When Pete Wells, restaurant critic of The New York Times, wasted a review slot last week on Shake Shack — an over-exposed chain that is not a restaurant, has been reviewed before, is not very good, and would remain perpetually packed no matter what he said — it raised an obvious question: what is not getting reviewed?
Submitted for your approval: Goat Town.
I don’t want to overstate the case for Goat Town. It’s an earnest, casual American bistro in the familiar farm-to-table mold, somewhat resembling the Brooklyn restaurant that its chef and owner came from, The General Greene. Almost every neighborhood has one now; across the river, they’re on every block.
But it plays the game well, is not entirely derivative, hasn’t been much reviewed (except for Sietsema in the Voice), and it offers at least one good dish you don’t find everywhere. In other words, it beats Shake Shack on every count, and by a wide margin.
The menu fits on a single sheet of paper. It’s inexpensive by today’s standards, with appetizers $5–14, entrées $17–26, side dishes $5–7, and desserts $5–9. From the beginning (late 2010), there has always been a goat dish on the menu, though there’s a double ententre in the name Goat Town: it’s the original meaning of the word Gotham, a long-forgotten insult coined by the writer Washington Irving.
If you want Bread & Butter (above left), you have to order it and pay an extra $2. I get the idea: it doesn’t break the bank, and that way they don’t send out unwanted bread that will go to waste. But for two bucks I thought they could have made a more bountiful presentation.
My son and I both ordered the Smoked Goat ($23; above right), served here with braised white beans and a parsley salad. I failed to re-orient the plate, so the photo shows mostly greens and beans. I can assure you the goat is there: two generously portioned loin chops, resembling lamb, but with a more pungent taste.
I always assumed that goat is frequently used in stews because it would be too chewy, but this goat was just fine, making a strong case that this meat doesn’t always need to be served in cubes with heavy curry sauce.
A side of Brussels Sprouts ($7; above left) was a bit sad looking, but the kitchen did very well by Roasted Carrots ($6; above right).
And a shared Coffee Caramel Sundae ($9; left), with coffee ice cream, a chocolate brownie, pecans, ice cream, and caramel sauce, was excellent.
The restaurant has a beer and wine license, but they make some worthwhile cocktails despite that limitation. The Abbott ($9), with white wine, Cocchi Americano, bitters, and lime, was ample and refreshing.
Goat Town takes reservations. We were able to walk in at around 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday evening, though that is early for the East Village. An hour or so later, we would have had to wait.
The décor is attractive for purpose, with a long bar along the left-hand side of a narrow space, leading to an open kitchen in back. Tables are made of reclaimed wood, with booths made of subway tile. Despite appearances, it didn’t get unbearably noisy. Service was fine.
Goat Town isn’t a destination, but it’s a good realization of its genre and well worth a visit if you’re nearby.
Goat Town (511 E. 5th Street, east of Avenue A, East Village)