Bearing Fruit: The Edible Business Lunch at Northern Spy

Northern Spy image

Take a Bite: The Famous New York Northern Spy Apple, at Left, is also the Name of One of Our New Favorite East Village Places

The Northern Spy apple, a variety first planted in New York state in the early 1800s, was known for bearing big, colorful, juicy fruit that were legendary keepers, so they ended up in a lot of pies and sauce and other wintertime dishes. Not surprisingly, the cozy, 900-square-foot East Village restaurant (511 E. 12th St.) that bares this persistent fruit’s name was, on a recent chilly day, awash in farm-fresh cockles-warming treats being served to a bustling lunch time crowd.

I felt an immediate kinship to the place, not just because I have a Northern Spy planted in my back yard, but because the Northern Spy Food Co.‘s menu and commissary shelves unfold with characters from recent issues of Edible–from Liddabits King Bar to North Fork chips, from Channing Daughters Scuttlehole Chardonnay by the glass to Hot Bread Kitchen tortillas. An Xtracycle, invented by a college friend of mine and outfitted with an old milk basket, was even parked outside, recently returned from the flower district (and often from Union Square Greenmarket).

On our table, side by side with pickled eggs, toothsome polenta, Montauk calamari, and a raw kale salad that would have made Anne Saxelby blush (it was garnished with chunks of Cabot Clothbound cheddar and shavings of Three Corner Farm), were two pork specials: a porchetta sandwich done just right on Sullivan Street’s pane bianco, and some even more interesting headcheese. “They just started sending heads,” said chef Nathan Foot of the hogs the restaurant gets from Fleischer’s in Kingston.

He suspected that “fat is a tough sell in the East Village,” but that wasn’t a problem at our table. Packed with pistachio and parsley and red ribbons of pork, this terrine seemed less preserved and less handled than the typical gelatin-rich creation. Chef Foot, a Boston boy who has mostly cooked in San Francisco and has been “impressed” by the East Coast’s offseason meat and seafood selection, paired the dish with a vinegary, jalapeno dressed salad and dijon. (Note to farmers: he plans to replace all this pork with lamb in the spring.)

This sort of juxtaposition is typical, no matter which side of the rustic-fine dining L Train spectrum you are on (East vs. West of the East River, that is). But it’s still delicious: Brunch patrons have been gobbling Chef Foot’s slow cooked eggs, made homey with homemade sausage, made refined with a bit of creme fraiche, and made perfect with grilled bread.

Some might say the joint has an interborough identity crisis. “I’m always hoping that the restaurants in the city will be more like what I go to Brooklyn for,” said Chris Ronis, who lives in the neighborhood and owns the restaurant with former A16 chef Cristophe Hill, who lives in Brooklyn. The two had wanted to open in Williamsburg, but ultimately settled on the foot traffic and the what-used-to-be Brooklyn rent of the East Village, and decorated the room with apple tree patterned wallpaper, custom powder blue banquets, and beer taps that pop from the wall.

The Brooklyn notion of a restaurant general store–see Marlow & Son or Brooklyn Larder–hasn’t yet caught on in Manhattan, Ronis suggested.  “Brooklyn’s almost become fancier in that way,” at least when it comes to food. As if on cue, a woman with pajamas on under her coat came in looking for local milk (Battenkill Valley Creamery) and local kimchi (Mother in Law’s ).

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Brian is the editor in chief of Edible East End, Edible Long Island, Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn. He writes from his home in Sag Harbor, New York, where he and his family tend a home garden and oysters. He is also obsessed with ducks, donuts and dumplings.