All-American Eats in the East Village
American cuisine extends far beyond burgers, as restaurants in the East Village deliciously prove. Here you can indulge in the melting pot of flavors that make up a New American menu, sate your craving for Southern comfort food, explore the culinary delights of Hawaii, and yes, treat yourself to a old-school cheeseburger with fries.
87 Second Avenue (at East Fifth Street)
Is there anything as all-American as starting your meal with warm buttered soft pretzels? True, pretzels are commonly found on restaurant tables in Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic. (Travel tip: Do not make the mistake of assuming they are free.) But at Cooper’s they are served with stout-infused mustard and beer cheese dip. Another of the restaurant’s appetizers, beer-battered Wisconsin cheese curds, served with fried parsley and sriracha ranch dressing, is most definitely American in origin and spirit, as are beef sliders and chicken wings, just two of the starters designed to be shared. Entrees include an upscale interpretation of the classic duo of grilled cheese and tomato soup; here, the sandwich is made with cheddar, fontina, and Gouda cheeses along with tomato and bacon on sourdough bread and accompanied by a smoked-tomato bisque. The fried-chicken sandwich is served with buttermilk herb mayo; the burger and hand-cut fries come with a cornichon rémoulade. The “craft” in the restaurant’s name refers to craft beers, more than a dozen of which are on tap at any given time. Recently the Bronx’s own Gun Hill brewery was represented with several varieties, including the intriguingly named Peanut Butter Void of Light; tried-and-true Guinness is on tap as well. House cocktails include the Cooper Union (jalapeño-infused tequila and fresh lime juice, garnished with more jalapeño) and Cup of Joe (Ketel One vodka, Kahlua, and Joe Bean Cold Brew coffee).
96 Second Avenue (between East Fifth and East Sixth Streets)
You might have surmised from its name that the Mermaid Inn specializes in seafood, much of it caught or gathered locally and all of it responsibly sourced. Begin by choosing from a variety of oysters and other options from the raw bar. Complement your raw-bar picks with New England clam chowder, made with bacon and fingerling potatoes, or Maryland crab cakes, or Prince Edward Island mussels. Be sure to save room for your entree, though; You do not want to miss out on the lobster roll with fries served on a grilled brioche, the New Orleans-style barbecued shrimp with cauliflower grits, or the roasted Atlantic salmon with kabocha puree. (If you long for a land-based dish, opt for the New York strip steak with truffle-Parmesan fries and caramelized onions.) The Mermaid Inn eschews the old-fashioned “white wine for fish, red wine for meat” rule, with a reasonable selection of both, along with the likes of Coney Island Mermaid Pilsner on tap and Narragansett Lager.
25 Cooper Square
Located in the Standard hotel, Narcissa epitomizes New American cuisine, with its incorporation of fresh seasonal ingredients and unlikely flavor combinations from around the world. The crispy griddled chicken entree on the winter menu is a case in point: It is accompanied by hot grapes, chimichurri (more commonly paired with red meat), and fermented chili paste. Another example is cavatelli made of rye rather than wheat, served with oyster mushrooms, black truffle, and Parmesan. Even some of the seemingly straightforward starters offer surprises. Beets are roasted in coffee grounds and complemented with young ginger, Greek yogurt, and cumin crumble; a hibiscus mignonette accompanies East Coast oysters. Vegans will find plenty to chew on, including the house salad with apples, limequats (a hybrid of key lime and kumquat), and browned hazelnuts. Desserts are just as unorthodox. The mille-feuille for two is made with parsnip cream and topped with Mexican caramel sauce, burnt-parsnip powder, and black sea salt, while pickled cranberries and aged-Gouda ice cream complement the apple pie. The house cocktails offer additional variations on the theme, with options such as Ma Sherry! (sherry, rum, apricot, and lime) and the Pines (vodka, Douglas fir eau de vin, spiced syrup, chartreuse, and lime).
128 First Avenue (between East Seventh Street and St. Marks)
Noreetuh specializes in Hawaiian cuisine, but do not expect to see walls draped with leis or drinks served with tiny paper umbrellas. The decor is industrial chic: metal chairs and stools, wood tables and floor, gray walls. The food, however, is colorful enough to more than make up for the minimalist setting. Start with a selection of musubi, the Hawaiian version of Japanese omusubi; here, the Hawaiian standby spam musubi is given a kick with jalapeño. Other starters include grilled octopus with chickpea fritters, big-eye tuna poke with macadamia nuts and pickled jalapeños, and grilled Portuguese sausage (introduced to the islands by Portuguese immigrants in the 19th century) served with a puree of purple yams known as ube. The entrees integrate Hawaiian flavors into what might appear to be unlikely dishes. The tortellini, for instance, is served with clams, shrimp, and pork belly in a coconut broth; though accompanied by spätzle, the pork chop glimmers with a five-spice glaze and comes with pineapples and pickled mustard greens. Both the octopus-fried rice and the chef’s selection of pickles and house-made kimchi are must-have side dishes. End your meal on a sweet note with the pineapple upside-down cake, served with coconut and pineapple ice creams, for dessert.
