This time of year — as spring turns into summer — the season’s time-sensitive harvest always feels precariously temporary. When fleeting ingredients like morel mushrooms and soft-shell crabs pop up on menus, it’s hard to turn them down lest you miss out. Things can quickly become desperate: “Who cares if we’ve already ordered more than enough? Bring on the fiddlehead ferns, cherry blossoms, and dandelion greens!” Without fail, some version of that exchange takes place during nearly every meal I eat between April and early June. Not every recipe is a smash hit, but the mad rush for greenmarket bounty can also unearth surprise finds, which is how my FOMO steered me to one of the most straightforwardly vernal tastes of the year in, of all places, a butcher shop.
Some spring dishes delicately cavort across the palate. The ramps ($12) at A&E Supply Co., Ennio Di Nino and chef Adam Harvey’s multipurpose Gowanus meat market and café, positively gallop. Huddling under a veil of crushed toasted hazelnuts and left mostly intact, they’re first grilled and then tossed with piquant Calabrian chile vinaigrette, which delivers a walloping jolt of buzzy, fruity heat. It’s just the kind of thing you’d expect from a chef who sneaks a little cow heart into his burger, which, at $12 with fries included, constitutes a legitimate deal. Ground on the premises from the same Hardwick grass-fed beef sold at the counter up front, the custom patties have serious heft and a pronounced offal funk. Served between buns toasted with beef tallow, they’re magnificent foils for both the strong aged cheddar and crisp, nicely smoky house-cured bacon offered as extra toppings. You can even supersize your order by making it a double and adding more fries, which nets you a $26.50 bacon cheeseburger bomb as formidable as you’re likely to find in Kings County.
Harvey and Di Nino met while working at the North End Grill, Danny Meyer’s sprawling financial-district charmer. They’ve clearly picked up a few pointers from New York’s king of hospitality. So while A&E is a decidedly casual enterprise — there’s a TV over the bar and window decals emblazoned with all-caps statements such as “ALL DAY WE VINYL” and “LIKE-A-THE-SAUCE?” — the relaxed yet studious service, inviting beverage list, and copper-paneled chef’s counter add a dash of class. The partners opened their roomy corner spot gradually, launching last November as a coffee, butcher, and cheese shop serving breakfast then eventually lunch. That’s when you’ll find powerfully spiced Nashville-style hot chicken sandwiches and a turkey reuben slathered cheekily in “election altering” dressing. Dinner service rolled out in March.
The enterprising duo have approached this joint venture, the first solo project for both, with a great deal of care. Di Nino oversees the dining room and bar, delivering food to tables and checking in on customers when he’s not shaking up a storm or pulling pints from an exclusively New York State selection of beers and ciders. Harvey, meanwhile, exudes as much personality as you’d expect from a Top Chef alumnus. A contestant on the show’s twelfth season, Harvey translates his primetime-ready creativity to the plate in recipes like an ultra-garlicky “second-date spinach” ($13), meyer lemon–scented asparagus ($15) served roasted and raw over a dune of eggy sauce gribiche, and a beer can chicken-for-two ($38) that evokes summer cookouts with a laid-back, home-style bent, the can serving as a vessel for robust caramelized-onion gravy. With a constantly changing menu, occasionally the food can feel like the result of a quickfire challenge — for better or for worse. I experienced the latter via an appetizer of fluke crudo ($17) that suffered from a too-sweet yuzu sorbet. Harvey’s chicken nugget gnocchi ($19), on the other hand, is a gratifyingly campy success. A shout-out to his grandfather’s fried chicken and mashed potatoes, it features potato dumplings and righteously crunchy, juicy chicken cloaked in velvety roasted-garlic buttermilk sauce reduced to a caramel brown. Things get wonkier with the addition of boiled peanuts and shiny swirls of red chile oil, but it all comes together in a familiar, comforting way. Similarly, buffalo wings inspire the A&E wedge salad ($13), which plies iceberg lettuce with blue cheese, hot sauce–confited chicken, and nuggets of crispy chicken skin for an unquestionably satisfying repositioning of old-school American flavors.
As you’d hope for from a restaurant with a whole-animal butchery outfit attached, the meatier options here are sure bets: slices of well-marbled Denver steak ($25), a fabulous budget chuck cut, tucked under a canopy of tatsoi dotted with herbs and puffed rice; a dry-aged bone-in strip ($34) served with deeply browned fried potatoes and some of that second-date spinach. A&E’s smoked pork collar, meanwhile, riffs on flavor profiles from the Momofuku canon with tart apple kimchi, deep-fried guanciale (which the kitchen sautés with baby bok choy), and — in place of the maple labne favored by David Chang and his merrymakers — tangy, dill-packed ranch dressing.
Dessert gets positively regressive with freshly baked cookies and milk as well as a chocolate pot de crème “worms & dirt” cup that can’t escape its juvenility despite the candy insects being made in-house. Carrot cake frosted with goat cheese mousse is a more grown-up option, though perhaps the best thing you could do to exercise your freedom as an adult would be to grab a few slices of Harvey’s proprietary bacon on the way out for breakfast the next morning.