Matthew Hamilton is a chef you want to root for. His two previous gigs fell apart for reasons not his fault. At Uovo, he couldn’t get a liquor license. At Pair of 8’s, he arrived too late to save a restaurant already on life support.
Things are going better at Belcourt, where he’s into his second year and appears to have a solid East Village neighborhood following, supplemented by a few folks like me who are curious enough to make the trek.
He’s got a lovely space, with spectacular picture windows looking out on East 4th Street and Second Avenue. A striking old-fashioned bar, distressed mirrors, a pressed tin ceiling and an antique tile floor suggest the kind of unfancy bistro you dream about but seldom find any more.
Belcourt stayed off most of the critics’ radar. In the Times, Frank Bruni gave it the Dining Briefs treatment, noting that “this charming, happy restaurant…wants to hit your comfort-food sensors.” That’s accurate.
The menu notes with laconic modesty, “Everything that can be made in house, is.” That includes a variety of sausages, cured meats and pâtés. There’s also the usual comment about local organic farmers and organically-raised meats, which is a fixture on menus all over town.
We assume bread (served in a bucket) is home-made, along with the butter, which was soft the way we like it. A selection of the house charcuterie ($16; above right) was more than ample for two to share as an appetizer.
Prices are gentle on the pocketbook, with soups and salads at $7–9, starters $8–15, mains $12–24, and sides $5–6.
The pork chop ($24; above left) was as large as a truncheon and very good too, but the vegetables underneath it seemed dull and over-salted. My girlfriend thought the burger (above right) was one of the best she’s had in a long time. The bun, naturally, is house-made. It’s a bargain at $12 (cheese and onions $2 extra apiece), and the fries that come along with it are perfect.
The wine list is too expensive, with no reds I could trust below $50. I don’t care how high the list goes, but a restaurant at Belcourt’s overall price level needs to go a lot lower.
The food at Belcourt is very well made, service in hearty portions and at low prices. I can’t quite call it destination cuisine, but it’s a place I’m glad to have around. Our dinner here was one of the more enjoyable inexpensive meals we’ve had in a while.
“This,” my girlfriend said, “is what Secession should have been.”
Update: Belcourt has brought its wine list in line with the humble atmosphere. On a recent visit, a respectable Corbières was available at $31. That is much more like it. Bone marrow tacos ($10) are one of the strangest dishes I’ve had, but they were excellent. The pork chop (now $21) remains excellent.
Belcourt (84 E. 4th Street at Second Avenue, East Village)