American Cuisine on the Upper West Side
American food has gotten a major face-lift in the past thirty years, with restaurants nation-wide increasingly updating their homey regional recipes. Here on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, we have a pretty awesome collection of restaurants that celebrate America, from old-time favorites to successful experiments.
This occurred to me as I enjoyed a recent snack at Marcus Samuelsson’s new Alice Tully Hall Cafe, American Table. The eclectic menu includes classic flavors like cheddar, biscuits, and tomato soup, but also has the unexpected fusion combinations Samuelsson is famous for, including a liver, poached chicken and pickled cabbage sandwich that seemed to be a Swedish incarnation of a Banh Mi, and was delicious. We also tried the Doro Wat Tacos, open faced soft flour tacos with piles of pulled chicken stewed in Ethiopian spices, topped with chopped egg and sour cream and served with a lime — the flavors were somehow African and Mexican at once, and went together beautifully (especially with plenty of the sriracha found on every table).
Seeing his construction of American cuisine – this balance of old standards with unique flavor fusions, made me revisit my favorite other examples of American fare.
One way to define American food is by actual location: what could be a better example than food that is locally sourced? My top pick for locavore food on the UWS: Community Food and Juice on Broadway and 113th. In addition to supporting the community, they served just delicious food — super fluffy pancakes and choose-your-own adventure omelets in the morning, tangy gruyere quiche, crispy fried fish sandwiches with golden beet chips at lunch, and excellent, rich burgers with onions and sweet potatoes fries at lunch, and one of my favorite roast chickens in the city for dinner, served with lemon rosemary couscous. And don’t forget their bowls of mystery vegetables, flatbreads to start, and the extreme-chocolate cake. They also make all their own juices fresh, they have an inventive and rotating list of cocktails, and they butter their cider. What more could a girl ask for? Check out their duck bacon pizza below.
Another hidden gem that ‘screams’ American is Say Cheese, a tiny open-kitchen spot on 83rd street which (until 7 pm) serves mostly fancy grilled cheeses (french onion grilled cheese! figs and grilled gouda!) in skillets for plates (which I love — and gives you a chance to get in touch with your inner pioneer!) and their other offerings follow the nostalgic lead, with tons of homemade gourmet snow-cones such as mango lime chili powder, or swedish fish flavored, plus random foods from your happy place: French toast sticks, fried chicken popcorn, tiny corndogs, and s’mores, all fancied up.
But some cravings are more specific. If you’re reminiscing about New England seafood, we’ve got an UWS spot for that: Ditch Plains, on 81st street off columbus. The decor reminds you of a walk down the boardwalk, and the generous portions of lobster rolls, roasted scallops with corn puree or monkfish steaks over lobster mash completes the picture. Spicy pork meatballs were also delicious. I haven’t tried their large format dinners but their Lobster Bakes, Whole Roasted Suckling Pig, Crab Boils, Thanksgiving All Year or Salt Crusted Whole Fish dinners sound like they’d make a great party!
My last – but definitely not least – recommendation for getting your fix of America’s favorite flavors is at another relative newcomer, Jacob’s Pickles, where I have had no fewer than 6 types of actual pickles cured in-house- several cuke varieties, pickled tomatoes, carrots, asparagus, hard boiled eggs and jalapenos! And recently Mike and I sat down for a delicious dinner highlighting local ingredients with a Southern sensibility: buttermilk fried chicken with honey and shredded pickles piled high over a soft yeasty biscuit, served with a big metal bowl of cheddar grits made for a perfect combination of sweet, salty and acidic, crunchy and creamy all together. Meatballs with sour-pickled green tomato sauce was a clever re-invention that worked out perfectly. They also proudly carry a long list of small-batch American beers, which we enjoyed in flights, and serve very American-sized portions.
Did I miss your favorite UWS restaurant that uses local ingredients, makes classic American fare, or creates something new and uniquely American? Let me know – I love a good tip!
A few more great spots to enjoy classic American food:
Native Upper West Sider. Clinical Psychiatrist. Consumer and creator of food and culinary writing.