Could the Upper East Side be the next bastion of hip restaurants? I admit it’s far-fetched, and we’re a long way from that happening, but the essential requirements are there. East of Third Avenue, real estate is inexpensive by Manhattan standards, making it attractive both for restaurants and the young, single, urban professionals they hope to attract.
Jones Wood Foundry, a gastropub that opened in February, has the same rough-and-tumble vibe as many an East Village or Williamsburg restaurant. Whether it’ll succeed is not for me to say, but a young crowd had packed the place by 8:00 p.m. on a Monday evening, and the pro reviews have been favorable (Cuozzo for the Post, Moskin for The Times, Sietsema for the Voice).
I’m assuming the customers are mainly locals, as most Manhattanites can’t escape the impression—although it is decidedly false—that the Upper East Side is the bastion of trust fund babies and and ladies who lunch. That may be true on Fifth and Park Avenues. Take the Lexington Avenue Subway uptown, and turn right as you leave the station, and you find a much more diverse community.
This section of the Upper East Side was once called Jones Wood: it was even a candidate location for what became Central Park. The building itself, dating from the late nineteenth century, was once a foundry that manufactured manhole covers, among other things. Descendants of the original occupants, the Eberhart Brothers, still own the building.
The chef, Jason Hicks, worked in New York at Aureole, La Goulue, and Orsay, but he’s a native of the Cotswolds region of England. He’s partnered here with Yves Jadot, who also runs the Petite Abeille chain and the excellent cocktail lounge, Raines Law Room.
The menu here may remind you of April Bloomfield’s places (Spotted Pig, Breslin), but it’s more of a full-on English pub, with heavy doses of Bangers & Mash ($17), Steak & Kidney Pie ($18), Mushy Peas ($7), Haddock & Chips ($22), and so on. There are also fall-back dishes for the less adventurous, like a DeBragga dry-aged burger for $18 (which I didn’t order, but looked wonderful), roast chicken ($22), or a Niman Ranch pork chop ($28).
Most appetizers are below $15, most entrées below $25, so you can get out of here easily for $50 a head before drinks. There’s an ample list of beers on tap or by the bottle and a pretty good wine list too, though no hard liquor is served. The wine-based cocktail list is by Meghan Dorman of Raines Law Room and the Lantern’s Keep.
Celery root and blue cheese soup ($7; above left) with croutons and crispy bacon was a perfect starter for autumn. But my friend Kelly thought that Sweet pea soup ($7; above right) was overpowered by olive oil. She also found jumbo lump citrus crab salad ($14; no photo), with avocado, roasted tomato, and frisée, just average.
There were four announced specials — why should this be necessary on a menu reprinted daily? — including Partridge ($42), “just shot this weekend in Scotland.” It was served deboned, on a rich root vegetable stew. The server warned us to be on the lookout for birdshot, but all I encountered was a stray bone the butcher’s knife had missed.
Kelly has a hypothesis that food with a narrative (i.e., “just shot in Scotland”) is never worth the tariff, and this dish bore that out. I haven’t ordered partridge before, so I have no idea how it is supposed to be. It tasted slightly gamey, as you’d expect, but it was also a bit tough. A domestic, farm-raised bird on the same bed of vegetables would have been twice as good, and would have cost half as much.
We concluded with an excellent milk chocolate and sea salt pie ($7; left) with Chantilly cream.
The three-room space is smartly decorated in distressed pub chic. There is a long bar in the front room, a banquet-length communal table in the middle, and a dining room in the back. It was not terribly loud, although the crowds did not arrive until the end of our meal. Service was fine for a restaurant on this level: an incorrect order was dropped off, but promptly replaced after we pointed it out.
We didn’t really love anything, and a couple of dishes seemed off-kilter. But I adore the menu, and given the reviews it has received, I suspect we ordered wrong, or caught the place on chef’s night off. Despite the tone of the review, I’d happily rush back, next time I am in the area.
Jones Wood Foundry (401 E. 76th St. between First & York Avenues, Upper East Side)