People love cherry blossom trees for their fleeting beauty, their mesmerizing transformation from stark bare branches to the brilliant bouquet of flowers brought on by spring. The flowers hang tight for just a few weeks before wind and life sends them to perish on the ground. Then the tree grows green with summer and dies again in winter and so the cycle goes.
While Black Tree restaurant and bar (131 Orchard St.; 212-533-4684) is of a different shade than a cherry tree, the ephemeral beauty behind the food there plays on the same idea.
Case in point, the heirloom watermelon sandwich, which will only be around for a couple more weeks before the region’s summer watermelon cache is depleted. And since Black Tree owners Sandy Dee Hall and Macnair Sillick keep things local–to within 300 miles of the Lower East Side storefront–once local watermelon is done, so is the sandwich, at least until next year.
With all seriousness, eat one while you can. Stop reading and go. Now. Before it’s too late. You’ll see.
Everything about the watermelon sandwich works: A glorious hunk of flour-dusted ciabatta bookends a clever combination of multicolored heirloom watermelon, fresh mint, and a soft, smoked ricotta cheese all brought together by a tangy balsamic vinegar. The juicy pulp of the heirloom watermelon and the freshness imparted by the mint make the first few bites reminiscent of a summertime cocktail, but the ricotta plays a bold cheesy angle that quickly reconciles the initial notion.
But what really takes this sandwich to the next level is the watermelon rind, pickled in a sweet and spicy vinegar and then fried in oil. Yes, you read that right: They pickled watermelon rind and then fried it and put it on a sandwich. It’s absolutely brilliant, and it adds a necessary crunchy element while also adding complexity with the spicy sweetness of the vinegar.
As a sandwich, it’s both ingenious and strange, and it is without a doubt best sandwich I’ve eaten in the name of this blog.
Sandy Dee Hall, Black Tree chef and co-owner, says if you think about watermelon outside of the, uh, rind, the inspiration for the sandwich becomes clear. “I always thought watermelon is very similar to tomatoes. If you think about it like that it totally makes sense,” he says, adding that the sandwich walks a similar line to panzanella, a Tuscan salad of bread and tomatoes.
As the seasons change, expect bold new things from Black Tree, but for now, get there soon for that last bite of summer. We can also highly recommend the Squash Blossom sandwich, a cheesy and welcome reinvention of the classic tomato caprese which made cut for Fork in the Road’s 100 Favorite Dishes. (Though as of Sunday Black Tree had subbed out squash for pumpkin, and it was equally delicious.)