grassy, with various bodies of water throughout. Some of Inwood is as rural as the mid-Hudson Valley and some of Inwood is as urban and gritty as any city on this planet.
The great (and increasing diversity) of its people. The recent influx of artists has been wonderful to witness–just look at The Uptown Collective!
The incredible history of the neighborhood, from the great Woolly Mammoths that populated the area to its abundant Native American villages, to Hudson’s landing, the American Revolution and onward.
Q. What did you do before owning the IRC?
A. I was a Location Manager (running on-location sets) for 20 years in film and television. For a number of years on the Fox show “New York Undercover” (and various movies) and then on The Sopranos for 10 years, first as a Location Manager, then David Chase’s (the Creator and executive Producer) assistant, and then finally an Associate Producer for the last 4 seasons.
Q. What inspired you to open your own establishment?
A. I had always thought that Inwood needed something like IRC. Years ago, The Chanting House on 207th street filled that niche, but it closed rather quickly. I had been obsessed with the culinary world for a long while, I had been obsessed with the corner of 218th street and Indian Road for a long while as well. I thought that the bodega there was pretty much a waste of a potentially beautiful space. It was in disrepair and not well kept. Also, I had a friend that wanted to try something different in business who wanted to partner up, and new I could raise some money as well. Finally, I knew that my job on The Sopranos was coming to a close, so I was at a career crossroads.
Q. The IRC has quickly become an Uptown institution, what was your vision of it going in?
A. I wanted to open a place that was half restaurant and half community center. A place where there was always something happening. And a place where one could find things that were no where else nearby–craft beer, great small production wine, ethically sourced coffee, local veggies, etc. Finally, I wanted to give people the option of have an inexpensive meal, or something higher-end, on the same menu.
Q. Owning and running a business, especially a restaurant, can be such a grind. What keeps you going?
A. First, the neighborhood has been so very supportive in so many ways. My wife and I have met many great friends from running the cafe. We also have a great professional, responsible and diverse staff (almost all local) who genuinely care about IRC and Inwood, and as a result we have very, very little turnover. This is uncommon for the restaurant business and something to be proud of.
Finally, we all love being creative here whether that be creating new events, menu items, or cocktails. We are continuously evolving to suit our neighborhoods and customers needs.
Q. Any last words?
A. Just a big thank you to Inwood and its people for making Indian Road Cafe what it is.