A city landmark and a slice of Old New York, Pete's Tavern has been serving food and draft beer uninterrupted since 1864. It does not take much to envision Pete's as it was a century and a half ago. The scarred, carved bar, the high-backed booths, tin ceiling and functional 1950's register are reminders that this was once the favorite haunt of writer O. Henry, a speakeasy, and a pre-Civil War "grocery & grog. " Walking through the rooms, one can also discover hundreds of photos of people from our past - James Cagney, Mickey Mantle, and celebrities of today, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, and Adam Sandler. To drink here is to drink half in the past and half in the present.
Considering the multitude of rave reviews that Hearth has received since it opened in 2003, we were pleasantly surprised at the unpretentious and warm greeting we received. Although reservations for the dining room are recommended, especially during peak times, some of the best seats in the house are first come, first served. Pull up a stool at the bar and sample one of the artisanal cocktails made with New York produced spirits, or walk straight through the softly lit, exposed brick and red-walled dining room to the open kitchen and grab one of the four chairs right at the counter where the food is being cooked. During our visit, one of the sous chefs was cutting apart ribs right in front of us. When we visited, we learned that the menu changes slightly each day, always highlighting the freshest ingredients and trying to be as environmentally conscious as possible. However, a few favorites have remained on the menu since they opened over nine years ago, including the Grilled Quail and the Beef and Ricotta Meatballs. Many of the dishes are meant for sharing, like the Whole Roasted Fish of the Day. In 2016, chef Marco Canora upgraded the menu to focus on fewer processed flours, sugars, and oils. There are also many more dishes featuring offal, such as heart and liver. The purpose of the shift is to highlight food that is high in nutrients and does not contain growth hormones. If the resulting cuisine is anything like what we tasted when we visited, diners are in for a treat. Hearth’s extensive and well thought out beverage program is also intriguing, with a wine list focusing on certain grape regions, plus off the beaten path beers. With such an inviting and comfortable dining room, an exciting and ever-changing menu, and an impressively curated beverage list, Hearth presents the total package for a perfect night of dining.
Enter through the looming stone archway and immense wooden doors and walk inside the Horseman, where the gloomy interior is an aesthetic rather than dreary. The exposed brick, recycled wood from new England barns, and flickering natural gas lamps conjure a communal vibe. In the dark warmth, one can almost imagine a massive stone fireplace roaring with pots of stew simmering over open flames, or moors lying in wait just on the other side of the smoked windows. This rustic, colonial gastropub is one of the latest additions to 15th street. When we asked the bartender why the pub was named after Ichabod Crane’s spooky pursuer, he gestured toward the door and asked us what street we were adjacent to: Irving Place - and local legend claims Washington Irving lived at 122 East 17th Street. His famed character’s namesake bar is anything but sinister. The rotating seasonal beers and atypical comfort food could warm anyone's bones.
Javelina opened in the middle of a snowstorm in 2015, and was suddenly inundated with over eighty customers. They are the ultimate restaurant success story, and Matt Post, the owner, says it is all thanks to the Texas network. While speaking to me at the bar of his seemingly always-full new space, he let me know that when Texans would get together before Javelina opened (“we always find each other, ” he said), the conversation would steer towards how there was no good Tex Mex food in the city. Despite the fact that there were many places in the 1980s, there has been a noticeable dearth in recent decades. Matt suspects the reason is that people overdosed on cheap, badly-done Tex-Mex. “Any place with a frozen margarita machine called themselves Tex-Mex, ” he explained. There was, however, one Mexican restaurant that Matt liked, called Los Dos Molinos in Gramercy, nearby his apartment. When that eatery closed in 2009, Tommy Lasagna took its place and Matt momentarily forgot about it. It was fate, therefore, when Matt started looking for a decently priced space in which to open his very first restaurant, and discovered that Los Dos Molinos’ old home was for rent. He embraced the good karma and opened Javelina. A lot of research and preparation went into Javelina. Matt found an excellent chef in Rich Caruso, who had fallen in love with Tex-Mex on a barbecue research trip to Austin. He grew up in South Brooklyn, however, and so he did not know what “queso” was. Matt informed me that queso is central to Tex-Mex, and the first thing a Texan would ask him when they heard of his plans for Javelina was “Will there be queso? ” Rich therefore spent five days tasting forty different kinds of queso before developing four varieties for Javelina. We tried his “Bob Armstrong” queso, made with guacamole, pico de gallo, ground beef, and sour cream. The north easterners who make up a part of the Manhattan Sideways team were delighted by the perfect balance of creamy cheese and zingy spices – we became immediate converts. The décor was also carefully thought out, as Matt brought in a designer from Austin in order to ensure that the ambience would be authentic, without too many of the kitschy southwestern aspects that Tex-Mex restaurants often have. There are, however, many fun quirks that Matt specifically requested. For example, he told me he that he had to fight to get the taxidermy hog behind the bar, and that he was responsible for the “True Tex-Mex” sign. The restaurant also had the clever idea to put pictures of Texans on the bathroom doors. When we visited, we saw the faces of Beyonce and Matthew McConaughey. “We spent so much time on the restaurant design, but people end up instagramming the bathrooms, ” Matt chuckled. Taking a seat at the bar, we met the bartender, Adam, who made us “the most contrasting colors on the menu: ” The extremely refreshing avocado and prickly pear margarita became an instant hit with us, and, as Matt proclaimed, with his regular customers as well. Matt brought out some San Antonio-style puffy tacos, which were deliciously crispy and piled high with guacamole. With a broad smile, he declared, “I have all regions of Texas represented, ” and pointed out the different dishes for each geographic area. When I asked Matt how his experience opening his first restaurant has been, he looked happily exhausted. “It’s been surreal so far. ” He has been thankful for word of mouth and the positive press: He has already heard stories of Californians bonding over visiting his restaurant while in New York and a friend backpacking in South America who met a fan of Javelina on the trail. Though he explained that Murphy’s Law is the governing rule of the restaurant business, he said, “It’s been really fun. ” He is pleased to have provided New Yorkers (and especially transplanted Texans) with a kind of cuisine that has been missing from the streets of Manhattan. As we were leaving, Matt said, “People keep thanking us for opening, which is bizarre…and wonderful. ”
Beneath the Spanish Benevolent Society lies La Nacional, one of Manhattan’s most authentic Spanish restaurants and the most easily accessible part of the society. Just by walking down the steps into the dimly lit basement lounge, we felt the bustle of 14th street quickly recede and we were transported across the ocean. La Nacional has the same relaxed, no frills atmosphere as most tapas bars in Spain. We gazed at the old photographs from the society’s earlier years on the walls and then had the option of sipping a drink at the bar, sampling some classic simple Spanish tapas such as tortilla de patatas, croquetas or chorizo, or dining on a full meal of paella. Perhaps the most authentic option, though, was to simply have a seat by the television to watch the fútbol game - it is always on. For visitors from Spain who want a taste of home, those of us pining for the Spanish travels of our past, or New Yorkers simply curious about a new culture, La Nacional is the place to go.