Dateline: New York, January 2017
I stepped inside Beetle House Restaurant and Bar on the lower eastside of Manhattan and was transported into the world of Tim Burton.
From the outside you’d never know that such creepy cocktails and delicious food was within. But much of New York is like that. Simple storefronts that do not tell the story of what’s inside.
The room was dark and candle-lit by stunning chandeliers and purple twinkle lights, all of Burton’s classic songs crooned in the background and we were met by a deliciously scary Sweeney Todd at the door. The Demon Barber in the creepy flesh.
As I waited to talk with the adorable, yet deliciously dark, manager, Jeannie Bocchicchio, Sweeney Todd approached a male guest who wore black smudged eyeliner, a black top hat and long devilishly handsome black velvet tail jacket.
“You waiting for another guest?” Sweeney asked suspiciously.
“Yes,” Mr. Tophat answered.
“Would you like me to give her a little fright?” he enunciated every syllable with wide eyes.
“Yes please,” Mr. Tophat said, with relish.
“What time will your guest be arriving?” Sweeney purred.
“Splendid,” Sweeney’s eyes narrowed in anticipation.
Then Sweeney Todd slinked toward the front door to await his victim.
Beetle House often has costumed characters mingle with the restaurant patrons. Characters in the past have included Edward Scissorhand, Joker, Mrs. Lovitt, Beetlejuice and tonight…Sweeney Todd.
I looked over the blood-speckled menu, amusingly titled, “To Die For.” And the drink menu, “To Live For.”
I love it. Items like Cheshire Mac and Cheese, Mad Shrimp and Sweeney Beef were a few of the options.
While I waited, I asked the inked-and-adorable bartender, Ella, to make me a “Fish Bowl” and a “Beetle Juice,” their two most popular drinks. The Fish Bowl is delivered to my table. It is exactly that; a large fish bowl drink for two.
It is made with Vodka, Rum, sweet and sour, pineapple juice, and Sprite. Blue Curacao Liqueur makes the entire drink a turquoise color. As a finishing touch, Nerds candy and red Swedish fish candies swim inside around in the bowl. Delightful!
Jeannie Boccicchio, the restaurant manager, took a few minutes to chat with me. She plops down in the chair opposite of me and I asked her what’s the best thing on the menu.
“The Cheshire Mac and Cheese is amazing. It’s made with seven cheeses, garlic and sea salt bread crumb,” she said. “What makes it different from other mac and cheese is the sweet stewed tomatoes.”
“I’ll try one of those!” I tell her.
The moment the Mac & Cheese touched my tongue I was transported back to my childhood. Cold afternoons of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. The stewed tomatoes on top, mixed in with the salty and sweet bread crumbs was a perfect bite of my childhood.
The Mac and Cheese was so good, I decided right there to bring my 13-year old daughter to NYC just for this dish. Her favorite food. (Yes, it is good to be Trouble’s daughter!)
“I will definitely be back,” I told her.
“We also have an amazing steak, but we aren’t a steakhouse,” Jeannie said.
Jeannie is a huge fan of Tim Burton. She not only was the creative force behind the menu, she was the primary mixologist for their Burton-inspired cocktails.
“I tried to use all of Tim Burton’s movies on the menus,” she says with a twinkle in her eye.
It was very evident Tim Burton movies was a passion of hers. Surrounded by Tim Burton movie posters, art and bizarre oddities like the dead bug collection on the wall, she was in her element. “Like a dark-soul little girl on Christmas morning,” I thought.
“I feel more comfortable with my darker side,” she explains, as if reading my thoughts.
Jeannie comes across very bubbly and fun. She doesn’t seem dark to the casual observer. So her statement of faith in things dark makes me ask, “What in your life has made you embrace darkness?”
“Yes I’m quirky and even a little bubbly, but the darker side of life is something that I gravitate to,” she says. Then she smiles, “It feels good to be dark.”
“BOO!” from the front door. Then a curdling scream. Sweeney scares Mr. Tophat’s friend as she arrived at the front door.
I laugh at the well-executed plan and notice that Mr. Tophat’s guest is dressed in a dark and sexy costume.
“You see people dressed in costume on the sidewalks of our neighborhood and you know they are coming here for dinner,” Jeannie tells me. “I like that about this place.”
Jeannie’s emotional investment in the restaurant is obvious. Burton is a passion of hers and she has made this dark lair her home.
“What’s your darkest moment?” I probed. I do not mind prying in interviews.
“I have OCD and anxiety,” she answers with refreshing openness. “Some of those moments are my darkest and scariest.”
“People find comfort in the dark things,” I told her. “It makes them feel more normal.”
“Exactly,” she said. “And there is an entire community of people like me.”
“I feel better with the darker things,” she continued. “It provides me with security and normalcy.”
Jeannie laughed suddenly. “Well there’s my therapy session for the day!”
I was quite taken with the yin-yang little firecracker restaurant manager who had learned to embrace her dark as well as her light. For without dark there can be no light. And bubbly and fun Jeannie had made herself quite at home in the dark and demented den of Burton, called Beetle House.
While this little hole in the wall doesn’t look like much, reservations are booked out months in advance. So hurry up and join the crowds who relish the dark and zany Burton. Come dressed in your favorite costume, or just as you are, and enjoy a deliciously dark evening.
And order the Sweeney Beef, I dare you. And if you are truly daring, imagine that you are enjoying the flesh of a priest. “For they don’t commit sins of the flesh, so their meat is quite fresh.”