Quality Eats: An Affordable Steakhouse
Quality Eats kind of sneaked up on me. I didn’t get it at first. Yet another steak house, I thought. Ho hum. More carnivorous cut-ups from the Stillmans, father Alan, son Michael. Ya di da. I couldn’t get a reservation on the phone, so I’d decide to just walk in.
I glance up at the sign on Greenwich Avenue – Quality Meats, but with the “M” dark, it reads Quality Eats. Cute. Same little tic everywhere. In the front window: Quality Meats with the “M” obliterated. On the menu too, ditto. And it’s wildly noisy. Rock n’ roll, reggae, and Motown played lowish just enough to force the intense young duos to speak louder.
It’s definitely quieter past the kitchen, out back. That first evening, a friend and I are parked there at a very tiny two-top. There are funny little drawings hanging on the whitewashed brick wall behind me. Bearded mermen. Joyful butchers. Cows on skateboards.
A glance at the menu reveals some quirky diversions. Very appealing, too. Sausage and pepper toast. A must try. That steakhouse staple, Nueske’s bacon, served here with peanut butter and Jalapeño jelly. Butternut brioche bread pudding. Oh, wow, what a concept. I want to taste everything.
The meat message is winning, too. Cheap cuts of cow. Nothing more than $29. Here’s a steakhouse for the 99 percent and their offspring.The baked potato monkey bread that comes glazed with butter as a gift at Quality Italian uptown costs $6 here, but I can’t complain on another evening when the excellent bavette cut – really rare as ordered, chewy, and flavorful — is just $19, enough for three of us to share after so many starters we can’t resist.
That would include the very refreshing crudité salad – a toss of radish, carrots, apple, tiny tomatoes, jicama, and raw beets under a hedge of herbs and arugula dressed in a buttermilk potion. Faicco’s sausage and spicy hot peppers line up on a big island of toast. That’s filling too.
Steak tartare gets piled atop bone marrow buttered baguette with feisty radishes. But my favorite is the roasted beet tabouleh, brilliantly purple, on bright orange kabocha squash hummus that I’m loading onto luscious focaccia. (There’s your “free” bread.)
Maybe not everything is as amusing as the graphic design of the steak plates. (Reunion Goods & Services gets the credit). It’s just butternut squash soup, nothing special, the sweetness tamed with apple cider vinegar. The red wattle pork chop draped in a clever sauce of cherries and cherry peppers is not rare, as requested. It’s too cooked and therefore dry.
The creamed spinach hush puppies are more brilliant in concept than execution. (It’s like your Mom thought she could trick you into eating spinach). But don’t let me discourage you from ordering them anyway.
I can’t discuss the chickpea skillet rice because our waiter forgot to bring it. But the creamy scalloped sunchokes, laid out like patients etherized upon a table are first-rate. I’m so glad the market discovered sunchokes. And I can’t imagine stopping by for the excellent top sirloin-coulotte and not indulging in a side of butternut squash bread pudding with its crouton fluff and toasted crisps.
In just two visits, I’ve not yet tasted all the starters – a collaboration of Stillman, Fourth Wall Restaurants executive chef Craig Koketsu, and starring the twisted wit of Eats chef Ryan Bartlow, formerly of Frankies 570 and Alinea in Chicago. As I write this, I wish I were going back tonight. I’d taste the house Caesar with cured lemons, the grilled Bucheron cheese on a pear baguette and the brown-bag curly fries, maybe even the lemon-charred chicken.
Next time, I might experiment with the long-bone short rib steak, whatever that is. At just $25, it’s worth a leap into the unknown. I haven’t felt a need for a patty melt burger yet. Yet. I’m still focused on beef cuts I don’t know. So far, only the hanger steak is a fizzle. No flavor at all.
Each steak comes with a little clutch of weeds, some pickled onion rings, and a tiny timbale of corn brûlée – a dish that’s a hit uptown, but is too sweet for me in any zip code. As for the “Don Ameche” – that’s a filet mignon, sliced, and dressed up with chicken liver mousse and caramelized onion on toast points. It’s proving to be a favorite of millennials who never heard of Don Ameche and don’t know he invented the telephone.
As one of the more inventive sides, cacio e pepé orzo wears a wild fluff of grated pecorino. But it might use another twist of the pepper mill. I didn’t notice the offer to stack three different wines in carafes for $40 till I saw the pileup at the next table. At that moment, I also noticed the back room was filled with men. It might just have been coincidence. I’m not suggesting Quality Eats as a hunting ground. Men with steak might be like men with football. Not easy to get their attention.
Stillman repeats a dessert concept here that I love at Quality Italian: “Dressed Up Scoops.” They come in paper cups with the logo, “M” crossed out, of course. I liked “S’more” with burnt vanilla ice cream and fudge swirls better than “Gingerbread” with cinnamon molasses cake and a duo of adorable gingerbread men doing the twist on top.
You might prefer the warm apple and pear crostata or the sticky toffee pudding pan for two as a sweet climax. Next time I’ll try the Bar Snacks sundae: pumpkin stout ice cream with sriracha peanuts, BBQ potato chips, beer caramel, and pretzels. A bouquet garnie of favorites.
Alan Stillman has always been full of original ideas. I remember the time he framed the menus in glass at Park Avenue (before it went seasonal) and they were too heavy to hold. That’s where David Burke patented his swordfish chop and served each with a number like the ducks at Tour d’Argent. If Alan’s scion is inclined to be playful…well, no surprise.
What’s odd is why they’ve invested so much delicious and clever amuses-bouche in such a tiny space. Michael did not offer an answer, though he blinked when I suggested he might have wanted to see how it worked before spreading Quality Eats around. Last time I spoke to him, he confided he was planning to soundproof the front room. And I hadn’t even complained.
19 Greenwich Avenue between 10th and Christopher streets. 212 337 9988. Monday to Wednesday 5:30 to 11 pm. Thursday to Saturday to 2 am. Sunday to 10 pm. (Lunch and brunch promised to come).
Photos may not be used without permission of Gael Greene. Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.