Bridge Cafe is located in a 1794 building at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, on the corner of Water and Dover streets. One of the oldest buildings still standing in Manhattan, it has been consistently the “site of a food and/or drinking establishment” for the entire time, although the precise purpose for which it was used has changed frequently. For a while during the 18th century, it was a bordello. The current owners bought the building in 1979 and chose the current name, retaining an interior that is unchanged since the 1920s.
Bridge Cafe is one of the few serious restaurants below Chambers Street, by which I mean a restaurant not serving tourist or “formula” food. The New York Times awarded it one star several years ago. Ed Koch, the former mayor, once said it was his “favorite restaurant.” The menu, which changes seasonally, is an eclectic mix of New American specialties. Appetizers are $7-11, entrées $16-27, making Bridge Cafe fairly expensive for the neighborhood, but mid-priced by Manhattan standards.
Unfortunately, Bridge Cafe misfired on most of what my friend and I tried on Friday night. We both started with a cold cucumber and avocado soup, which was dominated by tabasco sauce. I happen to like spicy food, but when an ingredient takes over the soup, it ought to be mentioned in the description on the menu. My friend couldn’t finish it.
For the entrée, I chose “Our Famous Buffalo Steak,” which comes with a lingonberry sauce and homemade potato gnocchi. The buffalo was tough and tasted gamey. The lingonberry sauce was dreary, and seemed to be there only to mask a piece of meat that never could have stood as an acceptable meal on its own. It was also the most expensive item on the menu. My friend ordered a vegetarian dish that was dominated by a white bean ragout, with the other promised vegetables getting literally lost in the sauce.
Bridge Cafe has garnered mostly favorable reviews, so I have to think we caught it on a bad night, or that we just happened to order the worst items on the menu. Many of the other dishes certainly looked tempting, at least on paper. I’ll give them another chance one of these days. The wine list offers mostly U.S. vintages, and there’s a 30% discount on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Bridge Cafe (279 Water Street at Dover Street, South Street Seaport)