Northern Spy Food Co.
511 East 12th Street, New York, NY 10009 (b/n Avenues A and B); 212-228-5100
Service: Friendly, attentive
Setting: Minimally decorated storefront
Compare It To: Blue Ribbon Market
Must-Haves: country ham sandwich, caramelized leeks, quince soda, concord grape soda
Cost: $20 plus tax and tip for two courses, not including wine or beer
Chris Ronis, former A16 chef Cristophe Hill, and Nathan Foot, the owners of the newly opened restaurant/local food purveyor/take out emporium Northern Spy Food Co., are clearly trying to do the right thing with their minimally decorated storefront.
They are championing and featuring locally sourced food, are cooking as much as possible with those products, and trying to keep prices manageable. All laudable intentions and goals. A good take-out market is a great addition to any neighborhood. But the question the serious eaters wanted answered was simply this:
Is the food delicious?
We stopped by for lunch to find out.
Mustard greens soup with heirloom potatoes ($6) was helped by the local Pecorino in it, but was still kind of dull. The navy bean soup with swiss chard and celery root ($6) also needed something to liven it up. Both soups screamed healthy, but not delicious, and were both in desperate need of salt, which was nowhere to be found on our table. They did bring us some when we asked for it, but I hate thinking I'm insulting the chef when I ask for salt.
The country ham sandwich ($9), made with Bloomsday cheese, pickled onion, and whole grain mustard, was my idea of a perfect sandwich. The filling to bread ratio was right on, and each component of the filling worked in concert. We need more country ham sandwiches in this town.
An intensely mushroom-y mushroom sandwich ($8) came with slices of fingerling potatoes, mizuna, and chunks of clothbound cheddar. This is a seriously earthy sandwich which packs a surprising flavor punch.
The chicken and egg sandwich ($9) could have been a great chicken sandwich contender, but it ultimately falls just short: though the crispy chicken thigh was juicy and crunchy, the poached egg was cooked a hair too long and the chimchurri sauce was surprisingly unlively. It, too, needed salt.
Wild Hive polenta ($11), made with mustard greens, mushrooms, and creme fraiche, needed both another flavor element and some salt to make it truly sing.
Roast Bobo chicken ($13), served in a natural chicken jus with some lemon, had a crisp skin and was amply seasoned. Though the meat was slightly dry, the flavor was dead-on.
Red wine-braised lamb ($14) came with red icicle radishes and baby spinach. The lamb was reasonably tender and flavorful, if not as succulent as it could have been.
We tried all six of the side dishes available ($5 each or 3 for $13), and the clear winner was the delicious caramelized leeks with Pecorino. The leeks were tender and sweet, and the Pecorino was a perfect nutty and salty foil for them.
Foot uses made-in-house seltzer and fresh juices and purees in his delicious homemade sodas. I would gladly drink the Concord grape and quince flavors ($3 each) for a daily pick-me-up.
Desserts ($5) are not the kitchen's strong point. Mocha layer cake was lackluster and the the namesake Northern Spy apple pie was filled with undercooked apples and an underbaked crust. If you feel the need for a sweet here order the solid cookie plate or better yet another Concord grape or quince soda.
I so wanted to love Northern Spy. The owners' hearts are clearly in the right place. A great deal of the food shows promise—and some of it is delicious, as is. I'd recommend the country ham sandwich, leeks, and sodas to any serious eater. But too much of the food lacked oomph to earn a blanket endorsement. The salt shaker added something, but other seasonings would have helped immeasurably.