Dipping into Maison Pickle
Maison Pickle proves everything you ever heard about the Upper West Side. Everything proud, everything modest, everything defensive — all true. We are hungrier, fatter, friendlier, cleverer, more laid back, more neurotic, and even more charismatic. Maison Pickle appeals to our need for comfort. And we’ll take what’s left home in a doggy bag, please.
All around us tonight, West Siders in romantic twos and mixed-generational threes and fours, in celebratory fives and with an occasional toddler are embracing our Upper West Sidedness. We are sharing the house specialty, the French Dip. We’re nibbling the seasonal pickled crudités with a dab or two of herb aioli. We’re discovering we love the fried chicken with buttermilk toast better by far than the braised short rib.
Notice the advisory on the menu: “Maximum split for credit cards 6 per table.” That’s the mindset here. It’s definitely not an advisory you’re likely to see across town. “Break Bread” is the header. One evening five of us share a hill of pull-apart Parker House rolls with feta, olive and herbs for $11. But no need to pay for bread. Just ask, “May we have some bread, please.” And you’ll get toasted logs of buttermilk bread, baked in house like all the other breads.
“Nosh and Noms” is the lead category on the menu’s left. “What, dare I ask, are Noms?”
“It’s the sound of eating,” owner Jacob Hadjigeorgis tells me. Nom nom nom. “It’s our way of saying, relax, let loose, feel all right, enjoy our comfort food.” He has measured what makes Upper West Siders feel at home at his Jacob’s Pickles on Amsterdam and now applies the lessons here. Hadjigeorgis was born in Queens and lives on 113th Street.
He also pays homage to what used to be here too: Ouest See the name in neon on the sign outside. Westsiders loved Ouest too, but rent demands finally did it in.
The revamp is ambitious with its dazzling wall of booze and two bars, its open kitchen, reconfigured tables crowded close, 140 seats including the balcony. Five of us are sitting in a tiled cubby, slightly sheltered from the buzz. We’re sharing the D’Olived eggs, the stuffing whipped into a creamy wave that actually looks as if a whole yolk went into each half white but otherwise, $11 for four aggressive spirals. Or is that extra for the crisps of Maldon salt?
Actually, except for “Le Grand” — dishes like a half Berkshire pig’s head confit for two — most of the single portions here are sized to feed two or more, so if you go for “Noms” and otherwise order prudently, you can fill up for a nicely modest West Side fee, under $50 including tax and tip.
Chefs have been cooking American for decades now, but not many spots are as homey as this. It’s your childhood revisited. Take the mac and cheese, that’s a must. It comes three ways. Or six ways if you count two sizes for each rendition. The Classique, Buffalo Chicken and Midnight Brunch with fried egg. We order the smaller $14 “Classique,” a fabulous balance of pasta and sharp cheddar, mozzarella, American cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano. I can’t imagine ever coming here and not ordering it.
The menu suggests cocktails to go with the French dips, but wine lovers and booze hounds have many choices here too. Beer drinkers may choose an inexpensive ale or lager or indulge in a vintage bottle, Curmudgeon brewed with molasses aged in oak at $35, perhaps. Or Firestone Velvet Merkin Bourbon barrel-aged Oatmeal Stout 2013 for $65.
That first evening my pals are distracted catching up with each other and ask me to order. I decide we should share the pull-apart bread, shrimp pillow dumplings, the braised chicken liver spread on toast, and the seafood-stuffed mushrooms Brandon with Hollandaise and a classic gremolata.
Even though I spent several formative childhood years in Los Angeles, where it was supposedly invented, I never encountered French dip. There are five versions featured here, on house-baked French rolls with side bowls of pan-scraped jus and pickles. Classic sirloin beef slices with horseradish aioli. The Deluxe with fried onion and Gruyère fondue. The Royale with foie gras. The Reuben with sauerkraut. And a version with lamb and mint chimichurri.
The menu sprawls. If you are avoiding stuff you can get anywhere — like the perfectly presentable Sullivan County brook trout or the dry-aged Tomahawk with fixings for $125 — you can share a perfectly delicious $16 patty melt with cheddar, maison sauce, onions, big dill pickles, and excellent coleslaw alongside.
In fact, you might consider sticking to the $21 deluxe French dip with pan-scraped jus because the house is pushing French Dip, and also favor the “Counter Classics.” The sandwich is not easy to divide and a mess to eat when you dip it. Try to be a good sport. On that first visit the crusty chicken and eggplant parmigiana with house-made marinara is infinitely more agreeable, and enough to feed five.
I don’t need to constantly ask for serving pieces, either, as I often do elsewhere when sharing. Forks and spoons come in a folded napkin. And a clean plate arrives just when you are just about to ask for one.
But I urge you not to disregard my all-time not-to-be-missed favorite: crusty fried boneless chicken on a pyramid of sweet buttermilk toast. The bird is so juicy, dark meat lovers like me can overlook that it’s white. There’s bacon in there too, and maple butter and syrup. The couple beside us can’t help overhearing our moans and noms. They have to order it too.
That is the evening that three of us start with a duo of salads – a Caesar and the romaine wedge. Here the wedge comes with roast beef, shaved Pecorino Romano, cherry tomatoes and ranch dressing. But our agreeable server senses we’re resisting that concept. “You can have it without the meat,” she suggests. I’m not sure why the Caesar adds roasted cauliflower. It’s as if Mom thought she should squeeze in an extra vegetable. But we like cauliflower so — frankly, we’re not arguing with mom. I like to think chef Glenroy Brown is her stand-in at the stove here.
My mom couldn’t bake pecan pie either. This triangle looks like it was found cowering in a neglected cupboard. Of course, I’ll be taking the leftover mac home. And of course, we’ll be back.
2315 Broadway between 83rd and 84th streets. 212 496 9100. Monday through Friday kitchen opens at 10 am. Saturday and Sunday at 9 am. Sunday through Wednesday kitchen closes at 11 pm. Thursday, Friday and Saturday kitchen closes at midnight.