Jeremy Spector, both the owner and chef, came out to greet us early one afternoon. He is a remarkable gentleman with a warm personality and an impressive knowledge of the area. It was nice to chat and to witness his enthusiasm for the East Village. The menu appears to grow when one is looking for beer selections or wine choices and even sangria. One of us had a dish called “three herb chicken,” and there were several salads and great vegetarian side dishes to appease the rest of us.
The Brindle Room has been featured on Guy Fieri’s Food Network show and has subsequently enjoyed a massive uptick in business since its early opening months. The Brindle Room is surrounded by tea shops on what is locally known as the “healthiest block in the city,” and it is doing its part to uphold the superlative - about 70 percent of the menu items include kale in some form. For those who prefer something less green, the restaurant is also known for its fabulous doughnuts.
We stumbled upon Maiden Lane on a quiet, foggy afternoon in mid-June. The weather was fitting: this is a bar and restaurant that takes its name, design, and menu from the concept of the port city and the long-past days when men sailed and fished the high seas. Niles, the owner, explained to me that “Maiden Lane” was a common street name in port cities of old. The wives and daughters of sailors and fishermen lived on these streets – cooking, doing their washing, and waiting for the return of their husbands, fathers, and sons. Indeed, the entire restaurant revolves around this seafaring theme. It is predominantly a beer and wine bar, serving everything from Narragansett to more specialized craft beer, as well as a variety of wines, and a few cocktails. The food menu focuses on seafood, especially cured and smoked items from the local farmers’ market. It’s not a full menu, but the offerings pair nicely with the different beverages and can be used as upscale bar food or a small meal. The restaurant itself is tiny, folded into a small, square space at the corner of 10th Street and Avenue B. Its simple interior is further evocative of the port-city theme: brick walls, wooden tables, large side windows, and even a stone slab for a bar. The place feels spare, but lovely, and is doubtless appealing to its hip East Village neighbors.
Ask those who are determined to travel all the way east why coming here is worth the trek and they will tout the tasty cocktails, the delectable food, the live music and the warm, relaxed atmosphere. This of course is true, but we think what makes The Wayland worth the trip is its character, beginning with the old piano in the corner, the farm table seating and the bar bursting with wildflowers in glass bottle vases. The bar's attraction is in the details, apparent with the fresh kale garnish in their Garden Variety Margarita and the egg whites and cumin in their Cumin My Cocktail. After the drinks, we went on to savor the scrumptious hot nuts that were rubbed with peppers and rosemary, the Brussels sprouts that came raw, shaved, and mixed with green apples and spiced walnuts, and an entree of pulled chicken. Needless to say, our time at The Wayland was quite pleasurable.
The ice cream at Alphabet Scoop is refreshing in more ways than one: Managed by Robbie Vedral, Alphabet Scoop is an extension of Father’s Heart Ministry, which has been focused on empowering the neighborhood youth in the Lower East Side since 2005. Robbie, for his part, has always believed that if you take care of your employees, your employees will take care of you—in this case, those employees just so happen to be high schoolers from the East Village. Under the wishes of his parents, who are still pastors of the church next door, Robbie has taken it upon himself to hold Alphabet Scoop to an uncompromising standard, always ensuring that things are done right. From a background of 25 years in retail, Robbie has found that he can learn from anyone’s mistakes - including his own. He has, in this vein, adjusted the shop’s schedule to keep it open all year; previously it was just a summer stop, but Robbie found that being a seasonal location made it more difficult for customers to anticipate when Alphabet Scoop would be in business. So, now, rather than seasonal hours, Alphabet Scoop boasts seasonal flavors. Pistachio flavor, a summer 2019 special, comes highly recommended by the Manhattan Sideways team. Alphabet Scoop is also constantly experimenting with new flavors suggested to them by customers, so if you’ve been saving up that million-dollar ice cream flavor idea, Alphabet Scoop might just be the place to make it a reality. The “sweet n’ salty” flavor is proof of the potential here, as it was suggested by one of the shop’s younger customers. While the spritely New Yorkers that work in the shop are paid for their work, Alphabet Scoop is also a non-profit. The mission, transparently, is as stated on the walls: “Justice & Sprinkles for all. ” The kids, typically between the ages of 14 and 16, learn all aspects of the business, from hands on skills such as making ice cream to managerial skills like taking inventory. The goal of Alphabet Scoop is to encourage maximum involvement from its employees, so they are invited to help make decisions about the business. Robbie told us a story of a young woman, for example, who has worked in the shop for close to two years, and who was initially quite difficult to work with - but with patience and persistence from Robbie and other employees, the young woman grew to better understand the mission of Alphabet Scoop, and now even has keys to the shop. Robbie’s work at Alphabet Scoop shows the importance of creating strong foundations for young people, as well as how truly influential small businesses can be in their communities. Stop by the shop - any time of year - to help Robbie make his impact.
Au Za’atar is an Arabian-French bistro at the edge of Alphabet City that serves everything from Mediterranean cheeses to couscous to mezze, a variety of small plates meant to accompany drinks — which can be paired with Au Za’atar’s extensive wine and craft beer offerings. The chef is Lebanese, but there are plenty of recipes originating from Morocco and Tunisia as well. The restaurant’s interior is simple and inviting, with brick walls, rich wooden tables, and red leather booths, making it a great place to sample some exotic dishes or just grab a drink at the bar.
It was a humble entrance that guided me into Gnocco, a space with tables barren of cloths, waiters devoid of ties, and the owner leaning against a wall in a casual tee-shirt and jeans. Upon closer look, I noticed framed photographs of the East Village in the 1980s taken by Michael Sean Edwards, fresh, savory pizza being tossed and fired in the room next door, and a backyard dining area where greenery intermingles with twinkling lights. When Modena native Gian Luca Giovanetti first opened Gnocco with Pierluigi Palazzo in 2000, customers did not understand why veal parmigiana, spaghetti and meatballs, and fettucine alfredo were not on the menu. “We are Italian, ” Gian explained (in his wonderful accent), “and those dishes are not from where I’m from. ” Modena lies in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy where the cuisine differs from the southern Italian food most Americans are used to. Having already run a successful restaurant back home, Gian knew how to make good food, and would not compromise his menu. “I told them to just sit down, and if you don’t like it, you’re not gonna pay. ” They paid. Part of the reason for Gnocco’s sustained success are the niche that it fills. For the neighborhood, the restaurant bridges a gap between refined dining and fast food - it is an eatery “for every pocket. ” And for Gian, the restaurant brings him closer to his childhood and family. The gnocco, filled and fried pockets of dough, was a dish his grandmother would prepare, and it was his mother who recruited a team of four other ladies to perform “quality control” during the restaurant’s early beginnings. Even his son, who spends the school year in Italy, takes to the kitchen when he visits Manhattan in the summertime. While Gnocco may be Gian’s only current endeavor, he has had a hand in quite a few other places in the East Village. Perbacco was an Italian wine bar that was given two stars by the New York Times, Caffe Emilia offered casual Romagna food, like Italian clubs, to the neighborhood, and Café Pick Me Up, probably the most devastating closure, after twenty years and a rent surge, has lived on through Gnocco’s extended menu and hours.