Embers: This Uruguayan-Style Asado at Bartlett House is Fire | Chronogram Magazine

Embers: This Uruguayan-Style Asado at Bartlett House is Fire

Like their Argentine cousins across La Plata river, Uruguayans are master grillers. In Las Pampas, where red wine practically flows like water and beef is king, the asado is a long, slow, sacred affair and a regular part of social life. “The whole concept is more about being together with family and friends around the fire than the food itself,” says Uruguayan-born chef Leo Ruiz. “You spend the whole afternoon or evening there, and at different times a piece of red meat or a veggie or provolone cheese will come off the grill. It will be in stages—just little dishes every time. It’s totally different than, ‘OK we’re going to be seated by the table by 6:30 and everything comes out.’”

Though radically changing American dining customs is a bit out of reach, Ruiz did set out to bring a taste of that tradition to the beloved Ghent cafe Bartlett House’s first seasonal, outdoor dining pop-up, Embers. The pop-up is so named for the style of cooking—big hunks of meat cooked low and slow over embers, as opposed to the Brazilian or American penchant for high-heat searing.

The path to Embers wasn’t a direct one for Ruiz, who, with his American wife, had previously run a seasonal craft beer bar in the beach city of Punta del Este. His previous career in law enforcement didn’t allow for the life of seasonal migration the couple wanted, so they switched to hospitality to be able to spend time with family in both hemispheres.

click to enlarge Embers: This Uruguayan-Style Asado at Bartlett House is Fire
Uruguayan-born chef Leo Ruiz runs the custom-designed grills at Bartlett House's summer pop-up, Embers.

In 2019, the couple bought a small farm in rural Columbia County, which they envisioned using as a potential wedding and event venue where Ruiz could offer Uruguayan-style grilling as a catering option. But for that he needed a grill. In Uruguay and Argentina, grills, or parrillas, have a separate brazier where wood or lump charcoal is burned to prepare embers that are then shoveled under the grill to moderate temperature. “That is where I started working with my blacksmith, Unlimited Metalwork, to design what I was looking for, looking at designs from [Francis] Mallman and others from here and there.”

Plancha, infiernillo, parrillero, asador, the dome—before he knew it he had a line of parrillas that spanned styles from griddle to broiler. “I was the first to use that style of grill here in the Hudson Valley,” Ruiz says. “I had a spoken agreement with an events company. I was going to be their guy coming with the parrillas.” Then COVID happened—and kept happening—as the grills sat idle.

In 2021, Ruiz got an offer to work as a line cook at the Maker Hospitality Group, which includes the namesake hotel in Hudson and the Bartlett House. Seeing as he had little more experience than a year at Gato Dumas culinary institute, he accepted. In the kitchen, Ruiz met the group’s executive chef, Michael Poiarkoff, who shared a love of wood-fire cooking. “He said to me, ‘I have this idea for Bartlett House—I would love to do a summer program with your grills and your cooking, to show our clients a different type of kitchen.”

The menu, designed by Poiarkoff with consultation from Ruiz, seeks to strike a balance between classic Uruguayan techniques and the American palate, taking into account sourcing limitations. “We wanted to work with local farmers as well,” Ruiz says. “That is a whole challenge to get what we need every week from one supplier compared to a distribution company.”

The latest menu at Embers includes ancho- and honey-barbecue tossed St. Louis ribs ($21), dry-rubbed wings served with salsa verde ($18), and charred mixed vegetables ($11). Perhaps most authentically Uruguayan, the shaved leg of lamb is served with house-made chimichurri ($22). Three variations of grilled flatbread pizzas take their leave of South America to offer flavor profiles like prosciutto, stracciatella, confit tomatoes, and pesto ($18); or eggplant, ricotta, Bartlett House hot honey, mint, and marigold ($17). Dishes are small, served tapas-style and meant to be shared. (Ruiz recommends ordering four plates for three people.)

The specials are where Ruiz gets to showcase a bit of South American flare. Recent offerings included choripan, a common street food with a grilled chorizo sausage served on a bun; asado banderita, short ribs; grilled fish; and a whole pig cooked in his dome grill. “It’s not fast food, but we take things off the grill really fast,” Ruiz says. “We have picnic tables and lawn games—it’s very casual.”

And of course, there is wine by the glass to go with your meal—a torrontes and a malbec, both from Argentina ($10 and $12 respectively), plus a rosé from Aix-en-Provence ($12). There’s also beer and cider by the can, and a range of mocktails.

Not one to sit around, Ruiz also recently entered his grills in a Cairo barbecue competition alongside his blacksmith, and they took home the first- and second-place prizes. He’s also cooking up his next hospitality project for Uruguay. “We wanted to turn our property into a venue. Suddenly all the things moved in a different direction. Suddenly I’m trying to sell grills and cook on grills,” Ruiz says. “You have to work around where the opportunities are. I don't have another career besides being a police officer. I'm trying to get into this world and not just be a cook making $20 an hour. That’s very decent, but I’m trying to scale.”

With an entrepreneurial streak like that, he’s not likely to stay in one place long, but every Saturday and Sunday, 12-8pm, through October, you can find him on the lawn at Bartlett House in Ghent running the grills.

Location Details

Bartlett House

2258 New York 66, Ghent