Stopped by The Waverly Inn and Garden last night with Wife and was offered what was marked as a preview menu, so I will give a simple preview report. Based on a single meal I feel that this place is going to get all kinds of positive and negative attention going forward and because it varies so greatly in its levels of execution that it will probably deserve it. But my feeling is all in all taken as an Inn, as it brands itself, and nothing else it is a success and worth visiting.
Obviously what an Inn is has changed over time as all things do, but the genesis is a place serving decent fare to travelers. From this beginning, across the long roads of times and places lost, what would an Inn evolve to were it dropped on the corner of Waverly and Bank Street in 2006 Greenwich Village? Probably this:
Décor: I assume it was named Inn because of the Ye Olde feel of the space, otherwise it would have had to be covered in mud and called The Cave. Three-fourths of the building has short ceilings topping narrow rooms that are warm bordering on hot. Then there is the Garden part, a small room in back which is more of an atrium. An oasis of a large airy space with a vaulted glass ceiling trussed with beautifully decorative ornate iron. Throughout, the decoration is that good kind of clutter of a person into collecting American antiques but with a semblance of taste who jams disparate items into cohesion. Touches like a wallpaper border in the men’s room that looks like it was stolen from Margot Tenenbaum’s childhood bedroom, and different sized and patterned oriental carpets laid to fit and fill the floor as if by happenstance not design, give it that welcoming long existing traveler’s rest spot feeling.
Service: in an old-fashioned inn the people serving you would probably be of the contemporaneous working class and live in the exact building in which you were taking your rest. In our new Greenwich Village Inn they are the contemporary version of this –actors on their way to Broadway. While the service borders on comical, the servers are sweet, good-natured and cheery enough to forgive many various little mistakes (awesome biscuits, I suspect lard, were served hot with spreadable butter but no knife) and are most decidedly the West Village version of the working class. I can’t not mention that the management of the seating borders on the incompetent, but it is the same type of incompetence has caused less good places to seem interesting to the New York dining crowd so I won’t go deeper. Just know that the people at the front have the most to work on at this point.
Wine List: the preview menu seemed to have a good variety of unique offerings, and what seemed middle of the road pricing.
Menu: again presented as preview, it must be accepted (though not happily) that the Monday special of Macaroni and cheese with shaved truffle is not yet available. But overall the entire Inn notion is well applied here if you keep in mind that the intended clientele has done little actual hard work or traveling in most of their lifetimes. Mostly hearty fare, with simple touches of our times applied. If the contemporary traveler arrives in the Village late on a blustery night just back from some place like Aspen or the Caribbean (or more likely just in from work in LA or London) weary from the demanding travel, and comes in a cab as opposed to riding through the cold night on dirt roads in a horse-drawn wagon, this would be the substantial type of offerings they would want to fill their belly before a restorative night’s sleep.
Food: in a word good.
Truffle fries: thin cut, appropriately salted and dressed in truffle oil (enough to present the aroma of truffles but remain crisp and as dry as a fry typically is).
Whole steamed artichoke: pared including about an inch and a half of the tail, simply and a little over steamed, served with drawn butter and a loose mayo which actually dresses the fries quite nicely.
Grilled vegetable salad (small): If there is anything New York needs it is neither more small homey places nor Japanese mega-restaurants, steak houses or burger shops. It is places that competently make decent salads that can actually stand up as a component of a meal. This is my first nomination for that salad. The small was a good size for splitting as a starter between the two of us, but I expect the large and a side of fries would pass as a light meal. Properly grilled summer squashes and asparagus are joined with oak lettuces, frisee, out of season tomatoes, avocados, and corn off the cob, dressed in a simple vinaigrette with accompanying lemon and lime on the side for a perfect acidic zing, the entire package (except the tomatoes) coming together to be a substantial but not overwhelming course with great flavor variety. Quite nice as an alternative to the more hearty offerings that comprise a large part of the rest of the menu, as well as those of the myriad other places in town that seem to either serve either light or hearty but never a decent salad in the middle
Hudson valley free-range chicken potpie: a red clay dish hidden beneath a crispy puff pastry cover holds shredded chicken, peas, pearl onions, carrots, and creamy sauce; pretty much a standard chicken potpie filing, unique for the quality and bite of the vegetables and its touch of tarragon. Tarragon is indeed a cruel mistress and it is well handled here, though I would leave any visible green strands in the dish as bites that included it ran right up against that soapy wall.
Amish organic free-range chicken with foraged mushrooms: how well you roast a chicken is a very good indicator of how talented your kitchen is; this one is commendable, served in two parts with crisp skin and pan juices that mix nicely with roasted mushrooms and winter squash. If you choose this you will probably want to get one of the à la carte side dishes to round it out.
So our new Inn is open, bustling, warm, and homey. The food is pleasing and the staff is amiable. It is definitely a solid addition to the neighborhood. Believe people who say they had a great time and good food, stop in when you are hungry, but be suspicious of anybody using words like “incredible” and phrases like “you have to try their…” They are most probably just excited by what they hear and not the facts. That’s my story, at least until the truffle Macaroni and cheese is available.