It’s a tale as old as time: Valentine’s Day, and once again you’ve forgotten to make the requisite dinner reservation. Now you’re locked out of every eatery in town tonight, and it’s so bad the hostess answering the phone at the restaurant audibly snickers at your lack of planning. Bah! Stupid made-up holiday! But hold your surl – are you ready for the save? You’re cooking dinner, buddy, and The Meat Hook in Williamsburg is going to set you up for success. I know this because they sent me an email blast for Valentine’s Day with the header, “GET LAID.” That’s a call to action if ever there was one, and so it was with great haste that I went there, and you should, too.If you’re unfamiliar with the Meat Hook, just know that these are people who are very, very serious about meat. It is butcher-as-rock-star, and deservedly so because they have incredible knowledge and passion for the product. Total and unabashed meat geeks, they’ll do everything for you right then to order. And not only is there an astonishing selection of locally sourced and sustainable meats (from semi-boneless quail to a whole pig and everything in between) but they have a superbly curated shop filled with local groceries and delicious dry goods. In one fell swoop, you can pick up three dozen Matanuk Oysters from Gabe the Fish Babe, a couple of thick juicy “Te Quiero Steaks”(they’re cut in the shape of a heart, natch), and a 2lb. bar of Mast Brothers dark chocolate with Sea Salt for dessert. And while you’re there, how about some free-range eggs, a rasher of thick-cut lamb bacon and a fresh hunk of Roberta’s bread for tomorrow morning? She can’t accuse of you of not thinking ahead THIS year, Romeo. So go ahead and prepare a proper feast for your sweetheart tonight. In the world of On The Real, it’s hard to imagine a better way to say “I love you.”
I don’t know why, but The Cardinal and I have been like two opposing magnets since it opened a while back on East 4th Street near Avenue B. Every time we planned to go, something else got in the way and a down-home southern meal at this simple and warm charmer got thwarted. Well, we finally connected late last week.Lesa and I headed there early with one of the kids and bellied up to the window seat that looks out over the neighborhood’s minions coming home from a long day’s work. It’s a great seat if you can get it. To start we tried the Pimento Cheese on crispy toast and Blue Crab Hush Puppies. They were both insanely good and plentiful. Between the three of us, we were basically full when we got done with those, not knowing what was in store. Just as we were all mentally cramming our downed food into the corners of our bellies, the massive main courses arrived with the oh-shit-we-over-ordered sides. The 10-year-old had a damn good lookin’ cheeseburger with hand-cut fries and bubbly mac and cheese in front of him. Lesa had a smoked-last-night pulled pork sandwich with a pile of creamy slaw on top and a bowl of swiney greens on the side. Both served perfectly…on a Martin’s Potato Roll. Delectable!I just about got cow shock when my plate arrived. The Strip Steak was perfectly cooked medium rare with a fabulously crunchy and tasty dark crust on the outside. I’m guessing it was about 24 ounces. I ordered the mashed potatoes and corn and tomato succotash for my sides and both were just as they should be at a joint like this one…straight up, simple and wonderful. We rolled out of the Cardinal after about an hour of stuffing ourselves figuring we over-ordered by about $75. Oh well, it was worth it. Next time we’ll skip lunch before we go.
I moved to Alphabet City about a decade ago and there was one of the crappiest Chinese take-out joints this city has ever seen right across the street from me on Avenue C. Finally, that place closed and construction began. A few months later, a crappy Italian restaurant opened. Like, I’ll-pay-for-the-damn-food-just-get-me-out-of-here crappy. I always felt terrible for the owners who would assemble all of their friends at the front of the restaurant just behind the newly installed glassed-panelled garage door to try to attract unsuspecting patrons into the otherwise empty room. PEOPLE! You cannot open a crappy Italian restaurant in the East Village and expect success. WAY too much great competition. But then something wonderful happened. The Italian place closed and a couple of supremely talented restauranteurs took over the lease and began to transform the space into what is now Edi & the Wolf.
Edi and his good buddy Wolf have created one of the best rooms in the city in which to enjoy a meal with an aim to “recreate tradition with a feast of rustic Austrian cuisine and a carefully curated European wine list” and they manage to do just that. Today, the aforementioned garage door feels as if it has been there for a hundred years with a happy mess of herbs and vines invite you to venture through a barn wood shack that leads into this amazingly warm and creative display of cozy genius. Your attention is drawn to many curiosities scattered throughout and the much written about thick coiled rope above the bar. I have no idea why it is there, but it doesn’t rally matter because it looks amazing hanging there from the wide-planked ceiling with candle wax dripping down its side. It’s a warm addition to just the sort of room that makes you want to curl up on one of their banquets and enjoy an amazing meal with a big bottle of red wine.
And speaking of food, the friendly folks at Edi & the Wolf nail it every time. Small plates like the Hamachi, Pork Belly, and Liptaurer & Herb Gervais are served perfectly arranged on black slabs of slate. If you’re into sharing or being so full that you’ll have to be rolled out of the place, the Spätzle is a must. It is one of the finest examples of culinary comfort love I have experienced in my few short years on this earth. And if that’s not enough, the main courses are incredible. I usually get the Pork Weiner Schnitzel which is perfectly crispy on the outside and tender on the inside with refreshingly prepared potato salad with cucumber and lingonberry jam. On my last trip, however, I stepped outside the box and went for the Shell Steak. Oh, my! Divinity! Perfect char on the outside and uniformly pink in the middle, every bite was a short trip to heaven. Served up with parsley root, mustard greens, wild mushrooms and nugget potatoes, I was in no mood for my meal to end even when my attention was required by the three-year-old whose IPad’s juice had just run dry. So if you haven’t already, go to Edi & the Wolf on Avenue C between 6th and 7th Streets. It’ll be well worth the trip.
Stephane has a standing gig at Fada on Saturday nights. You eat well, you drink well, and you hear amazing world-class live jazz two tables away from you… for no cover charge. How can you not love this town?