It’s becoming common for restaurants to clear out some of their tables to make way for a food shop. Maybe it’s to evoke a farm-to-table sensibility or to display one’s curatorial cool. Cynically speaking, it’s probably the easiest way to boost revenue, save for running a secret brothel in the basement. Whatever the reason, the trend continues with Jeffrey’s Grocery, the new West Village addition from Gabriel Stulman and partners, literally a stone’s throw from Joseph Leonard, Stulman’s debut restaurant.
The products for sale at Jeffrey’s Grocery aren’t as regionally focused as at Francophilic Marché du Sud or filled with niche brands like at Court Street Grocers, two other new restaurant-market hybrids. Alongside heads of orange cauliflower, shishito peppers, and house-made hummus, you’ll find bushels of local apples and potatoes, and shelves stocked with toilet paper, cornstarch, and Cheerios. You can purchase these sundries anywhere, but if you’re like me, you’ll feel better about purchasing them here, given the friendly staff and old-world, comforting atmosphere that recalls the general store of yore.
The restaurant bills itself as a luncheonette and features a handsome wooden L-shaped bar that seats a dozen overlooking a minuscule kitchen, while a high communal table seats an additional 12. No matter when you visit (the restaurant is open for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner), if you’re offered a choice between eating at the bar or at the table, choose the bar. You can cut your food without elbowing your neighbor in the face, and it has slightly comfier bar stools (although even a comfortable stool is still a stool). Jeffrey’s Grocery has that worn rustic-chic ambience (chalkboards listing daily specials, high pressed-tin ceilings, and cookbooks scattered on shelves) that will likely lure you back.
Whether or not the food will entice you to return is another story.
Among the appetizers, a cup of clam chowder ($6) has too heavy of a hand with celery and not enough of a hand with clams. Smoked trout salad ($14, and not smoked in-house, mind you) comes with cubed beets and a flavorless cauliflower purée akin to caulking material. A duck salad ($15) is a heap of mesclun greens topped with rosy slices of duck breast. I swooned, however, over a chicken liver and foie gras terrine ($14) listed under “charcuterie” on the menu. Smooth, silky, and flecked with thyme, it’s served in a glass jar large enough to sate two as an appetizer.
Another brilliant dish is the raw scallops on the half-shell ($11), in which chunks of scallops are tossed with thinly sliced green grapes and crushed Sichuan peppercorns and brightened with a splash of vinegar. Sriracha ginger cocktail sauce tempted me into ordering the shrimp cocktail ($10), and while the shrimp were plump and firm, I was disappointed the sauce didn’t taste that different from the traditional ketchup-and-horseradish mash-up. And no self-respecting establishment that calls itself an oyster bar should punish me with shell in my oysters on every single visit (the selection changes daily, with prices about $1.50 to $2.50 each, gratuitous shell no extra charge).
The notion that main courses aren’t as tasty as appetizers is bucked here, especially with the rich braised lamb shank ($22) nestling in a crock of creamy polenta. I was bewildered by the dish’s garnish of raw sliced carrots and cauliflower, but after my first bite, I happily discovered that they weren’t raw, but pickled. The vegetables’ acidity mellows under the warmth of the lamb and becomes a zingy counterpoint to the hearty flavors. A hunkering pork chop ($24) flavored with rosemary comes with white beans so redolent with porcine goodness you’d think they’d been simmered inside a pig’s belly (the pork itself, though, isn’t terribly exciting). Salmon ($23) arrived perfectly cooked over a tangle of wild mushrooms and brussels sprouts.
These dishes won’t win Most Inventive Eats of the Year, but you also know they’re not trying to. Or at least you hope they aren’t. Desserts—which include a slice of dry red velvet cake with whipped cream and berries ($15 and meant for sharing)—are clearly an afterthought for the restaurant. They should be for you as well.
Lunch is a more rewarding time to visit Jeffrey’s Grocery. The music isn’t deafeningly loud, and you’re less likely to have the requisite minimum half-hour wait that comes with not taking reservations. Sandwiches occupy much of the lunchtime menu, with the best option being the juicy sliced brisket on sourdough toast ($15). Piled high and garnished with Muenster cheese and a finger-staining beet slaw, it’s hefty enough to straddle both the lunch and dinner menus. A thinly sliced roast pork sandwich ($16), moist but under-seasoned, gets slightly brighter with chopped broccoli rabe and provolone, but a chicken curry sandwich ($12) stayed flavorless and inexplicably bitter throughout my meal.
Stulman is on his way to delivering a triple threat in the West Village, now that Joseph Leonard is reopening after a fire and with Fedora set to begin business later this month. As with the comfortable but rarely show-stopping Joseph Leonard, Jeffrey’s Grocery makes for a decent neighborhood restaurant, but let’s hope that with Fedora, the third time’s the (gastronomic) charm.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 15, 2010