Murray's Cheese Shop
254 Bleecker Street, New York NY 10014 (b/n 6th & 7th Ave; map); 212-243-3289
Service: Efficient, friendly, occasionally chaotic
Setting: Storefront with an incredible array of cheeses, meats, and chocolate
Must-Haves: Ham and cheese sandwich, portobello mushroom sandwich, cream cheese brownie, s'mores
Cost: $10 for a sandwich, soda, and dessert.
In theory, Murray's Cheese Shop should be seriously delicious sandwich central. Think about it: Great sandwiches depend on great ingredients assembled in balanced fashion, and nobody has a better selection of cheese and fresh, cured, and smoked meat than Murray's. Owner Rob Kaufelt has been traveling the world in search of the best cheeses and meats for more than 20 years.
Every time I walk past the window of Murray's flagship shop on Bleecker Street, I notice both the sandwiches neatly stacked up (unfortunately premade) and the other scrumptious-looking array of prepared foods that invariably involve those same cheeses and meats.
Further, serious investigation was needed.
On any given day, Murray's has seven sandwiches on hand. All benefit and are, in fact, designed to to go into the sandwich press. They are all made on high-quality rolls from either Amy's Bread or Tom Cat, and good bread is indeed the foundation of a seriously delicious sandwich.
The Bleecker Street Classic is made with creamy enough Leoni mozzarella from Brooklyn and really good Genoa salami made by Columbus in San Francisco.
A grilled, meaty-tasting portobello sandwich had fine Leoni mozzarella, unripe winter tomato, fresh basil, and a fine balsamic vinaigrette.
The Otto (named after the neighborhood butcher Ottomanelli's) is a fine turkey sandwich enlivened by Emmenthaler cheese and watercress.
The PMT, or prosciutto, mozzarella, and tomato, is quite tasty but I wish it wasn't made with domestic prosciutto that can't hold a pig's leg to prosciutto de Parma.
A killer ham and cheese sandwich represents Murray's sandwiches at their best. It's made with Niman Jambon Royale, brie, Dijon mustard, and cornichon. I would like to start a "pickle in every sandwich" movement in this country. Who's with me?
Murray's BLT benefits from the addition of a slice of milky, creamy burrata, and the Ottomanelli's slab bacon and burrata is a felicitous combination.
Other comfort food items on the Murray's menu were less consistent.
Roasted Brussels sprouts were in desperate need of salt. In fact, after tasting a half dozen non-sandwich dishes I felt that the kitchen was under orders not to use any salt, curious for a shop that specializes in cured meats and cheeses.
A tangy onion, potato, and cheese tart had a reasonably flaky crust and tender potato slices.
If you run a great cheese shop you are obliged to make a killer macaroni and cheese. Murray's is very good, thanks to the tangy nuttiness supplied by Grafton Village Reserve cheddar, Grana Padano, and Gormino Gruyere, but with very little crunch, I'm afraid it falls short of mac and cheese greatness.The mac and cheese should have been great but isn't.
Sweets are also a mixed bag. A chocolate chip cookie is in the middle of the New York chocolate chip cookie pack. A piece of coffee cake was sodden and lifeless. A blondie, made with dates and fancy pants sugar, is unremarkable. A cream cheese brownie is a far better, tastier alternative. It's blessedly unsweet and intensely chocolaty, thanks to the dark chocolate.
The best desserts are Murray's Munchies, the comfort food sweets from Tumbador Chocolates, made in Sunset Park by former Daniel pastry chef Jean-Francois Bonnet. His s'mores, made with a layer of dulce de leche are wickedly delicious, as are his homemade cream-stuffed devil's food cake known as either ring dings or ding dongs.
Choose your sandwich wisely at Murray's and you will end up with a fine lunch. Do indulge yourself with a Murray's Munchie. The only problem with a Murray's lunch is there's no place to eat it, especially in winter, when it's not all that pleasant to wander around the neighborhood. If enough serious eaters beseech Rob Kaufelt and company with requests to utilize the all-too-visible Murray's conference room and classroom, maybe we can solve this problem.