An Early Taste of the Wood-Fired Cooking at Chelsea's Heartwood
It's been nearly a month since Bradford Thompson, Mark Fiorentino, and Nick Mautone first flung open the doors to Heartwood (184 Eighth Avenue, 646-476-5458), the wood-fired-oven-centric restaurant they planted in Chelsea, and in that time, the place has picked up the rhythm of a buzzy neighborhood joint: You'll need a reservation for tables, but even if you do that, you'll likely want to join the people packing into the bar for an after work bite plus something from a long list of cocktails, a New York-heavy wine list, and beers on tap. The energy from that counter bleeds out into the room, but the bar seats seem like the best seats here.
The partners have deep resumes; Thompson is a James Beard Award-winner, Fiorentino spent 15 years in the Daniel Boulud empire baking bread, and Mautone comes from Gramercy Tavern. Here, they've built a casual shrine to American food, using the oven they had custom-built on site by Neapolitan builder Stefano Ferrara to fire a board of unusual pizzas and proteins.
While you could build a meal via the traditional app-entree-dessert route, the list seems better suited to sharing. Start with a couple of dishes from the section that boasts snacks, small plates, and potted meats; the three cheese and rice fritters are crisp-edged balls filled with rich, gooey dairy, and the potted salmon, which was on the menu in place of the duck the night we stopped in, blended smoke and cream and ate well on toast.
We'd skip the salads -- pickled apples and pumpkin seeds didn't give the baby lettuces the acid it needed under the buttermilk, and, predictably, the warm spinach wilted despondently under the weight of lamb bacon and a poached egg. Move, instead, into the pizzas, which show off the skills of the baker via blistered, chewy crusts, and highlight Thompson's unique knack for flavor combinations. It's worth asking for the "When Peter Luger Goes Out For Pizza;" it matches soft hunks of short rib to verdant creamed spinach and a light spike of horseradish. But the stone cold stunner in this section, at least for us, was the wild & sharp, a mash-up of pungent, meaty mushrooms, garlic, sharp fontina, and a refreshing hit of tarragon.
A pie could make a meal for one diner, but if you're with at least two people, order accordingly so that you can also explore the proteins, which veer through rabbit, black bass, and more short rib. Our pick was the pork chop, a prime fat-laced cut crisped nicely around the edges and juicy within. It really didn't need accompaniments, but the apricot chutney and honey-glazed turnips added nice sweetness.
Service, by the way, seems to still be getting its legs -- servers are friendly, but they'll be slow to fill your glass. Yet another incentive to sit at the bar if you're interested in having a few drinks.
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