As you may’ve gathered from the recent scarcity of New York-related posts, the dog days of winter haven’t been treating me kindly. I’m tired of snow that instantly turns gray and slushy; I’m tired of having cold, wet feet; I’m tired of bundling up to get to the subway, just to sweat in an overheated, overcrowded car; and, most of all, I’m tired of the daily battle against the hostility and crankiness and flat-out rude behavior of my fellow citizens on the trains, on the sidewalks, in the stores. If this is civilization, you wouldn’t know it by me. This season seems unending.
I was counting on a February trip to Trinidad to counter the mid-winter doldrums, but between family health issues and an increasingly bleak financial outloook, the closest I’d get to Carnival this year was a Mardi Gras-inspired dinner at the best little Cajun restaurant in the city; a dose of Great Jones Cafe‘s cozy, homey fare turned out to be a perfect (albeit temporary) fix for my seasonal affective disorder blues.
The Carnivore and I found ourselves in the neighborhood on a Friday night and decided to stop in for a bite; the tiny space was overflowing, people piled three-deep at the bar while waiting for tables. When a pair of stools opened up in the corner, away from the scrum, we quickly pounced, settling in with our newly poured pints to watch the dinner theater unfold.
We’d had plenty of time to figure out what we wanted to eat, but everything that came through the service window had me wondering if I’d made the right decisions; for once, though, I didn’t worry too much. I’ve never had a bad meal at Great Jones.
The Carnivore chose the soup of the day to start, sweet-potato bisque, puréed until creamy and punctuated with chives for a bit of savoriness. It was simple and rich and felt utterly decadent; I limited myself to a single bite, daunted by a mountainous appetizer of my own.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way: I’d ordered the crawfish for us to share, but the Carnivore tried one and excused himself from the rest. This was my first experience with the whole, shell-on version of this distant relative of the lobster, and it took a bit of trial and error before I finally got the hang of it; never one to back away from a challenge, I was soon extricating the tasty bits like a pro. (I won’t tell you how many napkins I went through in the process.) I’m not sure the effort was worth it, though; while I can’t complain about the flavor of the crustaceans, I think I’ll stick with them as one element of a dish in the future and let the kitchen do the tough work for me.
When I finally hit the bottom of the basket and the bartender had cleared away a second batch of empty shells, our main courses popped up in the window. The Carnivore had chosen the crispy chicken and garlic mashed potatoes, armed with the knowledge that I would be staking a claim on a portion of those spuds. With gravy rendered superfluous by supremely moist meat, and mashed potatoes so addictive that my fork may have worn out its welcome, this plate was comfort food of the highest order. How he managed to have anything left to package up and take home, I have no idea.
By the time I turned my attention to the gumbo, I was beyond stuffed. Thick and spicy and laden with all things good—shrimp, okra, andouille sausage—though it was, I had a spoonful or two and relegated the rest to a takeout container for lunch the following day. Even reheated, with the rice (you can’t see it in the picture above, but it’s there) absorbing most of the liquid, it held up well; I found myself begrudging the bites I’d taken the night before.
To cap off the night’s indulgences, the Carnivore ordered a piece of Key lime pie to go; while we were waiting for the check, he popped open the box and, as full as we both were, half of the slice was gone before we knew it. I wish I’d taken a picture before we’d done damage to it, but you’ll just have to trust me on this: It was the edible equivalent of glimmer of sunshine in the dead of winter. Who needs a light box when you have pie?
Great Jones Cafe
54 Great Jones Street
New York, NY