I admit I was annoyed that Elizabeth’s Neighborhood Table was opening with a downright unneighborly decision not to take reservations. But I decided to brave it, and was instantly disarmed by the unimaginable sight of a white-washed country inn, complete with picket fence, parked on an Upper West Side corner under a 25-story high rise apartment building. I plead guilty to a few “how adorables” before bracing myself to take on the hostess. She studies her book. “It shouldn’t be too long.”
It’s cute from inside too. Looking out through mullioned windows, I imagine we are in Georgia. “What about that empty table?” I point.
She exchanges whispers with a waitress. “Here’s your table,” she announces as if we’ve won it in the lottery.
“Thoughtful American Comfort Food,” it proclaims on the menu, with a vow to be “fresh, local, biodynamic and natural whenever possible.” I’m not one of those new age stalwarts determined to eat organic or sustainable or locavoresque, not that I mind. That’s owner Nat Milner indulging his wife Elizabeth, a practicing holistic health counselor.
If I had tasted nothing but the Cobb salad – a hearty portion of a reasonably proper Cobb with chicken, bacon, “farm fresh hard boiled eggs,” romaine and a creamy dressing, I’d be entrusting you to Elizabeth’s hospitality. But my confidence wilted when our waitress confides, “We’re all out of everything that’s listed as ‘of the day.’ No ‘salad of the day,’ no ‘pasta of the day,’ no ‘grain of the day’ and no 'sweet potato fries'.”
“What happened?” I ask.
“We ran out of supplies.”
On a Tuesday? I wondered. It’s not like we’re on the edge of the prairie. Well, never mind. The crab cakes are good enough, the slaw scattered around and about it is actually wonderful, but both the fried chicken and the Coney Island Lager beer-battered fish are dry inside their armor. As a macaroni and cheese fanatic, I find most are too cheesy. This is a first: not cheesy enough. I decide to give the Milners and their chef time to figure it out.
Five weeks later, Elizabeth’s is ready to handle reservations. I recruit our next door neighbors. We’re always hoping to discover something new and good in our zip code. I don’t poison their taste buds with tales from our earlier visit. Our taxi pulls up and we dames oooh and aaah over the charm of the country house so adorable in its feisty urban setting. Guys are reserved. They don’t oooh. “Cute,” Gary agrees.
I want it to be good. (The restaurant my husband-to-be chose for our first dine-out was called Little Old Mansion. I fell in love with the black walnut lobster risotto, and a few minutes later, with him.)
“It would be fun to eat outside,” I say.
“If it weren’t 35 degrees,” says Steven.
The kitchen has reordered supplies. The salad of the day is beets – an expansive bouquet. The clutzy fried chicken isn’t really bad, but it isn’t good either and comes with a small side of pallid macaroni no one is driven to eat. The pork chop, farm-raised, all-natural, “no hormones or additives.,” is too embarrassed by over-cooking to blush pink as ordered.
I’ll leave Elizabeth’s for the neighborhood. There’s not much distinguished eating this far north and many will appreciate being transported to another time and place by the fairytale. I’ll advise the locals to skip the trio of dips, white bean and rosemary, inedible whipped feta with pepper, watery eggplant-olive tapenade. Go for "The Whole Barn House Burger," a half-pound puck, full of flavor, rare and falling apart, with a fried egg on top. Share the Cobb. And the “Elizabeth Seasonal Cinnamon Crumble.” It’s apple with berries, in season somewhere tonight, guaranteed. Our foursome loves it. I promise my neighbors I’d take them somewhere better soon. I feel so guilty.
I invite Diane to join me on the porch swing. “Watch out you’ll smash the window,” Steven warns. Men never oooh and ahhh about anything. It enhances that masculine inscrutability.
680 Columbus Avenue NW corner of 93rd Street. 212 280 6500. Monday to Thursday 4 pm till midnight. Friday till 1 am. Saturday 11 am till 1 am. Sunday 11 am till midnight.