Two Boys–and Dinner at Northern Spy Food Co.– a Restaurant that Doubles as a Market
Stephen was having a hard time trusting me in making the decision about where we would go to eat this week after taking him to Candle Café, a delicious, but 100% vegan eatery on the Upper East Side. The name Northern Spy might have thrown us both off a bit at first, but we chose the hybrid market/restaurant on 12th street after I proved to Stephen that they did in fact serve meat, namely pork meatballs.
We would be meeting Max, a CIA grad who studied under Gordon Ramsey for two-years, and is currently working at Eleven Madison Park—the Flat-Iron restaurant lead by James Beard Foundation award-winning chef David Humm’s vision of creating sophisticated modern take on market-driven French cuisine.
The sun had mostly gone down by the time we showed up, and Northern Spy was extremely busy. The front of the buildings composition of narrow windows and a wood-framed glass door was charming, and gave us, as well as any passersby a clear peek into the restaurants warm, simple interior.
Max had already obtained a beer (four beers are served on tap for $6 a pint), and once he joined us we were immediately seated by the windows, along the handcrafted blue-hued benches. Stephen and I went for the two Long Island bottled beers available, Blue Point Toasted Lager, and the Southampton Double White ($5 each).
Our waitress quickly went through a long list of specials all featuring local harvests. The rest of the menu also featured only produce that was in season and could be bought at local farms and markets, as well as local farm-raised chicken, and pork. For appetizers the menu featured three varieties of salad, as well as one listed in the specials. Max chose the House-made Head Cheese ($12) for us to start with, made with pastured pork, and served with pickled vegetable salad, Dijon mustard, and crostini. The appetizer came out quickly, but it took a few minutes to get a set of bread plates for sharing. The head cheese itself was tasty, but the crostini was a bit too toasty and thinly sliced to eat easily.
For entrees Stephen and I both decided on the simple Chicken and Egg Sandwich, a delicious combination of crispy chicken thigh, poached egg, and chimichurri on a soft, squishy, artisan roll. Accompanied by fresh greens in light lemony vinaigrette for ($12) the sandwich was perhaps a better choice for lunch, but overall very good. The chicken was moist with a perfectly browned seasoned skin intact, the egg was not so runny that it made it difficult to pick up and eat, and the chimichurri provided great flavor.
Max chose the Pork, which is prepared differently daily. Today it was crispy pork belly served over a bed of arugala with red-potatoes. He enjoyed the dish, but felt it could be a bit crispier, and a little saltier.
We spoke at length about how each of us felt about a restaurant who’s primary selling point is that it uses exclusively local food and produce, and it was clear that Max wasn’t sold. But he did agree that what made Northern Spy Food Co. unique and worth trying was the market behind the bar. Shelves are lined with treats from New York purveyors, some used in the dishes at breakfast, lunch and dinner. McClure’s Pickles can be purchased there, as well as Early Bird Granola, and many other items (Wild Hive Polenta, North Fork Potato Chips, Liddabits Dark Chocolate Sea-Salt Caramels, Katchkie Farms Tomato Jam, and many more.)
While we disagreed about some things, Max has an incredible knowledge of food, and it made for an interesting dinner. One thing I certainly came away with from with two food-loving boys is you really cannot forget about the old saying “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Talking about duck fat, and braised meat seemed to get both the guys doe-eyed and salivating, so girls take note.
Just six months after opening, it seems as though Northern Spy has begun to establish itself, at least in certain circles of diners. I was impressed with the simple yet delicious combinations of seasonal ingredients and look forward to trying it again in July once more produce becomes available. The fare is not overly creative, or pretentious in any way, and very reasonably priced (the most expensive meal is the Roasted Bobo Chicken at $18). Overall, I would recommend it to anyone interested in eating locally, healthfully, or are looking to find some amazing food products from the area for yourself or as a great gift.
Check out the entire current menu here.
Also, stay tuned for updates on Stephen’s Blog Eternally Hungry starting up this summer.