There is a unique atmosphere of un-presumptuous masculinity, with comfortable, modern seating, warmly lit globes, and pictures of horses and cows on 1st Street’s latest restaurant addition. When Olivia, from the Manhattan Sideways team, announced that it looked like “Madmen meets the ranch,” Josh Capon, owner and chef of Bowery Meat Company, raised his eyebrows in humorous consideration. Within only months of first opening towards the end of 2014, Josh already had diners tell him that they had returned eight times. This is exactly what he loves to hear, since one of his primary goals is to create an “eatable and approachable” place in the East Village. He went on to say that he is pleased to be on a side street, as being off the beaten path translates to more locals and, hopefully, regulars.
Josh and his partner, John McDonald, opened the Bowery Meat Company to be a “meat-centric” restaurant with an emphasis on sourcing and seasonality. As Josh explained, “Seasons are nature’s way of saying what we should eat and when we should eat it.” They get a lot of their meat from Diamond Creek Ranch, which is producing “some of the best meat in the country,” according to Josh. The feedback he has received from customers has generally been very positive. “People are freaking out over our broiled oysters,” he said, as he placed a plate of the breaded, garlicky delicacies in front of the Manhattan Sideways team, surrounding us with their tantalizing smell.
When Josh returned to the kitchen, one of the managers, Lindsey, brought us a plate of fried Arancinis. These scrumptious rice balls are placed on the table at the start of every meal. Lindsey picked up where Josh left off telling us that even though the restaurant stresses meat, they can easily feed vegetarians and vegans. For instance, the standard arancinis are oxtail, but they also have basil pesto versions. “We are very mindful of our guests’ preferences,” she said. Next up, we were introduced to the pastry chef, Katie McAllister, who is in charge of the masterfully created desserts, such as the S’mores Sundae and “Brookies,” which are “what would happen if a brownie and a cookie had a baby.” Lindsey told us that thanks to Katie, the kitchen smells like toasted marshmallow each and every morning.
Every aspect of the restaurant appears to click into place to generate a relaxed, comfortable, modern dining experience. Josh’s final words to us were, as he stepped back into the kitchen, “I’m very proud of this restaurant.” As well he should be.
Blue Ribbon was off to a terrific start when I visited the first weekend after it opened in 2013. There was good music and a lively crowd enjoying the offerings in this brightly lit space with large picture windows. The manager stopped by our table and remarked that the “young cool people” frequenting Blue Ribbon seemed to have perpetual smiles on their faces as they indulged themselves at the tables furnished with an array of honeys (mustard, wildflower, and chipotle) and habanero hot sauces. Whether people are munching on the menu staple of crisp-skinned moist chicken breast or the “chicken on the edge” choice of Beak to Butt (crispy necks and backs with hot sauce and pickled peppers), the chicken is cooked to perfection. Any chicken dish paired with a side of potato wedges dusted with chilli powder certainly makes for an excellent quick meal – and all of this can be washed down with a beer. The restaurant is a venture of the Bromberg brothers who have been exciting New Yorkers with their excellent food since 1992. This is their first “fast food” endeavor, and it appears to already be flying high.
Vicki Freeman and Mark Meyer are an accomplished couple in the New York restaurant business. They are the creators behind Cookshop, Hundred Acres, and the latest addition to the family, Rosie’s. Their story as restaurateurs goes back to 1993, when Freeman opened her first restaurant, VIX Café, in SoHo. She hired Meyer as her head chef, and as they say, the rest is history. Vic’s opened in 2014 in the space that used to house Five Points, another restaurant by Freeman and Meyer. While the owners emphasized that Five Points was not struggling, they felt it was time for a change. Opening Vic’s allowed Freeman and Meyer to bring their restaurant group full circle, its name a nod to those early beginnings with VIX Café in 1993. When I visited Vic’s, I was struck by the bright, open décor. Sitting in the back dining area, with natural light spilling in from the skylight overhead, I was allowed my favorite view - that of the kitchen. Chatting with general manager, Hely, I learned that Freeman and Meyer used to live in an apartment just upstairs, and that their son works for the restaurant group. In addition to speaking with Hely, I also had the pleasure of spending some time with Hillary Sterling - the head chef of Vic’s. “Hillary’s food is the easiest thing in the world to sell, ” said Hely, and then Chef Sterling went on to elaborate about her inspiration for the restaurant’s culinary concept and menu. “It’s all about history and honoring tradition, ” she told me. She prepares the restaurant’s traditional Italian and Mediterranean cuisine using food sourced from American farms, and admits that it is a challenge to create authentic flavors with local ingredients - It is a challenge, however, that she proudly declared that she has met with the exceptions being seven imported ingredients: 00 flour (for their famous Borsa), capers, anchovies, pecorino, calabrian chilies, and balsamic vinegar. As Hillary presented a few of her favorite dishes, she went on to say that traditional Italian and Mediterranean cuisine requires “a lot of herbs and acid, ” adding that it is all about achieving the perfect balance and appreciating the ingredients themselves. The heirloom carrots, served with dill, capers, and roasted shallots, were tangy and bright, with a complexity of flavor. As she set the "cheeseless" anchovy pizza with tomato, spring garlic, oregano, and fresh orange zest, Hillary told me that making good pizza dough is just as demanding as making homemade pasta, but it is clear that she has mastered it. The crust was perfect – thin, but bubbling up around the edges, and ever so slightly charred. Finally, I tasted the famous Borsa, the homemade pasta served al dente, with a lemon ricotta filling. The soft and creamy center of these amazing "little purses" with hazelnuts sprinkled on top is definitely the signature dish at Vic's. Chef Sterling said that the Borsa and the bathrooms are the most instagrammed things in the restaurant, and joked that her food has to "compete with the lavatories. " The facilities are whimsical and fun with pink flamingoes decorating the room for the ladies, while the men's room is wallpapered in zebras. In my mind, however, there is no competition: Chef Sterling’s food is what truly stands out.
