In the race among Manhattan restaurants to attract customers, simplicity is sometimes lost. But not so in the Mason Jar, a restaurant and bar that keeps it old school with good vibes and great tastes. The southern, barbecue-heavy menu and extensive list of craft beers and bourbons speak for themselves, complete with suggested pairings. Each month, a new craft beer is featured in an effort to support small breweries. If these beers attract a following, they are added to the full-time roster.
While visiting with some Sideways members, I had a lively conversation with chef about the different styles of barbecue - our North Carolinian team member swears by vinegar sauce and appreciated Mason Jar’s variety. The food is fresh and not overdone, but at the same time the Chef “puts love into it.” The high quality meat is treated seriously - specialty ribs are coated with a dry rub, smoked using apple and hickory wood, braised, and mopped with a tomato-based Kansas City-style sauce. Then grilled. The brisket and boneless pork butts are given no less attention.
Replete with wood, American Flags, and comfortable seating, Mason Jar also achieves a homey feel to match its Southern style. Many of the University of South Carolina alumni in Manhattan choose this spot as the venue to catch the Cocks football games, and Villanova basketball fans flock here for their games, as well. With the hearty food, good beers, and down-home feel, it is easy to understand why. To put it plainly and simply, Mason Jar was a good find.
Amid a sea of skyscrapers, this old townhouse has been made into a bar in three parts. The bottom floor sits amid darkly polished wood, sporting large TVs with the night’s games turned on. Above, a room of unfinished reclaimed wood from Pennsylvania sets a more rustic, rugged tone. And upstairs on the third floor, voila! A long-tabled, compact biergarten nestles between towering edifices to either side, creates a chasm in which to drink beer and be merry all year round. Opened in 2012, this bar is now playing a part in the transformation of the midtown area towards a more "hospitable atmosphere. " As manager, Cara, told us, "With so many hotels in the district, we draw from a "super dynamic" crowd of people. " In addition to the vast selection of beer, there is an excellent cocktail menu that changes by the season to stay up-to-date and fresh, and the American-style eats follow suit. A tale of three different worlds in one, it is a great place to come for a drink and to mingle.
Jam aficionados across the country will instantly recognize the award-winning glass jars lining the walls of Sarabeth Levine's eponymous restaurant. These scrumptious jars are filled with a variety of fruits – peach apricot and mixed berries are two favorites. Jared, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, grew up eating in their UES restaurant and told me that there has always been a jar of jam in his fridge since he was in grade school. I, too, remember coming here since Sarabeth’s first opened some twenty years ago. They were serving brunch long before brunch was a weekend habit for so many New Yorkers. No matter what the time of day is for me, whenever I eat at one of their restaurants, my go-to is the consistently delicious velvety cream of tomato soup - hands down, one of the best in the city. Today, there are Sarabeth's spread throughout Manhattan, each one in an elegant space, offering a more refined, though unfussy, dining experience.
When I mentioned to my friend that I was up to 33rd Street, she reacted immediately, "You know that this is the street that Wolfgang's is on, don't you? " I loved the description that she and her husband shared with me. "It is an old world man-cave that has incredible charm and certainly appeals to the serious eater. " Situated in the former historic Vanderbilt Hotel with magnificently tiled low vaulted ceilings, my husband I agree that this is a splendid restaurant to dine. Wolfgang Zwiener spent some forty years digesting the world of steak by working in the iconic restaurant, Peter Luger's. Think of it this way, Wolfgang received a veritable master's degree in meats in Brooklyn, and now has earned his doctorate in his own restaurant, where he has written a top-notch thesis. When others might have chosen to slow down a bit or even to retire, he began opening his own restaurants. Over the years, I have been to the three in Manhattan, with the 33rd Street flagship location being the one where we have chosen to celebrate many special occasions. As noted, it is a favorite of friends of ours, and when I asked them to speak to me further about Wolfgang's, the immediate response was, "Personally, of all the steak houses in New York, this is the one to go to. " They went on to describe the menu as not only having excellent steaks, but they also always look forward to ordering seafood, and then brace themselves as the kitchen presents them with a seafood platter appetizer that is "utterly outrageous. " There are jumbo shrimp (my number one oxymoron) and lobster with huge pieces to devour, and thrown in for good measure, some oysters and clams. "Even if you leave the steak out of the equation, it makes for an incredible meal. " But, who can leave the steak out? According to my husband, a man who is passionate about his steak, Wolfgang gets it right every time whether he decides on a filet or a porterhouse. And I, of course, am all about the side dishes and salads, which I think are excellent.
I have dropped by Wine 30 on a numerous occasions and it has always been perfectly pleasant for a glass of wine, some scrumptious food and a nice conversation. Once a very tiny space, the restaurant has been cleverly expanded backward to include a heated, glass-enclosed garden. For nights when grabbing a beer at the local pub does not appeal, this great find offers refuge.
