Sam P. asks: My brother’s birthday is coming up. He’s an opinionated, though well-educated, eater with a deep and abiding love for quality eats. We’ve recently had a number of heated discussions surrounding the issue of locavorism and restaurants that center their menus around this, and related doctrines. He is of the mind that such joints are all hype, not worth the money, and generally lack in flavor. … I would love to take him out for dinner and show him that dynamic flavor, sustainability, and a moderate price point can co-exist. The problem is, I’m not entirely convinced this is possible in NYC. Any suggestions you could offer would be greatly appreciated!
Dear Sam: It’s true that the word “locavore” has been co-opted by restaurateurs and it’s hard to walk into a restaurant without being assaulted by the name of the farm and farmer, and even the name of the goat you’re about to eat! It takes a discerning eye — and perhaps palate — to look beyond the bullshit and find places that actually follow through on their hype. I’ve got a few suggestions for you and I hope one of these inexpensive locavore spots will work for your brother’s birthday.
I think your best bet would be at Northern Spy Food Co., a small restaurant in the East Village where most entrées are under $20. The salads — think purslane with blueberries and roasted corn, or kale with Shelburne cheddar and apricots — are great and local, and the meats are often sourced from Long Island and the Hudson Valley. And if your brother’s birthday happens to fall on a Sunday, you could enjoy their $24, three-course Sunday supper, which features simple but well-prepared dishes like roast chicken, salad, and cake. Because often it’s these foods that are the most memorable, no?
Also in the East Village is Back Forty, Peter Hoffman’s American restaurant. He was one of the original locavores, and his now shuttered restaurant Savoy was really one of the first spots to adopt the local/sustainable ethos. This spot is more casual than Savoy, but the back patio is a fun spot for end-of-summer dining.
In Brooklyn, check out the totally unpretentious but still locavorish Eat in Greenpoint. It offers more of a rustic-minimalist café setting but with a bounty of fresh veggies, pastas, soups, and the like. Prices are very reasonable, though note that the non-vegetarian options can be somewhat limited.
And lastly, it would be difficult for me not to recommend ABC Kitchen. I’ve suggested it frequently in the past because I think they do locavore food exceptionally well. (If you go, you must get the roast carrot salad!) It’s slightly more expensive than the other spots I’ve listed, but chef Dan Kluger could be called the vegetable whisperer for the work he does there. It — unlike most places — actually deserves the hype.