Previously the home of Nice Guy Eddie’s, Boulton and Watt is one of the latest additions to the bar scene in the East Village. Several of the young people on the Manhattan Sideways team needed a place to host a casual after-hours business meeting, so they decided to kick things off by going back to 1st Street. They were pleased to find an eclectic array of specialty cocktails on the menu (including a new favorite, the Mexican Revolver) along with several wines and beers. They did not originally intend to dive into the food menu, but as they sat and held their meeting over drinks, a waiter came by and brought them a complimentary Scotch Egg! "Fried and delicious, " was how they described it - the perfect addition to their first time experience at this fun and energetic establishment. I have no doubt that they will become frequent visitors in the future.
Transformed from a building lot to a beautiful space to showcase art, the First Street Garden Art Park adds culture to 1st street. Beginning in the spring of 2012, a variety of cultural events have taken place in this art park which, in 2011, was home to the first BMW/Guggenheim project. There are scheduled weekend programs showcasing music, dance and collaborative art for adults and children. Stop by anytime and see the newly unveiled artwork constantly changing.
A dainty shop located on Extra Place - that little side street off of 1st Street where the Ramones photographed an Album Cover - Nalata Nalata features high quality décor sourced mainly from Japan. In the same way that Manhattan Sideways shares the stories of businesses on the sidestreets of Manhattan, Nalata Nalata, as their website explains, “is a retail experience founded on promoting awareness of the people and stories behind our curated lifestyle products. ”On my first visit to Nalata Nalata, I spoke with Angelique J. V. Chmielewski, who co-founded the business with her husband, Stevenson S. J. Aung. Originally from Alberta, Canada, Angelique came to New York to study fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology while Stevenson, her boyfriend at the time, fulfilled his masters in industrial design at the Pratt Institute. Nalata Nalata began as a website beautifully crafted to feature sections like Backstory, with write-ups on the brands behind the pieces, and Journal, detailing the journey and artistic endeavors through captioned photographs. In late 2013, Nalata Nalata opened in Extra Place as a pop-up store and, after falling in love with the spot, the owners decided to make it a permanent stay. Though functional in a traditional way, each product in the store contains intrinsic artistic and narrative values, many sourced from “multigenerational craftsmen who continue to refine their skill. ” Angelique first directed me to the porcelain Ju-Bakos, Japanese stacking boxes, which are traditionally used for food on special occasions. Representative of multilayered happiness, each box was crafted with a different glaze. Later, Angelique held up a glass terrarium box designed by 1012 Terra, a company based in Chiba, Japan that is focused on celebrating plant life. In the box was a dried flower reminiscent of the rose in Beauty and the Beast. “In order to preserve a flower, ” she explained, “pin it in the box and flip it upside-down. When it has completely dried out, it will be straight when turned upright. ”Though devoted to sharing the works of others, Nalata Nalata is cemented by the artistry of Angelique and Stevenson. From the custom-made cabinets to the slab roof ceiling, the two redesigned the entire interior of the store in the months before its opening, with the help of some additional hands. The carefully selected products perfectly complement the spare, bright space. The store's website also reveals a great deal of artistry, with each piece beautifully photographed, set to a white background, and matched with a whimsical remark and a few lines about its origins, making online shopping more homey and intimate. The wool blankets exclaim, “Cool nights, brisk mornings, frigid afternoons. Whatever weather the day may bring I’m a tried-and-true, dyed-in-the-wool cozy friend… Always by one’s side to provide warmth and comfort. ”Nalata Nalata is also working on their own line of products. One recent addition, the denim Ojami, bridges Japanese traditions and contemporary American design. Handmade in Kyoto, the Ojami are versatile pillows. Angelique and Stevenson enjoy using them as seats to “live low, ” but they also function as throw pillows. In the future, the couple hopes to get into more denim and hardware products, while continuing to curate objects they appreciate artistically and sentimentally. For now, Angelique says, “We are just happy to be here. ”