38 Macdougal St (Prince St)
City: New York, NY
Phone: (212) 475-7500
Hours: Mon-Sun noon-close
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Chef: Marc Meyer & Joel Hough
2nd Cuisine: Comfort Food
Payment: Amex Visa Mastercard
I’ve been a fan of Marc Meyer’s cooking for almost a decade now, ever since he opened the doors to Five Points and started slinging Greenmarket ingredients into his fire-breathing wood oven. When he opened Cookshop with his chef de cuisine Joel Hough, he offered a slightly more refined riff on his seasonal American theme, with a more dedicated homage to his group of farmers (their names are listed on a board that overlooks the spare, modern wood-flanked dining room); I was again hooked. Brunch at Cookshop has become a regular haunt—the promise of warm, flaky buttery biscuits the size of softballs split down the center and filled with soft-scrambled eggs, caramelized onions and artisanal bacon is impossible to resist. Even the threat of a wedding dress to squeeze into in a mere six weeks has not helped. I have no will power when it comes to Marc Meyer’s brunch.
When he and his wife and front of house partner Vicki Freeman, announced they would take over Provence, I was excited to see Marc tackle a different model—Provencal cuisine through the lens of an farm-to-table American chef. I visited Provence several times and enjoyed it but it wasn’t really working for Marc and Vicki. As Vicki told me, you had a Jewish guy and an Irish girl trying to do French food. It wasn’t the right fit. So they returned to an old restaurant idea they had been thinking of for a while—a butcher-shop up front with a café that would serve a daily changing selection of market-driven meals. But they weren’t too sure about actually running a butcher shop, so instead they kept the butcher shop theme for the décor of the front room and turned Provence into the most pure form of Greenmarket restaurant—the menu would change every day (not just 4-6 times a year with the seasons), driven solely by whatever was falling off the trucks from the Hudson Valley and Long Island that morning. They called it Hundred Acres, a name inspired by “Hell’s Hundred Acres,” the chilling moniker given Soho in the early 1900s.
There’s nothing chilling about Hundred Acres. The front room has a hip, energetic vibe, dressed in subway tiles with a long marble bar, a long communal table, and café tables lining French doors sprung open to the leafy streets. The middle room, filled with sage banquettes and hung with oversized prints of an old Pennsylvania farmhouse, is anchored by a central table displaying seasonal vegetables, like a still-life in waiting. Past the center room is the garden, tented (soon with a retractable roof) and given an airy, summer meadow vibe with vines and greens. It’s a beautiful space to host a party.
It was on a recent visit that I realized that this was American cuisine at its finest. I was hosting a group of my food writing students for our end-of-semester dinner. At the end of our meals, as we packed up leftover pieces of chocolate cake and rhubarb crostada to take home, I asked for criticism and praise. They were unanimous in the judgment: Fantastic, fresh, delicious, simple, inspired were words traded at the table. I was unable to disagree. It was truly a spectacular dinner. But what was spectacular about it was not anything fussy. The food was simple, brought to life with little more than a pesto here, an aioli or a sauce gribiche there. It’s honest food, made from ingredients touched by hands not machines. It’s the sort of food you’d expect to be served on a porch overlooking a prairie on a farm in the Midwest, or from a communal table in a big old Plantation house down south, or in a cozy dining room in a studio apartment in the East Village. It’s the sort of food you want to eat, no matter where, no matter when.
We started out with deviled farmstead eggs, given a nice mustardy kick and topped with a sprinkle of paprika that gave the creamy yolks a spicy sunburn ($7). A mixed roasted beet salad (pink and striped and gold) topped with egg and pecans was really more about the bedding of Satur Farms arugula—large leaves with an impressive peppery sharpness that tasted as though the farmers had grown it right next to a plot of chile peppers and let the leaves absorb their peppery bite.
