For centuries, New York’s Greenwich village has been a capital for bohemia, a magnet for the arts and a springboard for social protest. But nowadays, apart from being the most desirable neighborhood in Manhattan where the 1% can rub shoulders with NYU undergrads, it’s also home to an astonishing overabundance of dining options rarely seen anyplace else.
With COVID precautions snugly in place, those restaurants still clutching to their survival with heat lamps and blankets have erected endless corridors of wooden “street-eries” that flank both sides of the narrow tangle of sidewalks from Broadway to the Hudson River.
During a recent “home swap week” we put up a valiant effort to squeeze as many local dining favorites into 3 meals a day. The quality, variety, originality and authenticity of options is carefully baked into the longevity of some of New York’s oldest and most historic institutions. Categorizing them is easy – there are only 2 types of restaurant in Greenwich Village: Italian, and everything else!
Starting with breakfast, a relative newcomer to the neighborhood is one of 4 outposts of Australian brunch hotspot Citizens of Bleecker. If Melbourne has managed to influence Manhattan in only one way, it has to be for producing the perfect Flat White coffee. But thanks to Citizens, my newest all-time favorite hot beverage fetish, the Golden Latte, is a frothy, almondy, gingery, turmeric-y foam-party in a cup – which pairs impeccably well with their tasty woven spiral of scrambled egg curds known as Rose Eggs.
If coffee and croissants are your quotidian kick-starters, then Parisian transplant Olivier Dessyn’s patisserie and baking school Mille Feuille is where you’ll find one of the top 3 Croissants in New York City. Just flaky enough. Just buttery enough. Just brown enough. Not too heavy on the sponge, but not flatulent with air pockets either. One is good. Two are spectacular.
If you’d prefer a wholesome bowl of oatmeal but refuse to stand, stir and stare at a pot in your Greenwich village micro-kitchen, you can pick up one of the 30+ varieties at Oat Meals. The pappa-bear, mamma-bear and baby-bear-sized porridge bowls of perfectly cooked oats come with toppings so inventive and amazing that Ben & Jerry & Baskin & Robbin would all drown in their own cherry-sprinkle drool. Sure, they have all the usual suspects like berries, bananas, nuts, honey, peanut-butter, granola and brown sugar, but how about pineapple, dried pomegranate seeds, crystallized ginger, poached eggs, parmesan, bacon and soy?
One of my all-time favorite lunch options is NY Dosas. Sri Lankan born Thiru Komar has been serving up vegan Masala Dosas from his impossibly small cart in Washington Square Park for two decades. Village regulars and fans of Padma Lakshmi’s Hulu hit “Taste the Nation” line up for hot coils of delectable wafer-thin chickpea crepes that clutch a generous dollop of turmeric spiced potatoes. An unsurprising Instagram sensation, Komar serves a few other delights, like Samosas and Pondicherri, but nothing beats a crispy-on-the-edges, spongy-in-the-middle Dosa in the shade of the Washington arch.
Another village veteran Mamoun’s, has been churning out authentic Mediterranean street-food fare for 45 years. There mere thought of their lamb Shawarma trapped inside that fluffy pita, dripping with salad and tahini and topped with a blast or two of their nuclear strength red-hot sauce brings tears to my eyes, sweat to my brow and joy to my tastebuds.
The sandwich to end them all is a heavenly Muffuletta from Faicco’s. Piled high with layer upon layer of exceptionally fresh, house-made salami’s, cheeses, oils and tapenades crammed into a blonde hero roll that can feed an entire construction site for a week.
When it comes to eating outdoors in mid-winter, some say there is no such thing as bad weather – only bad clothing. I would add that the spicier the food, the less any of it really matters. Ramen Danbo offers a highly customizable bowl of umami goodness, guaranteed to warm the coldest and pickiest of hearts. You can select the thickness and doneness of your noodles, the ingredients and spiciness of your broth (from pork all the way up to vegan) and what accoutrements you’d prefer to see floating around as you spoon away the mere suggestion of sub-zero.
A quick glance across the cluster of tables under a dark tarp in front of Raoul’s validates what to order: a Martini and a Steak au poivre. Sure, you can probably find a decent Steak au poivre from Harlem to Wall street, but few restaurants have served them quite so consistently since 1974. Taking advantage of a very unique cut of fat-less New York strip, every creamy peppercorn and brandy covered morsel is tender, moist and sumptuously delicious.
There are more Italian restaurants in Greenwich Village than in the entire city of Perugia. Just let that sink in that in for a moment. So, finding the best one or two is a futile exercise in subjectivity. There’s literally something for every eye, every taste-bud and every pocket. My suggestion is to find a local you trust, and then taste the neighborhood from their perspective. Well, that’s what we did anyway. Here are some of the highlights…
For a semi-transparent slither of aged prosciutto clinging to the top of a gently fried balloon of crispy, flaky, crackery dough otherwise known as Gnocco Frito, head straight to Rafele. This inexplicably delicious combination of salt, sweet and savory crunch is the absolute definition of a hot “appetizer”.
My favorite red-sauce restaurant in all of New York is still Carbone. If you can look beyond the prices, their crisp, tart and creamy Caesar Salad is sheer poetry, and no-one can pound and crumb a disc of Veal Parmesan into such a perfect suntanned circle, dripping with marinara and melting mozzarella and topped with a crisp slither of fried basil. Yuh-hum!
If you tell a Greenwich villager you went to Arturo’s for the best pizza, there’s a 50/50 chance you’ll start an argument, but I’m a believer now. There’s nothing subtle about this place. Its utilitarian charm permeates from having witnessed 5 decades of Houston street history. While regulars dominate the tables in shifts, an endless peloton of hot-box laden delivery riders scatter in every direction. The Fiesta Pizza is most likely why everyone is here. Thin-crusted, black-edged, multi-colored, tomato-y, chunky, chewy and heavenly cheesy.
If you still have room, head over to Bar Pitti for a slightly indulgent but utterly authentic slice of Torta de la Nonna. Just the right amount of lemony, custardy, pine-nutty, biscuity scrumptiousness that conjures up memories of those roly-poly hills of Tuscany on a late summer’s afternoon…as you sit in your frigid winter coat reality, separated into plexiglass cubes while being blanched by the overhead heaters.
Still high on my favorites list (with just not enough meals to go around this time) there’s also Il Mulino (the original red sauce palace), I Sodi (sensational Lasagne), Via Carota (heavenly bun-less burger), with Don Angie & L’Artusi to round things out.