Butternut Squash Kugel ($10)
Indian spices shine, as a garam masala-type blend, in this kugel, a half cup of sunflower seeds away from coming out of your Californian Jewish grandmother's kitchen. When's the last time you've seen kugel on a posh Manhattan menu? Heck, when's the last time you've enjoyed kugel at all without a grimace from the sweetness? Tender squash adds that sweet here, but it's a tempered one, made mature and interesting by those curry spices and playful by a cornflake topping. Not really a cheese dish, and your bubbie would scoff at the price for the portion, but a gleeful nostalgia trip delivered without [too much] irony.
Tender and meaty without the grainy squeak of nearly every other griddled haloumi in New York. Murray's respects that haloumi isn't a giant cheese curd, and dresses it up with mint, olive oil, and the citrus glow of lemon for a simple hunk of cheese transformed into something wonderful. Greek cooks all over town could learn from this.
Classic Melt at Murray's Cheese Bar
Formidable enough to share but excellent enough to hoard. Gruyere, Tickler, and buffalo mozzarella cheeses flood from thick-cut white bread with a shellacked crust, extra slick and buttery, to give a well-made grilled cheese the textural contrast it so deserves. A smoky, creamy-but-light tomato soup is slurpable, bowl-lickable—with what's that?—cumin on the finish, beguiling and totally appropriate all at once.
Spreads ($12 for 3)
Globally-minded spreads top the menu. Of them, the Kopanisti is as good a start to the meal as any cheese plate. The Greek dip of whipped Bulgarian feta, minced pepperoncini, and dill is a study in fatty, herb-studded tanginess, bright with lemon up front and pickled heat on the way down, with the smoothness of butter studded with bits of naked feta. Pimento cheese is as pimento cheese does: rather sweet with pimento and paprika, sharp from a bold Prairie Breeze cheddar; a dressed-up pimento cheese that could still appear at the church social. Skip the Obatdza, a bland pot of Romadur and butter, which is moody and slick but lacks the promised punch of horseradish and caraway.
Heirloom Tomato Salad ($14)
Something of a gamble. On one night the crunchy, tasteless tomatoes, watery buffalo mozzarella, and meager spotting of balsamic screamed for salt, acidity, anything to stand up to bossy shiso leaf. On another, the tomatoes were riper and juicier, the mozzarella firm but supple, and the balsamic and olive oil well-proportioned.
Grilled Artichokes ($9)
Charred leaves so crisp they might as well be fried. The perfectly tender hearts and stems are so bright and intensely flavored as to make this one of our favorite dishes, notwithstanding the unremarkable buttermilk dressing on the side best ignored.
Ellsworth Creamery Buffalo Cheese Curds ($10)
They sound too good to be true—and they are, just too-fried hunks of tangy anything. And to make the old joke: in such small portions! We didn't care to finish our tiny pot of curds, but balked at the four slender spears of celery on the plate, which felt stingy for both the price tag and the general happy-go-lucky Murray's spirit.
Rarebit Cheddar Burger ($16)
It's fun and gutsy that a cheese shop didn't just go the cheese-draped burger route, which we might have predicted. Instead, it's made with a classic English rarebit, a thick sauce of cheddar (here, Prairie Breeze) and beer (Left Hand milk stout), poured in a dripping, irresistible stream over a thick burger patty and slice of heirloom tomato perched on a substantial, buttered-to-death piece of grain bread.
A clumsy, overpriced pile of dry oat cakes, decent chocolate, and not-enough Gallego cheese. Try the yogurt sundae ($8) with Maple Hill Creamery maple yogurt instead.