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$20 Dinner

Decadent Smorgasburg Favorite Duck Season Opens in NYU Territory

It's the first brick-and-mortar location for chef Josh Applebaum and his gravy-soaked duck confit fries.

Fries topped with poutine and duck confit from Duck Season in New York City.
(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)|

Season Poutine: Duck fat fries with duck confit, cheese curds, and duck gravy, $18. (Hell Gate)

Sometimes, you want something light and refreshing, like a salad. Nothing wrong with that. I love a good salad. Other times, though? Maybe late at night, or after a long day of getting high in Washington Square Park? You need a mountain of duck fat fries, smothered in duck gravy, with globs of cheese curds melting throughout and tons of rich duck confit piled on top. For the former...I don't know, go to a Chop’t or whatever. For the latter, and for other deeply satisfying fare like sloppy burgers and funky wings, the absolute move is the new Duck Season, which chef Josh Applebaum opened in August just off of East 8th Street in the neighborhood that can perhaps best be described as "NYU." 

Smorgasburg fans may already know Applebaum; Duck Season has been a staple at the popular weekly food market since 2015, and these days he (and his duck) can be found at all three Smorg locations: Fridays at the World Trade Center, Saturday in Williamsburg, Sunday in Prospect Park. 

Outside of Duck Season. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

"I grew up working in my dad's delis in New Jersey, straight through grad school," Applebaum told Hell Gate. "I have a masters in public policy, did an office job for several years, and got fed up with it. The company got consolidated, bought out so many just hit a wall at a certain point."  

In 2014, Applebaum began his escape plan with what he called a "side hustle gig" at Smorg favorite Bon Chovie, the late, great, rock-n-roll fried anchovy booth. After scoping out the scene, he launched Duck Season the following year. "My grandmother's roast duck was always the pièce de résistance at any Rosh Hashanah table," he said. "But when I was in college, I studied in France and discovered duck confit. It was like, oh, you don't have to do the whole duck. You can just do the leg."  

Duck wings in a sticky, spicy fish sauce, $18 for four. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

That first season Duck Season started as a legs-only affair, but Applebaum quickly realized the restaurant was stacking up on duck fat, fast. "Ducks just generate a tremendous amount of fat, and we had to do something with it all—it's the best cooking fat, bar none, you'll ever encounter in your entire life," he said. "That's how we got the duck fat fries, and that really made Duck Season take off."

Rightly so. Applebaum's fries are awesome examples of that earthy, mostly soft (there's a bit of crunch to some), hand-cut category, which hold up well when given the poutine treatment: duck gravy, cheese curds, plus duck bacon or shredded duck confit if you choose. Ketchup might seem beside the point when faced with this beast, but I found that it brings a nice little hit of acid to the party. 

Duck fat cheeseburger with duck bacon and duck fat fries, $20. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The burgers are monsters as well, whether you get just a straight up cheeseburger (grilled in duck fat, naturally) or add slabs of that duck bacon, or duck confit, on top. Do you need a side of fries with these? Not necessarily—it's a large, rich sandwich to be sure—but also, hell yeah you do. 

Soon, chef Applebaum will serve duck breast like this, likely with fries. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Applebaum also offers his duck wings on most days as a special, the bird confited and smoked and covered in a sticky, spicy lime fish sauce. These are great, as is the fancy duck breast in a fresh blackberry sauce that he sneak-previewed for me, and which he hopes to add to the Duck Season menu in the fall. He also promises "snazzier signage" soon. Seating, though, will remain just the eight or so stools looking out onto Mercer Street, and he will continue to share the space with a bubble tea outfit called Tora Tea.

The new Duck Season shares its Mercer Street space with Tora Tea. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

"Our ethos has always been to make as much as we can from scratch," said Applebaum. "We still hand cut all of our own french fries, we're still rendering all of our own duck fat, and we work with one single farm upstate, La Belle Farm, who supplies all of our ducks. So people who are choosing between us and a chain restaurant, know that here you're supporting New York farmers exclusively."

Duck Season is located at 289 Mercer Street, between East 8th Street and Waverly Place, and is currently open on Tuesday through Thursday from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., on Friday and Saturday from 4:00 p.m. to midnight, and on Sunday from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

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