Try to imagine the sounds of tinkling ivories, musical comedy, a jazz band, and several dozen men singing showtunes. Now try to imagine them all occurring at the same time. Now put yourself in the picture, sitting in the middle of it all, only somehow it works. Welcome to piano bar row, Grove Street between Bleecker and 7th. Welcome to The Grove Street Cafe.
The setting is definitely designed with the yuppie set in mind. Exposed brick walls, subdued lighting, glass front, sidewalk tables, and a waitstaff that is not only friendly, but is appropriately attractive and trendily dressed. The maitre d’ and manager happily took our bottle of wine (a tangy little bottle of Pomino, from Tuscany) before we were seated and put it on ice to chill. This is probably a good moment to point out that Grove Street is a BYOW – Bring Your Own Wine – kind of venue. A little more candlepower in the overhead fixtures would have helped, but we did manage to browse through our menus by passing the candle around the table.
Luckily, this urbane sophistication does not overwhelm the bill of fare. While chic salads of goat cheese and arugula with balsamic vinegar and the Grove Street Salad of baby shrimp and avocado (slightly skimpy on the avocado according to our expert in such matters) were definitely taste test winners, as too are classics like beef carpaccio with olive oil and shaved parmesan, and the basil, tomato and fresh mozzarella plate.
The main course menu is fairly extensive, and split into three realms – animal, vegetable, and pasta. Although the menu lists a fairly good selection of poultry, from chicken to game hen, and several tasty sounding beef dishes, we have yet to try any of them. We have once sampled the broiled salmon, which is cooked to a nice pinkish-orange medium, that virtually melted on the palate. Our main target has been the pasta selections. Tortellini, ravioli, linguine and fettucine proliferate, both on the regular menu selection and an array of daily specials. Some are simple, like a savory whole-wheat linguine with fresh vegetables. Others are fancier, like the delectable garlicky lobster fettucine. My personal favorite, albeit somewhat on the heavy side, is a plate of fettucine topped with wild porcini and domestic mushrooms in a rich cream sauce.
We capped our most recent evening with a round of espressos (if you like lemon twists, you will have to request them), and an array of desserts from a fresh daily tiramisu to blueberry cheesecake and chocolate cake. Sate, we prepared to leave, only to be presented with snifters of sambucca, adorned with the three apropros coffee beans mucking about in them. There does not seem to be a pattern to this gift, some tables got them, some didn’t, some were flaming, some weren’t.
The Grove Street Cafe should be a definite destination next time you’re in the West Village. Enjoy a meal and then your choice of musical entertainments to drop in on right down the block at The Five Oaks, Rose’s Turn, Arthur’s Tavern, or Marie’s Crisis.
The Grove Street Cafe, 53 Grove Street (between 7th and Bleecker), 924-8299, reservations recommended. Open 7 days a week for dinner, plus weekend brunch. Mastercard and Visa accepted. Dinner, $30-35.
As we all know, some days cheap is the operative force in our lives. Not cheap in quality of course, but, shall we say, easy on the wallet. With this in mind, we set out to visit our favorite low-expense neighborhood, the far East Village. Wandering down Avenue A, we found ourselves at that bastion of Cajun-Italian cooking, Two Boots. Named for its culinary origins (two boots – Italy and Louisiana – you’ll have to supply the visuals), this hopping eatery hangs quietly between 2nd and 3rd Streets.
The decor is classic pizzeria – lots of red and white check, and red walls, and things hanging from the walls, like strings of garlic, baseball pennants and cowboy boots. Cowboy boots? Not to mention the Caribbean and Native American looking chachkas and strings of miniature lights also shaped like boots. Boots are definitely a theme, eclectic though the collection may be. The waitstaff don’t necessarily continue this course, and have sensibly opted for comfortable shoes. I have no doubt this contributes significantly to their cheery manner. The pizza kitchen is open to the dining room, where you can watch the multi-tattooed pizza-maker do his thing, and the main kitchen is hidden away behind.
You may ask, what is Cajun-Italian cooking? The answer ought to be simple, and in this case, it is. Italian food with some Cajun ingredients and Cajun food with some Italian ingredients. That answered, we turned to the menus, which lists a variety of simple appetizers, mostly breaded and fried things, salads and such, which, other folk in the establishment seemed to dig into eagerly. We moved on to bowls of outrageously good and spicy gumbo and red onion soup.
While the main menu offers a diverse grouping of pastas with vegetables, chicken and a range of sauces, the real reason for coming here is the pizza. Take that standard New York thin, crispy crust and top with tomato sauce that has some Cajun fire to it. Topping choices include the old standbys like peperoni, ham and mushrooms, but add in an array from bayou country like hot, smoky andouille and mild tasso sausages, crawfish tails and fresh hot peppers. Another plus is the offering of individual sized pizzas, so everyone at the table gets a personally tailored pie.
We finished off the evening with good old American coffee, and slabs of gooey, luscious chocolate-pecan pie and creamy, rich cheesecake. And to top it all off, our ulterior motive was met, it didn’t hurt to pay the tab at the end of the night.
Two Boots also has two takeout pizzeria locations (Two Boots To Go), one directly across the street from the main restaurant, and another on Bleecker, just east of Broadway. The latter does not, in our collective opinion, live up to the quality of the other two, but it does save a walk to the far eastern frontier.
Two Boots, 37 Avenue A (between 2nd and 3rd Streets), 505-2276. Open 7 evenings a week, 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. American Express accepted. Dinner, $10-15.
CaB magazine was one of the first publications I ever wrote for. Published by my dear friend Andrew Martin, it covered the Cabaret, Theater, Music and Dining scene in New York City, long before slick publications like Time Out NY and Where NY became popular. We had great fun writing it, and some wonderful writers contributed to its pages. When the magazine folded in the mid-90s, Andrew disappeared from the scene, and rumors had it that he departed from this existence not long after. I was thrilled to find out in mid-October 2005, a decade later, that the rumors were just that. Andrew contacted me after finding my site via that omnipresent force, Google. He’s alive and well and a member of a comedy troupe called Meet the Mistake. Somehow quite fitting!