The opening hype surrounding Sons of Essex, a new restaurant/club from nightlife brander Matt Levine, has been equally adulatory and vitriolic, perhaps a result of the shameless and sometimes cheesy promotion of the Lower East Spot spot. Somewhere in between the lavish praise and sneering cynicism lies the truth (or at least my dispassionate version of it): Sons of Essex has at least a few respectable bar dishes.
The New American menu translates to "crowd pleasers," hence whole sections dedicated to Grilled Cheese and Mac and Cheese. But start first with the Hen and Waffle ($15), two fried wings of maple-glazed hen atop a homemade Belgian waffle. Crispy skin encased perfectly juicy meat, which paired well with the barely sweet waffle.
For a large group, order up a plate of the Mac N Cheese Balls ($15), which the menu misleadingly describes as fried chicken cordon bleu balls. If there was chicken or pork in the balls (two key ingredients in chicken cordon bleu), you couldn't taste it. But as a simple fried pasta and cheese sauce concoction, the dish was rather tasty.
Asian Calamari Salad ($16) is a fun take on the typical fried calamari dish. Instead of the usual marinara and lemon, the seafood is tossed in a sweet and spicy chili glaze with cucumber, watermelon, and celery. The calamari could have been more crisp, but overall the flavors worked.
Roasted Bone Marrow ($13) sounded good on the menu, but arrived at the table smothered in dry panko and Parmesan, presumably to cover up the fact that there was none of that fatty deliciousness in the bone, only scraps of unappetizing brown bits. Avoid.
The disappointment of the bone marrow dish was mitigated with Churros with Crème Anglaise ($9), fluffy fried dough rolled in cinnamon sugar and served with vanilla-scented cream. My fellow diner proclaimed, "Mmm... smells like Apple Jacks!" No apple here, but the dessert does lend itself to a warm apple cider, which Sons of Essex proudly serves—spiked with rum, of course.
Sons of Essex
About the author: Nancy Huang, who comes to New York by way of Los Angeles, writes The Wanderist, a food and travel blog of adventures here and abroad. She loves noodles, subway maps, and word games.