A tea sandwich trio ($9) offered three different open-faced sandwiches: the first two—smoked fish and radish, tongue and ramp—are an old Jewish guy’s dream (and mine too). The smoked fish salad is something I’d like to take home in a half-pint container and have for lunch, spooned onto slices of black bread or an everything bagel. The third sandwich, of braised rabbit and hazelnut, was an inspired combination, the nuttiness of those toasted hazelnuts bringing out the sweetness of the pulled rabbit. What I liked about these sandwiches, which resemble oversized crostinis, was that the dark bread was soft and chewy, not grilled and crunchy, so there was no crumbly breakage and embarrassing mess.
Marc’s chef de cuisine at Hundred Acres is, once again, Joel Hough who hails from the South. His influence is found all over the menu, beginning with a plate of fried green tomatoes ($10) served with a paprika aioli. The shape of silver dollar pancakes, they’re breaded and battered so they’ve got a nice crunch that reveals a tangy juicy green flesh inside. Yum.
Main courses are always in flux with the market’s bounty, but not the burger ($18), which is a blessed constant on the menu. It’s a fantastic sandwich, a plump, grass-fed pup topped with sharp Goot Essa cheddar and a roasted Vidalia onion mayo that will have you bemoaning the use of ketchup and mustard after your first bite. Vidalia onion mayo is what every burger deserves. The yellowfin tuna ($23) was the sleeper star of our dinner. Tuna just never seems to really thrill me anymore. It’s usually fine, but never wows me. It’s just not the darling of a menu. But this tuna was. It was cooked perfectly—nice and pink and rare in the center and so moist it was almost like a steak with its juices running on the plate. It’s seasoned well enough alone but given a topper of sauce gribiche—onions, egg, gerkhins, and capers—and served with a side of fresh and snappy green beans coated in lemon and dill. It was a dish I’d like to have any and every summer night, and that would translate beautifully to a picnic lunch for leftovers.
Ditto the pasture-raised sirloin ($26)—meat that’s raised with such care it doesn’t need more than a flame and salt, but Marc adds a bit of somethin’-somethin’ to the steak in the form of a basil and walnut pesto and a side of potato and squash gratin. What wasn’t finished could have easily made a great filling for a sandwich the next day. The most prized summer picnic dish of all time is, yes, you guessed it, fried chicken, and his is no short of a masterpiece. My fried chicken favorites used to be Blue Ribbon and Rack ‘n Soul, but to that list I’m glad to add the fried chicken at Hundred Acres. Meyer’s is Southern Fried (thanks again to Joel), with a batter so crunchy that your first bite through the robe of golden crust may be heard on Houston Street. Meyer serves his chicken with a little pot of honey (with accompanying honey-dipper) and a monster-sized wedge salad dressed in buttermilk and radishes. I looked around the table and every one of us was doing the same thing—licking honey off our fingers and gnawing at the little bits left on the bones to get every nibble possible. My feeling is that these recipes need to get out to the public so we can start cooking them at home. Marc has written a Brunch cookbook (with Peter Meehan) and he’s due for one on supper too. And you know what, whomever is making those desserts (all $7) had better be in that supper book too.
The fresh simplicity of dinner fare carries over to homespun dessert favorites like blueberry pie overflowing with dark sweet blueberries barely contained by a cage of a lattice top, a rhubarb crostada filled with fruit that’s tart and sweet and swaddled in buttery sugared pastry and topped with a cloud of fresh whipped cream, and a light and moist chocolate layer cake, served with homemade strawberry ice cream. That last touch—the addition of strawberry ice cream—for some reason really touched me. I don’t know why, but using strawberry instead of vanilla just seems sweeter, more authentic. The desserts are portioned generously (as is all the food here) so Seth, who’s wife is pregnant, wrapped a leftover piece to take home, Maureen, whose landlord is 83 and a chocolate lover took the other slice for him, and I took the rhubarb for, well, myself.
There was nothing that wasn’t delightful about our meal other than the noise level, which is being addressed in the next few weeks with sound absorption panels. Otherwise, Hundred Acres thrilled me. It’s a restaurant that offers simple, humble delicious food that’s a reflection of our nation’s farmers and our native cuisine, the sort of food you want to eat every night, and share with loved ones around a table wherever you may live.
Review By: Andrea Strong