UPPER EAST SIDE, NYC | The Upper East Side of Manhattan has been culinary homogenous for so long, that when some place with a novel food concept pops up it's, for the most part, unexpected. And when they do pop up, it's only on rare—yet welcome—occasions.
And most of these rare newbies occur below 86th street here on the east side of Central Park. And recently as I was doing a search for places that served fried chicken—the more than decent version sold at The Penrose notwithstanding—it was an unexpected surprise to find out that this new place called Infirmary (that I hadn't heard of) not only served fried chicken, but that the place wasn't that new at all. It just so happened to be above 86th street, on a row of 2nd Avenue that lines up indiscriminate post-collegiate bars and pan-Asian food joints—the upper section of Yorkville that, besides Libertador and Cafe D'Alsace, I had given up on for decent grub.
Infirmary is proudly a New Orleans-inspired restaurant and bar that boasts Creole and Cajun cuisine. So, of course, fried chicken (and baked mac 'n' cheese) would be right in their wheelhouse. But as I first visited last SUnday during brunch service, I did not expect to come across a menu that offered so many other enticing-sounding dishes, born of tradition "Nawlins'" comfort, but tweeked with modern twists. Suddenly, the fried chicken was going to have to wait. Luckily, a diner next to me had ordered his weekly plate of the bird—served with BBQ sauce and jalapeño cornbread—for me to at least snap a picture of. His friend about to dig into a crispy chicken sandwich (with fried egg) himself.
Both diners swore avid loyalty to their dishes and the restaurant. I envied them slightly as I heard their fried chicken's crunchy exteriors crackle with each crispy bite, while clear juices slowly ran out of the chicken's meat.
So I quickly distracted myself with the other yummy-sounding items on the menu. A jambalaya risotto—an unexpected mashup of two classics—was the first to catch my eye. I decided follow that up with the welcomed surprise of the crawfish and boudin benedict.
The jambalaya risotto was very well balanced, ably delivering savory/sweet/smoky/spicy notes in great compliment that developed even more with each bite. Pan-fried smashed boudin "balls", nicely crisped on their outsides, made a great riser for perfectly poached eggs, a hollandaise sauce subtly spiked with the layered, late-rising heat of cajun spices, and expertly cooked crawfish tails.
My good friend Vik soon joined me, catching up on the meal by ordering the crab au gratin (crab dip), and I continued discovering the nice surprises on the menu by ordering a half dozen of oysters char-baked with parmesan, oregano, and butter.
The crab dip was creamy and rich, with hints of the lump crab's natural sweetness coming through. The char-baking of the oysters added welcomed smokiness to plumply delicious oysters, layered with the herbaceousness of oregano and natural salt of parmesan.
My palate wanted even more, but my stomach had hit it's limit. I'd have to return just a few days later to try the dessert that earlier that week had caught my eye, the spiced pumpkin cheesecake. Another pleasant taste surprise was both the ginger pecan crust that it sat on and the sriracha cranberry compote it was served with.
A great surprise to unexpectedly find a great, fully-realized out-of-the-norm restaurant like Infirmary in the usually predictable neighborhood of Yorkville. And a welcome addition it is with its menu that more than meets my even highest expectations.
Bun Apple Tea!
INFIRMARY | 1720 2nd Ave. ( between 89th & 90th Sts.) | 917.388.2512 | infirmarynyc.com