Having grown up in Manhattan, Jeffrey Lefcourt knew the area well. Having been around restaurants since his summers as a busboy in high school, he also knew the industry well. Therefore, when he decided to open The Smith in 2007, a venture preceded by his founding of the restaurant Jane in 2001, he knew what he wanted. “It had to be accessible with high-quality food, ” Jeff reasoned. Nine years later he was onto his fourth location, this time in Nomad, on Broadway with an entrance on a side street. When I visited on a casual Wednesday afternoon in the summer of 2016, just months after its opening, the three-hundred-seat restaurant was nearly at capacity. “It’s really become an amenity for the neighborhood, ” Jeff explained, comparing the timelessness of his establishments to a favorite pair of blue jeans. He later showed me that the new location was already the eighth most-booked New York City restaurant on Open Table. Numbers one and two? The Smith - Lincoln Center and The Smith - Midtown. The Nomad crowd was embracing a comfortable and classic ambience set by the wooden-slabbed ceiling, black-and-white mosaic patterned floor, and sunlight pouring through the wide-opened doors, accented to peak brightness by custom light fixtures. There is a massive bar shelving one of the largest alcohol collections I have seen, with another one intimately situated in a private room reserved for special festivities. Downstairs, there is a photo booth awaiting guests wanting to document their experience with friends or family. In the kitchen, the fires burned high, tantalizing scents fumed, and the large staff was motivated by a booming voice that reverberated orders as they came through. “Fish sandwich at the bar with French fries, ” said the man behind the voice as the cooks kept to their rhythm, each invested in the plates that would soon walk out the door. “It takes a lot of people, ” Jeff smiled. Nearly everything on the menu is made from scratch, and the French fries alone require hours and hours of peeling, cutting and frying to have them just right. Admittedly Jeff’s favorite item on the menu, this crispy side accompanies the Burger Royale, a double patty burger so beloved in Nomad that it was introduced to all locations. The facial expression of our photographer, Tom, once he took his first bite said it all. The vegetarian Vegetable Bibimbap, the vibrant Seared Tuna Salad, and The Royale, an illustrious triple-tiered raw bar platter, each stand on their own. Plated on a bed of charred corn with summer greens, the Mahi Mahi offers refreshing seasonality in the summertime, and the spoonable, skillet roasted Mac and Cheese starter garners the most circulation on Instagram. A standout from the bar was the Moscow Mule on tap. The successes of The Smith restaurants lie not only in their inviting environments, complimentary purified water, drinks on tap, or comforting cuisine sourced from local farmers and fishermen, but also in their commitment to authentic service. “The Smith is a maker. We are making experiences, ” Jeff reinforced, “…It is all about giving people what they are looking for and connecting with them. ” When guests were upset that the winter salad did not make it onto the springtime menu, a slightly tweaked seasonal version was added. The adjustment became so popular that Jeff was afraid to take it off the menu. It is exactly that adaptability that enables the affable owner to perform his favorite part of the job each day - “making people smile. ”
Hailing from a family of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu royalty, Renzo Gracie is not a good man with whom to make trouble. He is, however, a good man to train with, carrying several blackbelts and fight records, including bouts against past world champions. In 1995, while still an active (young) fighter, Gracie moved to New York and opened Renzo Gracie in midtown Manhattan, a few blocks north of its current location. Since then, the gym has moved south, added Muay Thai to its training acumen (as well as comprehensive MMA and boxing programs), and seen more than one world champion come to train.
Arriving from South Africa, Albertus Swanepoel attended the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York, which led him to an apprenticeship and ultimately his own glove-making business. The appeal of gloves, however, was “incredibly limited, ” as most people wear them only seasonally. So, renaissance man that he is, Albertus switched gears and slid seamlessly into the world of hats. Now he is firmly entrenched in his new niche, and has been producing haute couture headwear since the 1990s. Grounding his practice in old-fashioned millinery traditions, but using techniques from multiple fashion disciplines, he is able to approach hats creatively and expertly. This is a must for a bold garment that can fall flat if not done stylishly. “I try to make things that people wear everyday and look cool but not nostalgic, ” Swanepoel explained. And New Yorkers are wearing his high-end hats across the city. Albertus has a very optimistic take on his environment: “I think that’s the great thing about Manhattan. There are so many people living here that you can almost do anything and people will want it. ”
“We wanted to be that diamond in the rough, ” explained Ashley, the co-owner of Blank Slate. When Ashley and Zach, spouses and co-owners, were searching for a location for their restaurant, they wanted to find a neighborhood with a large crowd but not a lot of quality spots to eat. Blank Slate is successfully that hidden gem located in NoMad, one of Manhattan’s up and coming neighborhoods. Blank Slate attracts a crowd full of young, creative professionals who are quickly changing the area. Ashley and Zach established Blank Slate, which opened in November of 2015, in an effort to create the first coffee-shop-restaurant hybrid in New York City. Ashley explains that they were tired of going to places that provided quality coffee but low quality food. She wanted a place that offered superb grab-n-go coffee as well as more formal dining where friends could meet for a long meal. Ashley and Zach’s vision has been realized. Blank Slate serves killer coffee as well as an impressive assortment of salads, sandwiches and even gourmet desserts. Their coffee is proudly served from farm to cup in close to 20 days. They have a sign at the cash register indicating the green date and roast date of the coffee being served that day. My intern, Emily, hesitantly tried their brussels sprout Caesar salad and only had positive things to say about it, even though she usually does not enjoy Brussels sprouts. Blank Slate also has a small but wonderfully curated market located inside the restaurant, which offers primarily locally sourced products such as cookie dough, yoghurts, pickles and a host of beverages. In addition to serving excellent coffee and food, Blank Slate has a fun, creative atmosphere. Ashley and Zach chose Blank Slate’s name because they wanted to convey the idea that people can make or create everything here. While customers wait in line for coffee, for example, there are etch-a-sketches on which to play. They even have Instagram competitions that reward one talented etch-a-sketcher with a free meal. Ashley hopes that Blank Slate can be a space for people to create. She explained that the etch-a-sketch sends a message: the “possibility of everything. "