There are major perks to living in the East Village for a young person. Namely, it’s filled with other young people, and this means a perpetual influx of new bars and restaurants. Yet unlike some other trendy Manhattan neighborhoods, the East Village retains traces of the seediness of NYC yore. This is what many outsiders imagine to be “the real New York” (for some reason, “the real New York” people tend to nostalgically lament is linked to bombed out architecture, drug fiends, and a general feeling that terror is about to befall you just around the corner). I realize how special it is that the neighborhood has recently boomed with foodstuffs, and yet it has somehow miraculously retained its vibe. Now that I’ve been here over a year, I’ve discovered some seriously drool-worthy spots worth sharing. Because as we all know, the best tours are ones done through taste buds.
If you want pork jowl nuggets and want to know where the pork jowl nuggets came from, this is the place for you. Their menu is seasonal, and that can be hit or miss in my experience (never again, experimental cheese platter). But the dishes are always innovative, and when they’re good, they’re great. This summer they featured a cucumber gazpacho, and I found myself craving it in a way that’s usually only reserved for ice cream or peanut butter. If you want to be safe, stick to ordering the menu staples, like the herb crusted Amish chicken or the grass-fed burger, and you will leave more than satiated. Particularly if you get a side of yucca fries. And in case you’re as cluelessly urban as me, “back forty” refers to the back forty acres of land on a farm, which explains the rakes and tools hanging from the walls. Oh, and there is a lot of beer if you’re into that, too.
Northern Spy is similar to Back Forty in that you don’t have to worry about your food being poisoned by toxic pesticides. If you want to be that person you can ask the waiter where your eggs came from and they can tell you when the truck arrived and from which local farm. But you can taste how fresh the food is here. I’m partial to their brunches, as the eggs are done to perfection, I’ve never had better polenta (I don’t even know if I’d tried polenta before this), and their corned beef is everything corned beef should be (awesome).This place has something for everyone: the kale salad with cheddar, almonds, pecorino and baked eggs ould satisfy even the staunchest of the anti-kale crowd. And if greens aren’t your thing, duck fat fries savants are most welcome here. Like most New York restaurants, if you go at a busy time, you may end up eating on top of you neighbors. But the picnicky, friendly decor sort of makes that okay. Also they have this awesome green vintage tree wallpaper, and the fact that I noticed wallpaper means something.
It’s like Murray’s Cheese Shop, but 1/8 the size and not swarming with tourists. Maybe that’s because it’s on Avenue C, which is still a largely overlooked resource in the East Village. (Resource=food, drink.) Barnyard specializes in artisanal meats and cheeses, and has a nice little display of pre-packaged fresh foods. But I go here for the sandwiches, which are made on the spot with love and care and piles of cured deli meats.
So although you may run into an overfed rat or 17 in Thompkins Square Park, the East Village has a lot to offer at least culinarily speaking. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but that will get you started if you’re looking for local deliciousness of the American cuisine variety. Please note there are also things like breakfast, lunch, dessert, and maybe even a bar or two in the East Village that did not appear here. But presenting just a little taste at a time seems much more digestible.