November 15, 1993 | Vintage Insatiable
Junk Food Heaven at Harley Davidson Cafe
Never fear. New York’s not quite falling off the edge. As long as we honor Einstein on the Beach, Bloomsday, the nun-like black dress, and the art of the deal, there’s always room for Bugs Bunny, burritos, Beavis and Butt-head, and as many theme-park beaneries as our town’s smart capitalists can dream up.
Besides, in these not exactly carefree times, what could be sexier than a legendary hawg - our very own all-American Harley Davidson? Is it just me, or can you see the heat in a sleek Sportster or a hulking Fatboy? And how about that tiger-striped bike in the window with its long, curling tail? Peter Fonda (in plaster of Paris) on the famous Captain America bike from Easy Rider is infinitely sexier than a muumuu (even if it was worn once by Charleston Heston). So there’s room in my datebook for the Harley-Davidson Cafe and Planet Hollywood and Hard Rock and Graceland, NYC, if anyone wants to build it. And there will always be a spot in my junk-food heart for chicken wings and sloppy joes and beer-batter onion rings, even when the ossified onion slithers out, leaving you chewing on an empty wheel of crunch. (They haven’t invented the grease-blocker or fat thermostat control yet, thank Heaven.)
Sunday night we’re cooling our jets in the lineup on the sidewalk when some dude-in-charge plucks a quartet of helmet bearers out of the queue and ushers them in. “What’s going on?” I cry, and instead of reading me my rights into exile, a benignly nineties doorkeeper shrugs and ushers us in. Kinda makes me wonder: If entry is that easy for nerds like us, how long can they keep that line groveling? And folks who push Mississippi mud pie in glass houses shouldn’t leave so many empty tables visible to the sidewalk. Breeds insurrection, if not lack of respect.
Inside, Tony Chi’s giant Stars and Stripes rippling across the ceiling is brilliant. Ditto the fenders as sconces. And the riotous rock tamed by clever placement of speakers creates pockets for civilized chat. Joey Buttafuoco dazzled at a recent bash. He has exactly the right éclat to offset the gray of polyester glen plaid at lunch.
Drew Nieporent (Montrachet, TriBeCa Grill, and Della Femina’s partner), this year’s hottest mouth-for-hire, signed on to dream up the menu. And it does read well. With fancy drinks, spiked and pure -- Dyna Glide, Sportster, Boulevard Cruiser. Salt-and-pepper squid. Cycle-wheel primavera pasta, brisket potpie, and a root-beer float. Every once in a while you get something delicious -- juicy baby-back ribs, rich and crusty macaroni -- but not often enough. And don’t count on consistency.
Vegetarian chili may have flavor, but the Harley chili is a wimp. A slice of Kansas City brisket could work as a floorboard, and the $18 crab-and-cod cakes smell a shade antique. The catfish on the mashed potatoes is pleasant enough but...$17.50. Still you can be frugal voyeur here and eat on a modest allowance. (Starters from $4.50 to $7.95, sandwiches $7.95 to $12.95, entrées $13.95 to $19.95, desserts $5.95, plus a greedy 50 cents extra for jimmies.)
Cynics may write this off as just another crass marketing scheme to move T-shirts and sweats. But patriots can smile, remembering how hordes of fancy imports almost drove Harley off the highway. Till the homeboys knuckled down. Now the brassy glass-and-neon showroom flips a modest burger in celebration.
1370 Sixth Avenue at 56th Street.
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