Last week news broke that 128 Second Avenue, the East Village building that houses the venerated, 30+ year-old Stage Restaurant, is being sold to new management. Some rumors suggest that the new owners, "a group of four relatively young guys," have little interest in preserving Stage's presence in the East Village. Is one of the neighborhood's great lunch counters at risk?
We know little for sure, and the folks at Stage are understandably cagey with the details; a call returned the clipped response, "we got a long lease." Just how long, and whether it would be renewed, are open questions.
More certain is that Stage remains one of the East Village's—and by extension New York's—exceptional Eastern European staple restaurants. Case in point: their Potato Pancakes ($4.65 for three, $7.45 for five) and Pierogies ($4.30 for four, $6.50 for seven). They are some of the best diner examples of their respective forms that you're likely to find in New York.
The pancakes consist of finely minced potato and little else, the craggly surface fried to a satisfying crisp, the innards creamy-soft, somewhere between hash brown and mashed potato. They come with applesauce or sour cream (or both, if you ask), but the subtle seasoning and honest potato flavor in these pancakes needs little beyond a fork.
The pierogies don't disappoint either. Flavors are simple but effective: potato, cheese, beef, sauerkraut, or mushroom, and they come boiled (very good) or deep fried (excellent). The taut-yet-tender skins are a cut above most in this town, evincing the kind of soft chewiness that makes for great thick dumplings. I'm partial to the sauerkraut, mushroom, and cheese fillings, all with plenty of thick sour cream.
We'll include updates if we hear more about Stage's long-term lease situation. In the meantime, get these icons of East Village eating while they're still in their prime.