When chef Eric See was forced to close down his Bushwick café, the Awkward Scone, back in June, the borough was temporarily deprived of the New Mexican-style breakfast burritos that had become the spot’s calling card. Stuffed with hashbrowns, scrambled eggs, and green or red chiles shipped over from New Mexico, the burritos’ popularity surprised even See. Now, they’re finally back for good, flanked by an array of New Mexican dishes and treats at Ursula, See’s new Crown Heights space, which opened last Saturday.
Named for See’s grandmother, an 87-year-old former sheriff, Ursula is See’s space to freely highlight his New Mexican roots. At the Awkward Scone, See was only able to expand the concept of New Mexican food so much, he told Bklyner over the phone, and found himself constantly explaining why they served burritos at all in a place with the word ‘scone’ in the name. At the new spot, he said, “I get to really let the southwestern flavors sing without explanation.”
Prominent among those flavors is that of fresh green chile. Chiles, like those grown in the Hatch Valley in the southern part of New Mexico, are an essential part of life in See’s home state, he explained.
“In New Mexico during the season, it’s just like chile roasters on every single corner,” he said. “The smell permeates the city.”
See returned to his hometown in June after closing the café, intending to move back permanently. The closure felt like a huge defeat, even after a career filled with setbacks, he said. Hoping for a “hard reset,” as he described it, he rented a car, packed up his dog, and drove cross-country, stopping at campsites and avoiding major cities. After spending a week back home, however, See realized that things weren’t much different: everyone was going through the same recovery process.
“I was like, well, what am I going to do here?” he said. “I don’t have a job here either.”
Returning to Brooklyn, See felt a renewed sense of hope. “There’s this kind of new energized city here, people just getting through it together, figuring out how to make it work.”
Also encouraged by the response to a series of pop-ups he ran at Crown Heights restaurant Hunky Dory, and wanting to bring New Mexican food to a city that was so clearly hungry for it, See decided to move in a new direction. One of the city’s only southwestern restaurants, the Banty Rooster, had closed during the pandemic, and See had been kicking around the idea of doing a café devoted solely to New Mexican food. The response from friends was heartening.
“I was like, maybe this is what people want,” he said.
See decided not to pursue the new location of the Awkward Scone he’d planned to open in Clinton Hill, and to instead take over a storefront in Crown Heights that his friend Claire Sprouse, Hunky Dory’s owner, had originally planned on turning into a wine bar. See decided to name the space after his grandmother, he said, because her struggles reminded him of his own.
“She’s been through a lot. And she’s always found some way of persevering,” he said.
The décor at Ursula is proudly New Mexican, boasting a color scheme reminiscent of a desert sunset, as well as what See describes as “probably the biggest New Mexican flag in New York.” And, like the Awkward Scone, See also wanted Ursula to feel welcoming and inclusive to the queer community. In addition to hanging a rainbow flag in the front window, he hired predominantly queer staff.
“As I look out every day, there’s a very diverse crowd that comes in here, and that’s really exciting to me that everybody feels welcome here,” he said.
The new space offers a full menu of New Mexican-inspired food, and offers takeout and delivery as well as limited outdoor seating. The famous burritos are available only in the morning, and can be ordered with chorizo, bacon, or without meat, and come with scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, cheddar, and red or green chile. A vegan option subs in pinto beans. There’s also a breakfast sandwich, served on brioche.
At noon, Ursula’s kitchen turns its focus to sopapillas, pockets of fried dough, which here come stuffed with carne adovada, ground beef, or Spanish rice along with green or red chiles, pinto beans, and cheese. The treats are difficult to find in the city, said See, who only ever saw them as a dessert dish at the Bounty Rooster.
Also on the afternoon menu is a turkey BLT with green chile aioli and a vegan poblano relleno, which See describes as a kind of “modern Mexican approach” to the dish chile relleno, typically made of stuffed, fried chiles.
See, a seasoned pastry chef who worked under greats like Locanda Verde’s Karen DeMasco, also made sure to have a full pastry case. The blue corn scone, a favorite at the Awkward Scone, sits next to a gluten-free biscochito, a shortbread-like cookie flavored with anise and cinnamon popular in New Mexico, along with a pastelito, a kind of flaky pie that See’s aunt would bake in a tray. The one at Ursula has a filling of green chile, cheddar, and apples. And, because See offers donuts wherever he goes, he said, there’s one with a red chile-passionfruit glaze, as well as an apple cider donut.
The drink menu is more or less the same as the one at The Awkward Scone and is inspired by the culture of herbalism in New Mexico. A selection of tea lattes, made with steamed oat milk, includes ‘The Covenant’ – a nod to the smells of a Catholic church (See was a Catholic schoolboy), it contains rose, hibiscus, cinnamon, and Palo Santo. There’s also the ‘Horchata’ with rooibos, toasted rice, vanilla and cinnamon, and ‘Sakura,’ with matcha, cherry blossom, and vanilla bean.
Ursula is located at 724 Sterling Place in Crown Heights, on the corner of Bedford Avenue. They are open Wednesday to Thursday from 8am to 4pm, and Friday to Sunday from 9am to 7pm.