Northern Spy Food Co (yes, it’s a mouthful) is sweet. Not Dude, Where’s My Car? sweet, not saccharin sweet; sweet like your grandmother’s kitchen, like the inside of the perfect apple pie, like the smell of hay bales and freshly cut grass. Named after a New York variety of heirloom apples, Northern Spy Food Co is part-restaurant, part-local food product purveyor. The entire concept for Northern Spy rests on serving and selling the best regional products from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic; in short, it’s a locavore’s nirvana.
The tiny East Village restaurant is a bit off the beaten track, on 12th Street between A and B, yet it has a loyal following, both of locals and those who travel across Manhattan for the fresh market-driven food. The eco-friendly space, developed from as many recycled, reclaimed, and repurposed materials as possible, seats just about 30 between the square front room and back bar area. Even if you were to look closely, you’d be hard-pressed to notice that the dining room tables are taken from bowling alley lanes and the white-washing paneling is merely refurbished lumber yard scraps. Light fixtures hail from Ebay and vintage stores; the wallpaper seems familiar, probably taken straight from my grandmother’s living room; even a chicken coop is re-used, now housing the market’s formidable pickle selection. Perhaps you find this type of give-and-take decor kitschy or raggedy, but at Northern Spy, the final product is purely charming.
In such a homey and comfortable environment, you could expect nothing less than superlative comfort food. And that’s exactly what Northern Spy Food Co provides, with distinction. Based on what you’d find at neighborhood farm stands any given day, the true-to-America food is nostalgic: cool and creamy Chilled Cauliflower Soup, al dente Risotto with zucchini, turnips and marscapone, Roasted Chicken in lemon and natural jus, juicy heritage pork Meatballs in pecorino and marinara, chicken thigh and poached egg sandwich, dressed with sharp chimichurri sauce. The menu changes frequently, according to what is available, and specials abound; yet, the soul and the culture of the food at Northern Spy remains the same: classic, memorable, fresh, simple.
Recommended dishes include a remarkable gnocchi, seeped in creamy tomato sauce, served with crunchy baby peas, and caramelized slightly for a golden crunchy exterior, and the sweet and addictive peach pie, topped with funky homemade burnt caramel ice cream. The Freekeh risotto is for those seeking earthy soulfood – a whole wheat rice grain cooked al dente in clothbound cheddar and silky marscapone and surrounded by sliced zucchini and sweet turnips; it was rich, fulfilling, and the epitome of farm fresh cooking. While, I rarely order salads in restaurants as they infrequently hold true to the personality of the spot, Northern Spy’s varieties wow; they’re not your typical waistline-conscious salads and come loaded with fruits, vegetables, nuts, roots, and various proteins. Come prepared to order one to start – you won’t be disappointed!
Northern Spy Food Co is, in a way, just another farm-to-table neighborhood spot in the East Village, yet it rises above its (growing) competition with beautifully-executed cuisine, a warm and inviting atmosphere without an ounce of pretension, and a lovely diverse menu with something for everyone. It’s not hard to label Northern Spy as something special, for it glows warmly with the cozy nostalgia of American country cooking.
Perfect For: a dinner with friends in the neighbhorhood, cheap & casual date night, homesick Americans, pie lovers, the locavore movement, vegetarians dining with omnivores