Note: First Looks give previews of new dishes, drinks, and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
Talk about neighborhoods that get the short end of the stick; when's the last time you heard someone talking about Roosevelt Island at all, let alone its food scene? So when we learned about Pier NYC, the summer pop-up cafe with on-the-water views of the Manhattan skyline, we hopped on the tramway to check it out.
The cafe space, about a 30-second walk from the Roosevelt Island F stop, is open for the rest of the summer, and is serving a mix of casual seafood—shrimp rolls, crabcakes, oysters, and the like—as well as barbecue from Queens' John Brown Smokehouse. "It's a real casual, day-drinking kind of space," says co-owner Johnathan Hoo. Nothing on the menu climbs above $12; cans of beer (all national brand macrobrews for now) top out at $8, and wine and cocktails at $12.
So far Pier NYC has been popular with Roosevelt Island locals—whose culinary options so far are along the lines of "the Italian place and the sushi place," as well as some of the midtown after-work crowd. Hoo wants to serve locals "food they just don't have here," but he's also betting on drawing in the Manhattan crowd—the first food venture to do so on the island in recent memory.
The menu is all summer beach party, with $1 clams, $2 oysters (three varieties a day, from both coasts), and sandwiches filled with smoked brisket, pastrami, and pulled pork (though not always the burnt ends our barbecue bureau chief raved about last year).
The seafood comes from The Lobster Place in Chelsea, and is cooked by by chef David Santos, whose prior stints include Bouley and Per Se. Along the expected for NYC casual seafood (such as the shrimp roll—more affordable than lobster, "and just as delicious," Hoo says), he's also included brighter items, like a striped bass ceviche and a pimentón-spiked gazpacho. Desserts come by way of Allycakes, and include a mix of brownies, cookies, and whoopie pies.
Despite its Manhattan proximity and skyline views, Roosevelt Island has never drawn in crowds. That may change in a five years or so, when construction is projected to begin on Cornell's projected research center. Until then, Pier NYC will be operating through the rest of the summer, until October 31st, weather permitting.