Today on Alphabet City: A new restaurant in the Bowery confuses Jon Paul’s feelings about his old stomping grounds.
I am always nervous on trips back to Alphabet City—the ‘hood that was the setting for the first ten years of my sitcom life in New York. I don’t want to miss the vibe of the dirty streets—a funky mix of artistic aspiration and desperation. I want to feel that the area has grown into something that doesn’t interest anymore that selfishly I can feel better about moving away. A trip this past Saturday with Juan Pablo (debut Alpha City episode 13) and Susan (debut episode 9) was going according to plan until we walked into the restaurant DBGB.
This week’s episode began with an invitation from an artist friend Aaron Krach to attend an exhibit at his apartment on Rivington. Aaron not only created the glittering skulls that were on display at last year’s Economist magazine Halloween party that Susan and I planned (and surely the inspiration for Kylie’s recent concert stage set), but he also gave me a fabulous critique on the first draft of Alphabet City. Susan volunteered to drive us in her Jeep that I one day nicknamed Mahogany (every car should have a theme song) because frankly the commute from Washington Heights to the LES is brutal and it was pouring down rain.
We added on a trip to the NYC Dumpling Festival that had no plans for rain. So we all got soggy and I wasn’t sure who thought Mexican tamales fit at a dumpling festival.
Next we headed to E Village mainstay DBA that supposedly was serving beer made of seasonal fresh hops, something that Juan Pablo had read about in the New York Times. True to slackerish E Village form, the bar wasn’t open at the advertised 1pm so we headed to Jimmy’s No. 43 mostly because when I called to verify operating hours the guy who answered sported a sexy Aussie accent. I wouldn’t use “sexy” to describe the underground cave like atmosphere with flies swarming around grotesquely carved pumpkins. And I don’t think I will run back to try the very bitter tasting fresh hops beer again. At this point, I didn’t feel like I was missing too much about Alphabet City.
Until we went to lunch.
DBGB Kitchen & Bar should be a place that I hate—the kind of trendy “bistro” headed by a fancy chef like Daniel Boulud that draws uptown outsiders to Alphabet City. The kind of place that doesn’t respect the East Village, but just trades on the neighborhood’s trendiness. And it is all those things. The problem is I love it.
First, the food is consistently delicious. Nothing stuffy here—the range of sausages are fun and accessible. The Vermont sausage was oozing with gooey cheese; the Thai had just the right amount of chili sauce and was topped with a delicate quail egg. In a town known for its burger wars, The Piggie is now my favorite—a manageable 6 oz. topped with pulled pork BBQ and jalapeno mayonnaise. Don’t forget to pair the food with the special beers and ales available. Now I’m not really a beer connoisseur, but the helpful staff will walk you through the list that reads like a wine menu with tasting notes like “fruity and spicy.”
Granted, the setting is off putting—in one of those nondescript modern buildings that have displaced “charming” EV tenements. But inside, it’s unlike any other place in the area—sleek, modern and thoroughly comfortable. Kudos to Daniel’s team for not trying to invent a grungy EV look for the place. I want to steal one of the small settee couches used as “mini banquettes,” and I’m in love with the two-person sofa-like barstools. And while both the bar and main dining room are buzzy, neither are too loud for conversation. One of the best parts? The crowd that is drawn to DBGB. The affordable food is attracting a diverse crowd without much attitude. Hard to find anywhere in NYC these days.
I’ll admit it—I’m jealous. Back in my day, the only restaurant that was nice enough to take visiting parents was Three of Cups— because it was the only spot that accepted credit cards. But if I still lived in Alphabet City, DBGB would be my choice to take visiting family. The restaurant is now my new “go-to” spot for East Village eating, and I’ve added it my “must list” of recommendations for out-of-town visitors.
Who knew that a famously fussy French chef—whose other restaurants in New York City I do not enjoy—could give the East Village such a gift?
And for that, I hate him. Because he has me missing Alphabet City.