If you’re thinking about exploring one of the numerous Manhattan trendy farm-to-table restaurants you might consider trying Northern Spy Food Company, and yes it’s named after one of New York State’s heirloom apples. It’s located in Alphabet City at 511 East 12 Street, a brisk walk from the “L” train stop on 1st Avenue. Despite being open only little under a year the place has mustered a strong following from the neighborhood locals. One might easily miss this restaurant if it were not for a barely noticeable small wooden shingle protruding over the front door, in an old style stenciled hand-lettering that serves as a distinctive marker. In front a set of cerulean blue benches offer extra sitting for the overflow of customers waiting to grab a table since the restaurant does not accept reservations. The facade of this locale is a reminder of the lower Eastside ethnic historical past.
When I arrived around 6ish to meet my group the place was empty with plenty of tables to be had, within an hour the chatter had elevated to that of a loud bar room banter. Sitting at the small bar a cheery bartender offered me a menu with a list of refreshing cool drinks to ebb off the hot summer heat. I settled for a sparkling Cucumber and Mint drink knowing this combo would quench my thirst. The restaurant is small, cramped with square butcher block tables. Although, I can’t help but to conjure up a picturesque scene ripped right from the pages of a New England 1950s mystery novel, right down to the vintage floral and stripped cool colors of blue and green wallpaper, the white washed slated walls, and the softly dimmed lights. Even the brass toilet paper holder in the bathroom was stamped with the word, “captain”. Compared to the restaurants appealing web site and the vintage interior decor featuring reclaimed furnishings, the design of the menu was rather drab. Lacking the stylish zest of the interiors cool color schemes.
What Executive Chef Nathan Hill has done is to create an eclectic mix of comfort food based upon the seasonal fare infused with distinctive flavors at moderate prices. Our group of nine started off the meal with a mound of “Farmer’s Market Greens,” made with arugula, mint, blanched string beans, and chunks of kirby cucumbers in a barely noticeable dressings. Rather than the usual risotto made with arroz rice, the menu listed Freeken risotto (Middle Eastern grain) a mild flavorful twist that translates into a lighter taste with chopped Asparagus infused in a delicious marscarpone cheese sauce. Instead of boiled Gnocchi it was served slightly sauteed in brown butter, laden in a robust cheddar cheese sauce with fresh baby peas. I’m must admit to not loving Gnocchi, however this dish could easily covert me. Lastly, the thick slabs of pan seared Stripped Bass tasted moist, sitting on a pool of summer corn puree with an array of chopped seasonal veggies. Summertime is the season of delicious fruits, the desserts we sampled were a scrumptious, selection of peach pie with a crisscrossed flaky crust, saddled with a scoop of hazelnut ice cream. The second dessert was a light textured pineapple cake with a pleasing tart taste that lingered in my mouth and a small scoop of creamy ginger ice cream.
Despite feeling cramped, and the loud music this is still a desirable place to dine. Only one slight complaint the arugula in the market greens was a little gritty, however arugula is one of those hard to clean greens. And the scoops of ice cream were too tiny.