July 5, 2007 | BITE: My Journal
 Borough Food & Drink: The Shopper’s Special

It's a cute burger, but yeeck…that fatty bacon. Photo: Steven Richter
 It’s a cute burger, but yeeck…that fatty bacon. Photo: Steven Richter                                    

      I managed to work myself into a snit because we were early, our guests were late and the perfectly adorable young woman at the Borough Food & Drink’s desk -- it’s an old fashioned double school desk -- said we could not be seated until all our party…“No. No. No,” I said, refusing to let her finish my least favorite restaurant greeting, “We will be seated now.  We willstart ordering as soon as we are seated.”

    She smiled, not recognizing my hysteria, and urged us to be comfortable while waiting in the lounge or the bar.  “I don’t want to be comfortable,” I hissed through clenched teeth, “I’ll stand right here.”  I posted myself a few inches from her podium and her various official papers.  Oh lord, the diva-ness of it.  I was not exactly in a mood to appreciate a new and still tentative operation.

    But at least I was near a window looking out at 22nd Street, which is how I happened to spot our slightly tardy friends, Bina and Georges, as they strolled past looking for a name on the restaurant’s awning and heading toward Broadway.  I grabbed them; presented them to the head mistress and we settled at a bare wooden table on bare wooden chairs next to shelves of great-looking groceries in jars and tins.

    I pretended not to mind when our perky waiter tilted his head to the right and announced he was Carmine and “I will be your server tonight.”  It seemed a long while before he brought two covered jars of pickles…wonderful, lightly picked vegetables “from Gus’s pickles,” he said, unleashing the lids. The pickles were long gone when he showed up in another long while with the wine and poured me a taste.  

    I swirled and put the glass to my lips. And stopped.  “I can’t taste wine,” I said.  “My mouth is full of vinegar. Can you bring some bread?”

    He shook his head, “That will be difficult.”

    “No bread?”  I looked all around.  If this is not a restaurant, it’s a delicatessen, a market.  No bread?

    “Well, it will take a while,” he said.  And it did.  Fortunately, we were all being funny and interesting without really trying too hard…the conversation flowed.

    But finally: “Can’t we just pour the wine?” my friends asked.

    “What if it’s bad…?  I can’t taste it with a mouth full of vinegar.”

    All around us people were actually eating.  Carmine returned, dropped a napkin-lined basket on the table with two slices of bread, touched my shoulder and turned away. “That’s all I could do.”  Two slices of bread. I struggled to chew off a bite.  Not just common, but stale as well.

    I cleared my palate and swirled my red.  The wine was fine.  The medley of herrings from Russ & Daughters was lovely too, though meager for $14, and what was this plopped on top?  Gorgeous warm pumpernickel bread.

    I gave in.  Okay, I thought, as I tasted Katz’s Delicatessen’s gargantuan and delectable matzo ball in shockingly bland soup that could have been heated up -- okay. Now we know Zak Pelaccio can shop, but if it weren’t for Fatty Crab, we’d never know he can cook. And we can’t know what he could be thinking letting those weirdly watery clam flatbreads out of the kitchen. Or an unredeemable pea soup.  House-smoked beef brisket arrived in a six-onion gravy that, alas, was no more remarkable than a one-onion gravy.  And the Queen Anne’s rigatoni tossed with spring peas and chunks of Calabria Pork Store sausage under a melting half cup of lovely Creek Farms Toussaint cheese -- was inexplicably dull.


       You will lounge till your party is complete at Borough Food & Drink. Photo: Steven Richter                     

    Spoiled by a recent round of very good burgers, the Road Food Warrior was not annoyed by the BF&D cheeseburger -- that caper aioli is a fine touch -- but he wasn’t overly impressed even before he saw that the bacon was three-quarters fat.  Yet the fries were great.  And grilled hanger steak with spring herb chimichurri and crisp tobacco onions was a joy.

    Eileen’s cheesecake is no match for the Brooklyn Diner’s. What can I say about a scoop of caramel ice cream for $2 with 75 cents worth of pecans? Provocative pricing.

    Maybe you noticed that I haven’t once mentioned the unstoppable Jeffrey Chodorow trying yet another concept in this space, or dragged in the ghost of Rocco di Spirito or Caviar & Bananas.  Nor have I confided that the last time we were here we had to sign a waiver that anything we said might wind up on TV.  I thought I’d just give it to you without ribbons or party favors: a first tasting of the boutique fare.

    It’s too soon to judge the kitchen, I grant. Still, can a Chinese dumpling carried out ever be as good as a dumpling en situ?  Maybe a Borough sandwich would be a better choice. I get hungry just reading the options.  Or maybe this is just an especially clever idea that isn’t going to work or will take a while to mature.  The “gathering of great products” concept has its weird moments for me too, at BellaVitae on Minetta Lane, where the goodies come from Italy, but I have friends who love it.

    I understand there’s a web site that tells waiters they get bigger tips if they touch the customers.  I’m sure I just made Carmine nervous and he was not in love with me, but by dessert it was like a twitch.  He couldn’t stop.  If I counted the numbers of times he tapped my shoulder or squeezed my arm, the tip would have been fat enough to underwrite a weekend in the Hamptons.

12 East 22nd Street between Broadway and Park Avenue 212 260 0103





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