When the first gastropubs hit town, they mainly cobbled their menus together out of goosed-up American and Italian fare, rather than reworking colorful Englishisms like bubble and squeak, toad in the hole, Welsh rarebit, and spotted dick. But just as the institution was being remade in Gotham’s image, a few real U.K. gastropubs managed to sneak into the city, including Ulysses and the Breslin. Now along comes Jones Wood Foundry, secreted on a side street in Yorkville, and it might be the most perfect facsimile gastropub of all.
A project of an English chef and a French co-owner, the name acknowledges one of the neighborhood’s earliest monikers—Jones Wood. Prior to the Civil War, its rolling hills were the site of picnic grounds, beer gardens, and donkey rides for pent-up urbanites living to the south. As the restaurant’s website informs us, the building first saw use as a hardware store and foundry belonging to the Eberhardt family, who still own the property. Clearly, the place’s identity has been carefully groomed to appeal to proud neighborhood diners.
The labyrinthine interior features a long bar plunging like a hot poker deep into the interior, where a greeter at a narrow door presides. After checking in, you’ll descend a few steps into a skylit space, in which a long communal table set with votive candles waits, as if for a séance. Beyond that find a cavernous dining room, with tiny tables, tall, dimpled banquettes, and random antique pictures and objets d’art, too dimly lit for anyone to really inspect, although soldiers, beaming schoolboys, and antique lamps can be discerned. The rooms flank an interior courtyard that is particularly fine on summer evenings.
English peasant fare forms the bedrock of the menu, in servings that qualify as single-plate meals—though ones generally devoid of veggies. There’s a fist-size steak-and-kidney pie ($18) made with a thick, flaky pastry as brown as the Monk’s robe in Canterbury Tales. The cubes of kidney identify themselves with a slight squishing sound as you chew. Alongside, a bloated caterpillar of mashed potatoes extruded from a pastry bag inches along. In a gastropub, arrangement of elements on the plate is an obsession.
These irresistible spuds reappear in bangers and mash ($17), a trio of pale but delicious sausages sourced from the West Village’s Myers of Keswick, each link riding its potato caterpillar like a rodeo cowboy. There’s a thick burger with a little British flag poking out of a brioche bun, perhaps as a warning that there’s Worcestershire sauce mixed in with the ground meat. The best all-inclusive meal is a roast chicken with mashed potatoes ($21), though the enthrallingly light gravy makes you wish it came with some bread. Skip the fish and chips, shamefully made with cod, a creature apparently on its last legs, frequently included on lists of unsustainable fisheries. Available as a substitute, haddock is hardly more sustainable.
The entrée section also includes a massive Niman Ranch pork chop poking up from a stony plateau of spiced applesauce, sided by a hillock of bubble and squeak (cabbage roughly mashed with potatoes). The sight recalls a Celtic burial cairn deep in the English countryside, but the price ($28) is pure New York. While many of the mains tend to be both good and a good deal, the apps are less so. We liked the gazpacho special with its boiled-egg crumble and pumpernickel croutons, but a mackerel crudo found the raw seafood hiding in an inordinate amount of salad material squirted with some inscrutable white substance.
Breaking the rule that a gastropub should have a limited menu, a triangle of paper wraps around the candle on your table containing a list of 20 further small dishes, mainly served on toast. Don’t dare call them English tapas. This is where the real pay dirt lies if you’re searching for dyed-in-the-wool peasant fare. Eggs and soldiers ($9) are a pair of soft-boiled ova creatively arranged on a piece of slate that might have once been Upper East Side pavement. Fingers of toast are provided for dipping. Delectable! The potted crab isn’t so appealing. Pickling is probably the last thing you want to do with lump crustacean.
If you make it to dessert, the sticky toffee pudding is your best bet. The toffee sauce is salty and dark, and there’s plenty of it poured over the nut-studded steamed cake. Naturally, the appearance has been carefully toyed with. In fact, it might be mistaken for a tar-covered snowball. Better duck!
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 13, 2011