326 W 46th St (btwn Eighth/Ninth Aves)
SHORT ORDER: The straightforward, consistent Restaurant Row joint is a New York classic that is pretty hard to beat.
PETER’S PICKS: Joe Allen! Meeting Joan Rivers!
PETER’S PANS: The “flop wall” featuring posters of panned Broadway shows that suffered at the hand of theater critics and indifferent audiences.
Joe Allen, the fabulous, storied, classic New York joint on Restaurant Row has been a favorite for me ever since I first experienced it over 20 years ago. With all that goes on in this ever-changing borough, Joe Allen is a constant, and we sat comfortably with a soothing soundtrack in the background by Ella, Billie and Bing. We pretty much had the place to ourselves, as the 7pm theatergoers had already left, and were excited to learn that we were seated at Joan Rivers’ favorite table. Later, much to our jaw-dropping surprise, she actually walked into the restaurant! Since we were lingering over cocktails, having already finished dinner, we gladly offered her our table, but the grand lady graciously declined after talking to us for a while and sat instead at her “second favorite table” with entourage in tow—and yes, she looked gorgeous.
When it comes to cocktails, I can’t think of anything else to order at Joe Allen but a brisk martini, and Belvedere vodka made the grade this time. My fella conservatively slugged back some sparkling water. For starters, a huge portion of aromatic steak tartare was buttery, flavored with strong mustard; sharp, pungent onions and tangy capers plated with a glistening arugula side salad. Toast points provided a fine conveyance. Escargots were tender and not chewy at all, as they so often are. This dish was done right, with fresh herbs, garlic and simmering oil. A small, fantastic Caesar salad was certainly enough for two to share and was exactly what it should have been—fresh, crunchy romaine perfectly coated with a creamy dressing, composed of pert lemon and pungent garlic. It’s a simple preparation that so many restaurants mess up all the time.
About here we stepped up to an Austrian Grüner Veltliner, which was crisp like a lively autumn day with creamy, resonant green and floral notes. I do find the Joe Allen hamburger to be one of the best in the city (for years it was never even listed on the menu), but we turned our thoughts elsewhere and ordered the shrimp and grits as a sort of pasta course. We loved it, just like a country breakfast with andouille sausage and jumbo shrimp in a lobster consommé with a fried egg on top and a peppery finish.
Thinly sliced sautéed calf’s liver served medium rare was a rapture with grilled onions, a delicious torrent of whipped potatoes and wondrous, diaphanous slivers of bacon love notes. The moist, bone-in pork chop had a great sear, served with Jersey peach chutney. It was surely sent courtesy of Henry VIII—it was a huge, gluttonous piece of meat that we could only eat half of! Accompanying roasted Brussels sprouts were wonderful and further fit the bill.
The chocolate pudding cake with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge has always been a delight, but having been alerted to Ms. Rivers’ favorite, we ordered the banana cream pie instead, such a light, elegant finish to an extraordinary evening!
Prices: Appetizers: $7-$17; Entrées: $13-$33; Alcohol: wine, beer, full bar, specialty cocktails
First published in part in Next magazine.