In addition to coffee, the recently opened Lower East Side coffee shop El Rey offers a stylized "luncheonette" menu, featuring dishes such as cashew grits, vegetable sides, and soup. Head Chef Gerardo Gonzalez is making respectable food in a makeshift kitchen, but the cafe has a few kinks to work out.
The cashew grits have a pleasant texture but taste a little too, well, nutty, on their own. Fortunately they make the base of two flavorful dishes. The 18-Hour Braised Pork ($12) is tender, with the richness of the meat offset by a watercress salad and tangy pickled red onions. The turnips in the Braised Turnips and Carrot Top Chimichurri ($10) maintain a nice bite, while the carrots provide a beautiful color.
For a strong side, go for the Brussels Sprouts ($6). They're well-charred and tender, with pecans adding a welcome crunch. Brussels sprout competition has been fierce in the past several years, and while El Rey's version won't turn heads, it's a good one.
All of this sounds like a good lunch, but take note of the prices. $10 to $12 isn't that unreasonable for a New York City lunch, but these portion sizes are small—most won't find a single order of grits to be a filling meal, and on top of that, the food is slow to arrive. With better prices and/or bigger portions, and faster service, El Rey could become a lunch spot worth seeking out on the Lower East Side.