3 West 18th Street, New York NY 10011 (b/n 5th Ave and 6th Ave; map); 212-366-1414; thecitybakery.com
Service: A solitary barkeep who's been reasonably well-briefed
Setting: The lighting and layout make the space still feel like a bakery, not a lounge
Compare It To: Nothing I can think of
Must-Haves: Vanilla Custard, Pig in a Pretzel-Croissant Blanket
The City Bakery's Maury Rubin is indisputably one of the city's great pastry chefs. His tarts, his cookies, and, yes, his hot chocolate, all make me very happy. On the other hand, the savory offerings at City Bakery have never reached the heights of his sweets.
City Bakery savory chef Ilene Rosen's focus on local, sustainably grown ingredients is laudable in theory but often falls short in execution. So when they announced they were extending City Bakery hours to 8 p.m., and serving what they are calling the New Bad Economy Beer Menu, I was intrigued. Could they make the transition from hot-chocolate mecca to lounge? The Serious Eaters, as always, were on the case.
The first thing I noticed when I walked in was the lighting, which still screamed bakery.
There are ten items on the menu, and we sampled them all.
Old Bay popcorn ($4) is great in theory, but more than a little soggy in reality, in all likelihood from too much local butter.
Deviled eggs ($4) had a touch of curry powder and paprika. They needed a little more sweetness to really taste like the deviled eggs I know and love.
The fried bread heels with pimento-horseradish cheese ($4) were way too tough.
Chips and dip ($4) on the day we were there consisted of fried cassava crackers and Japanese dip. As a vegan option the chips were mighty tasty if a little strange. They tasted like vegan pork rinds.
A bacon and chocolate sandwich ($5) featured Allan Benton's bacon. Sounds great, right? As a lover of Benton's bacon, I was surprised by just how smoky it was in this sandwich. The smokiness of the bacon overwhelmed the chocolate, which is saying something.
Deflation chicken bones ($10) turned out to be fried chicken backs with their necks attached. Not much meat on these bones, but anything well-fried, well-salted, and sufficiently crunchy is all right with me.
The Pig in a Pretzel-Croissant Blanket ($10) featured one of the City Bakery's pretzel croissants stuffed with a big, fat turkey sausage. With a little good mustard this would be a fine, fine sandwich.
A grilled Pawlet cheese and Benton's bacon sandwich ($10) was glazed with maple syrup. It would be a really good breakfast sandwich.
The meatloaf in the heritage turkey meatloaf sandwich ($10) was mealy, dry, and tasted like it was leftovers from lunch.
Beer-braised heritage pork ribs ($10), made in one of the four beers featured here, were mighty tasty comfort food. The could-have-been-more tender-ribs had plenty of pork flavor, and the braising liquid was mighty tasty.
One dessert is featured at the bar every night. The vanilla custard was sublime, ridiculously creamy, very vanilla-y and blessedly not too sweet. It reminded me of everything I love about the City Bakery.
I'm hoping the City Bakery's happy hour eats will improve once Rubin and company work out the kinks. Rubin and Rosen are simply too talented for me to believe otherwise.