The Upper East Side has a reputation. Depending on which side of Lexington Avenue you venture to, it’s either the hoity-toity home of New York’s blue bloods or the home away from home for the recently-graduated frat scene. Naturally, the sorts of restaurants and bars you find on the Upper East Side typically fit snugly into one of these two categories. Only rarely does an eating and drinking establishment come around that defies expectations, that is neither pretentious nor beer-soaked (in a dirty sort of way). Earl’s Beer & Cheese is one of these such establishments.
On the border (or perhaps just over) between the Upper East Side and Spanish Harlem, Earl’s Beer & Cheese is hardly more than a sliver of space – devoted to marrying two beloved pleasures, beer and cheese. The seating is communal, limited to a few bar stools along one wall and a central table that appears to be a cousin of the standard picnic table. At Earl’s, you better get used to rubbing elbows with strangers, for the combination of rabid popularity and very little room creates a major jam from ‘after-work’ hours far into the night. But try not to worry, after a few of the weekly rotated brews and big bowl of beer cheese (see below), a few elbow jabs will seem just jovial.
courtesy of Danny Kim & New York Magazine
Earl’s menu is short, sweet and focused on cheese. Expect grilled cheese varieties, mac n’ cheese, tomato soup (best with the grilled cheese), a cheese plate (duh), a house-made concoction called beer cheese, and a decadent dish of waffles, foie gras, cheddar cheese, and bacon. In short, even if you only sort of like cheese (the horror!), it’s all deliciously over-the-top and marvelous, especially with a cold beer. The grilled cheese, of which there are three rather complicated types, is served on fluffy sourdough or a buttery brioche; regardless of whether you try the cheddar, brie, or mozzarella, cheese oozes out of the side. With oil andfatty meats and oozing melted cheese, it’s virtually impossible not to enjoy Earl’s grilled cheese sandwiches – and virtually impossible to enjoy them neatly. The mac n’ cheese is luxurious: rich, creamy, tangy from the goat cheese, and flecked with fragrant rosemary. After a long-day, it is the perfect comfort food dish to push worries out of sight and out of mind. Best of all though is the beer cheese. Does it even need explanation? or validation? Beer. Cheese. Together, in a savory, salty, creamy dip to be spread lavishly on crusty white bread. In one word: heaven.
Earl’s is a charming novelty spot that eschews that bipolar attitude that tends to define ‘the Upper East Side.’ Popular with local Mt. Sinai medical students just happy to be out of class, it’s a cheerful place with an immensely friendly staff and generally jovial crowd. When being plied with craft beers that rotate weekly and pots of bubbling cheese, it’s hard not to love every minute of your time stuffed into this hole in the wall.
Perfect For: after-work drinks, cheeseheads, beer aficionados, Mt. Sinai students and staff, unbuttoned Upper East Siders