Wednesday, December 30, 2009

We Went to There: Northern Spy Food Co.

Today I ventured out to a pleasant, if slightly barren stretch of E. 12th St. between Avenues A and B to go to there -- there being Northern Spy Food Co., a joint cafe and specialty foods shop named for a particular variety of apple native to the North East. Northern Spy has a quiet, unassuming storefront, made noticeable only by a little chalkboard sign inviting passersby to come in for lunch; with such eccentric 12th street neighbors as the curiously titled Jubb's Longevity (raw food market and self-reported celebrity mecca, run by one Dr. Jubbs) across the way, Northern Spy could easily go unseen. And indeed, it was a quiet day in the cafe, with only 3 or 4 occupied tables during the prime lunch hour -- less than you'd expect from a restaurant that Tweets on the topic of its full house during Tuesday night dinner service.

The meal, however, fulfilled high expectations. Northern Spy's menu changes daily -- "We're seasonal," the waitress reminded us, trendily -- but the basics are always the same. A few sandwiches are always on offer, including mushroom, country ham, and chicken. Entrees usually include, among others, roasted chicken and wild hive polenta. The "snacks" section consists of all things pickled, salted, and marinated -- or, in other words, divine. Our meal started with pickled eggs, which came 2 to an order, accompanied by pickled red and white onions and a chive-mayonnaise dip. These were salty, creamy, and tangy at once, and for me, unprecedented. Motivated by the high praise of bloggers since the place opened, I opted for the mushroom sandwich. A perfect, crusty baguette is hollowed out and stuffed -- "beautifully", noted my dining companion -- with maitake (rippled) mushrooms, clothbound cheddar, and fingerling potatoes, and served with a wedge of a McClure's pickle and a little pile of pickled red onions. It was every bit as delicious as I had heard, though I would have appreciated a bigger variety of mushrooms. Still, the buttery earthiness of it all was extremely pleasing, especially on such a cold day.

Margaret ordered the roasted chicken, which was supposed to come with eggplant, though the kitchen was out. The eggplant was replaced by collard greens braised with heritage bacon, and after some initial disappointment over the absence of eggplant Margaret declared the consolation collards the best she'd ever had. We finished the meal with the cookie plate -- what else? -- the stars of which were the chocolate chip and the pecan butter. I also enjoyed a cup of steaming apple cider, presumably made with the namesake Northern Spy apple. All in all, this meal was a success, complete with a post-lunch perusal of such exciting goods as the Liddabit "King" bar and Mother-in-Law kimchi.

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