New York, NY 10023
Phone: (212) 595-1888
Fairway Market, on the upper west side (near Lincoln Center and the Museum of Natural History) is known for its vast and often stunning array of quality and well-priced produce, meat, fish and almost any other food product one can think of. Prosciuto, prepared foods, one of the city’s best cheese departments, organic produce, fresh fish and grass fed meat! You ask and they will probably have it. But, proof that there is no free ride in life, what you get in return is a chaotic, crowded and often exhausting shopping experience and long, jostling check out lines.
It is a surprise, therefore, to come upon the Fairway Café. Stairs, from an inconspicious and unmarked door located between the store’s main entrance and exit, lead to one of the city’s best breakfast / lunch venues. (The café opens in the evening as Fairway Steakhouse but that is for another report)
It’s a fairly rudimentary space. One wall is practically all windows, looking over the busy Broadway thoroughfare. Air conditioning ducts line the ceilings and the walls are brick. The tables are covered with brown butcher paper and the chairs are metal– and not terribly comfortable. But take note - individual pepper mills sit on each table, a rarity in this city and a sign that someone is taking the food seriously here.
That someone is Mitchel London (whose straight forward recipes highlight “The Food Life,” the recent book by Fairway partner Steve Jenkins which chronicles the market’s operation. . London is a constant presence in the often crowded room, usually sitting at a corner table where nothing escapes him.
Breakfast is served until 3 PM and features pretty much what you would expect a breakfast menu to contain.. There are eggs, cereal, waffles, and pancakes. But this is not diner breakfast food. The omelets are carefully cooked and the eggs are fresh. Accompanying them are two pieces of perfectly toasted challah bread with separate ramekins of butter and strawberry jam. Waffles have a smattering of blueberries and a light topping of maple syrup. Deli favorites include a knock out creamy whitefish salad and a large platter of Fairway’s own smoked salmon. These are accompanied by that morning’s bagels, red onion and cream cheese. The fruit plate is fresh and seasonal. The tea is loose, served in a filtered tea pot, not a bag and fresh squeezed lemonade is served in a mason jar with a sprig of fresh mint.
This is a place you return to and not surprisingly, end up more usually than not ordering the same thing. At lunch, I usually alternate between the meat loaf sandwich, tuna salad, and a Cobb Salad. The meat loaf, a thick slab of well seasoned nicely textured meat, is served on a kaiser roll which absorbs the juices and becomes almost a separate meal unto itself. The tuna salad is what I wish I could make but never can – the perfect mix of fish, celery, lemon and onion. It is slathered between three large chunks of seven grain bread—really three sandwiches in one. . The Cobb salad is generous with bacon and bite sized pieces of of grilled chicken breast,hard boiled egg and pieces of excellent blue cheese.
Sure the service is often slow and kind of distracted but for the price, it can’t be beat. Besides, you can sit with a book or newspaper for as long as you want and no one will bother you.
Jan Greenberg lives in New York City. She writes about food and travel for magazines including National Culinary Review, Food Arts, Gastronomica and Time Out NY.