Good, fully developed veal: That’s apparently what human flesh tastes like, according to William Buehler Seabrook, a New York Times reporter, occultist, and adventurer who lived at the turn of the 20th century. During one of his travels, he feasted on man’s rump steak and loin roast, proclaiming them both surprisingly tender, even delectable. Alas, at the Cannibal, you won’t find the limbs of any Homo sapiens on the table, but you will discover a wealth of other carnivorous delights.
Adjacent to Resto, a Belgian restaurant in Murray Hill, this tiny new eatery also functions as an artisanal food market and craft beer shop—a bodega for trustafarian foodies. Like its neighbor, the menu champions a nose-to-tail philosophy of chowing down, yet the vibe here is more casual and geared toward nibbling. Seating is at one of two counters (on tall, uncomfortable stools) or at two small picnic tables out on an uncovered back patio. So if you’re in a group, go early in the evening before it fills up.
Or come for lunch, when sandwiches take center stage on the menu. The surprising star of the bunch: egg salad on white ($9). Unlike those clunky mayonnaise-laden versions at the corner deli, the finely minced spread gets a smack of spice from green curry paste and comes adorned with cilantro sprigs and crunchy, vinegary carrots. A Cuban ($12), meanwhile, combines the standard stuffings of ham, gruyère, and pickles with chopped pig’s head meat. It has a great balance of flavors, with just a twang of savory funk.
But unless you have a job that lets you booze in the afternoon, you might want to save your visit for when you can knock back a few of the whopping 300-plus beers available. You’ll see many of them in the refrigerated cases lining the entranceway; purchase those to-go after you leave. So many choices can be overwhelming, yes, but the knowledgeable (if somewhat harried) staff helps guide you on the way to drunkenness. Thanks to them, I discovered many unusual offerings, like Emelisse Rauchbier, made with smoked hops; Hitachino Ginger, infused with the rhizome, giving it a spicy, floral quality; Wrasslers XXXX Stout, full-bodied and full of chocolate notes; and a refreshing wheat beer epically named Schneider Wiesen Edel-Weisse Mein Grunes. Like most good things, however, the bottles don’t come cheap—the majority hover around $12, with others closer to $20, and some even more expensive.
The grub is decently priced, though, with many dishes designed for sharing. Hams and cured meats piled on boards may tempt, but I preferred the more intriguing sausages and pâtés. Try the sweet, juicy Italian links, brightened with pickled rapini ($11), or fatten up with the classic kielbasa ($9). Lamb neck comes fashioned into a lovely terrine flecked with Sichuan peppercorns ($11), while duck liver mousse ($11) gets crowned with a decadent bacon jam. Yes, bacon jam.
With so many choices, some dishes inevitably fall through the cracks. Steak tartare ($14) bizarrely arrives with chopsticks instead of forks, and the overly large chunks are dressed with an abundance of lemon and parsley. You can also skip the pork liver terrine ($11) and smaller snacks like the whipped lardo on toast ($5) and pork rinds ($4).
But don’t forsake Babe entirely. Hands-down, the most fun I had at the Cannibal was when three girlfriends and I ordered the half pig head ($40). Presented John the Baptist–style on a huge plate with fresh arugula and spicy roasted fennel, the entrée made us the immediate envy of all other diners. And while the noggin has a lot of fat, it’s a culinary adventure scavenging behind the eyeballs for hunks of luscious meat, slicing up the tongue, and gnawing off the crispy ears. It’s about as close as you can get to experiencing life as an actual cannibal.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 26, 2011