Summer is the season for picnics. Eating out of doors in the green grass somehow makes you reach for that third piece of fried chicken, no sweat. As an avid picnicker, I looked forward to trying Public Fare, Danny Meyer's latest venture in Central Park. It meant I could lug a little bit less food in my bag as well as trying something other than the standard cart offerings scattered throughout the grounds.
My first taste of Public Fare came on a recent Thursday. At around nine in the morning, we were nearing Hour Five of Operation: Get Shakespeare in the Park Tickets or Die Tryin'. Needless to say I was a bit groggy, but when my sister brought back a whoopie pie from Danny Meyer's nearby stand, I couldn't resist a bite. But that first taste, with a ratio of about 90% dry cake and 10% flavorless filling, made for an unpleasant mouthful and an inauspicious start.
Situated in Central Park's Delacorte Theater, Public Fare seeks to be a step up from the usual concession stand and its boring offerings. The idea of great, accessible food easily eaten on the Great Lawn (only about fifty feet away) was promising—but the realities of execution left me wondering.
The goodies (and not-so-goodies), after the jump.
Generally open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (or if there's a show, serving food through intermission), breakfast is only served until 11 a.m. That said, the only breakfast item that can't be ordered the rest of the day is the Knoll Krest Egg and Cheddar BLT ($5). There's something to fulfill nearly any breakfast craving you might have—whether it be a Murray's bagel ($1.50), blueberry crumb muffin ($2.50), or granola, yogurt, and fruit parfait ($4.50). Some of the worst things I tried were the smoothies on offer. The Sunrise and Tropical Smoothies ($4.50) feature fresh fruit pureed at the Hudson Yards location, but since there's no ice or other neutral mixer, the smoothies were sickly sweet. Even after I added ice, the taste was just barely palatable. It made me wonder who could possibly drink one straight up; I find whiskey easier to down.
There are four sandwiches on offer: Yellowfin Tuna Salad (top), Organic Chicken Salad (bottom right), Roasted Tomato, Zucchini, & Ricotta (bottom left), and the BLT (not pictured). All are served on bread either from Tom Cat or Sullivan Street Bakery. The Yellowfin Tuna Salad with Lemon, Olives and Arugula ($7), was the least popular. It wasn't particularly flavorful or remarkable. Whole, moist chunks of chicken made the Organic Chicken Salad ($6.50) a hit. Toasted Tom Cat white, along with the green beans and radish, added nice crunch that went well with the spicy arugula.
The roasted vegetable option ($6) was another favorite; delicious even for a bona-fide carnivore who never orders vegetarian fare. I had high hopes for the BLT made with Benton's Hickory Smoked Bacon ($7), but it was incredibly tough and not fun to eat at all. The most disappointing sandwich of them all, we could only say, "Out, out, damn bacon!"
Soup and Vegetables
Chilled English Pea Soup with Crème Frâiche and Chervil ($4.50) was superb. It's best eaten quickly so as to maximize the fresh and vibrant taste of summer peas. "Don't wait for tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow—eat this today!"
The vegetable sides were a treat. The produce was fresh, cooked well, and paired wisely with various herbs, cheeses, and other flavor boosters. The Sugar Snap Peas, Arugula, & Asparagus ($5.50) had bright, salty, bitter, green all in one with the addition of Pecorino, lemon, and mint.
Roasted Baby Carrots with Feta, Pine Nuts, and Coriander ($4.50) was an uncommon blend of flavors (at least for me), and I loved the roasted sweetness of the carrots.
Oh, whoopie pie ($2). I gave it another chance when I came to the park for a concert, but it failed to deliver once again. The frosting-to-cake ratio was better but still off by a mile, and the cake was only a touch more moist. But what frosting there was, was good; a mixture of cream cheese, vanilla bean, mascarpone cheese, and powdered sugar makes for a less artificial-tasting filling than I'm used to tasting. Wait until the pie is room temperature before taking a bite; the baked good definitely benefits from a warming up after the fridge.
I don't think I've tasted a brownie ($2) that tastes less brownie-like than this one. While it had a great fudgy texture, flavorwise, it was incredibly bland. It didn't even taste like chocolate to some of the tasters. Stay away!
There are three cookies on offer for $2 a pop. The Banana Chocolate Chew (top left) had no discernible chew and a very mild banana flavor. While I like the idea of bananas in cookies, I've found that they turn out lackluster and are best utilized in muffins, breads, and the like.
The Peanut Butter & Jelly (top right) was the most surprising. Even though I'm not a peanut butter and jelly die-hard, I really enjoyed it. It was the only cookie i would qualify as good enough to warrant a repeat purchase. The Marshmallow Toffee? It sounds amazing, but it was plain terrible. The cookie was hard and not in a way that might be construed as just "crispy," while the marshmallow parts just shattered in my mouth.
While I certainly had highs and lows in tasting Public Fare, I'll admit it's certainly a step up from the offerings on hand in this area of Central Park. It's a welcome sight at intermission if you have the munchies, and if you stick to the more successful dishes mentioned above, you'll have a great outing. Plus, with the Great Lawn and Belvedere Castle as your backdrops, the experience can't be beat.
Post-script: Dog lovers can pop by and pick up a free dog biscuit. Even though I don't currently have a dog, I picked one up anyway; you never know when you'll make your next canine best friend...
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