54 East First Street (between First and Second Avenues)
A neighborhood favorite for nearly 20 years, Prune is stripped of pretension—no rarefied ingredients or fanciful presentations. The focus here is on flavorful ingredients impeccably prepared. The cream of chicken soup is garnished with crispy chicken skin, providing a satisfying textural contrast; grilled to perfection, the trout is served with a mirepoix salad of onions, carrots, and celery. Egg-lovers can start with a Parmesan omelet and finish with one made with Calvados. As delectable as its dinners are, Prune is perhaps best known for its weekend brunch, whose delights include grilled handmade lamb sausages with Wellfleet oysters and stewed tomatoes and a Dutch pancake cooked with pears.
200 East Third Street (between Avenues A and B)
Southern comfort food makes up the menu of Root & Bone. Though selections change seasonally, you can pretty much count on Grandma Daisy’s biscuits being among the starters; these are served with honey chicken juices for sopping up, because what is a biscuit without gravy? Other small dishes include cornmeal-battered fried oysters, “drunken” deviled eggs, and baked pimento cheese. Of course fried chicken is on the menu, brined in sweet tea; shrimp and grits are served with slow-cooked melted tomatoes, pickled onions, sweet corn, and a sauce made with bacon and beer. Dishes do not get more Southern or comforting than that. The Root Tartare, a medley of heirloom carrots, parsnips, and beets served with an herb-and-horseradish vinaigrette and grilled sourdough bread, will keep vegetable-lovers coming back, as will the collard greens, given zip with garlic, red chili flakes, and apple-cider vinegar. Key-lime and chocolate-pecan pies show up regularly on the dessert menu, and the Beekeeper cocktail, in which vodka infused with chamomile flowers keeps company with mead, habanero honey, and lemon, will warm you up on a cold winter’s night and refresh you on a sweltering summer afternoon.
55 Third Avenue (between East 10th and East 11th Streets)
Now a mini chain of four restaurants in Manhattan and two in Washington DC, the Smith began here, with its East Village location. From its wood-planked ceiling and banquettes to its black-and-white tiled floors and unpretentious tableware, it is an exemplar of an American bistro. This extends to its menu, which includes four types of steak with your choice of chimichurri, garlic-herb butter, or green peppercorn sauce. Other dinner entrees include chicken pot pie with a cheddar biscuit top, pork chops served with jalapeño cheddar grits and bacon-apple marmalade, and of course burgers. Topped with bacon-shallot marmalade, white cheddar, and crispy onions, the house burger is served on a potato buns with a side of fries; the Burger Supreme is made with pepper-crusted dry-aged short-rib meat topped with creamy raclette cheese, watercress, red onion, and green peppercorn sauce on a Gruyère bun, accompanied of course by fries. Lighter options are available: butternut squash bucatini with hen of the woods mushrooms and pumpkin-seed pesto; a butternut squad and goat cheese salad with apples, endive, spiced pepitas, and apple-cider vinaigrette; roasted tomato soup with melted cheddar. Desserts are suitably indulgent: The caramelized apple pie, for instance, is served with bourbon ice cream, and the hot fudge sundae includes flourless chocolate cake and almond bark. Along with a solid selection of whiskeys, beers, ciders, wines, and cocktails, the Smith offers several house-made sodas too, including Chai Egg Cream and Cucumber Ginger Beer.
647 East 11th Street (between Avenues B and C)
This cozy white-walled eatery is another American bistro, with a more tightly curated menu. “Small plates” include Prince Edward Island mussels with a curry, ginger, and white-wine sauce and meatballs made with Wagyu beef, chipotle, and mint. A grilled Wagyu filet is one of the “large plates”; others include pumpkin ravioli and the house burger, topped with Cabot cheddar and Vidalia onion marmalade. Along with an assortment of beers and wines, you can accompany your meal with a seasonal house cocktail, such as the Chai Old-Fashioned (rye with demerara sugar and chai bitters) or the Thyme’s Up (gin, cucumber, thyme, and green chartreuse).