We recently caught up with him to talk about his projects, his love for Old World wine and his new line of cold-pressed juices.
Eli’s Essentials, the grab-and-go café, is housed in a gorgeous 19th century storefront. The building was renovated in 1929, but Christopher Grey (of The New York Times Streetscapes fame) helped them peel back the layers to uncover the original floor plan. They enlisted architect Richard Lewis to renovate the space (the 10-month project uncovered century-old dumbwaiter shafts and evidence of original windows). “Richard Lewis and I have pretty much met every morning since 1986… as an architect, Richard pushes everything forward,” Zabar told us. His favorite menu items at the café? An apple turnover with a cup of house-roasted coffee.
Eli’s Essentials also carries a new line of cold-pressed juices using local products in the warm months and a farmer friend in California for the rest of the year. The juice line allows them to make use of slightly bruised produce that would otherwise be wasted. Zabar is excited for the challenge: “Because we make everything in house, we are experts in finding ways to use all parts of the ingredient.” Cold-pressed juice not your thing? Starting this spring, the café will turn into a wine bar at night.
Eli’s Table, the New American restaurant with a focus on an Old World wine list, opened in late 2014. The list, which is partially available at aptly-named Upper East Side shop Eli’s List , has an online counterpart to save you a trip. The wine selection is the product of yearly pilgrimages to France. “I prefer wines that are feminine and accessible, and the Old World lines I like are typically made with little intrusion using traditional methods. I’ve been forging relationships with family-run vineyards for decades, with people who are interesting as the wine themselves,” Zabar told us. He has a recommendation for restaurant first-timers: Poulet Rouge with a glass of 2008 Beaune 1er Cru “Les Aigrots” Michel Lafarge.