Entries in Redhead (3)


Review Recap: The Redhead

With today’s one-star review of The Redhead, Frank Bruni’s tenure as restaurant critic is finally over. Why did he end with a one-star place, when he could have reviewed anything? I can only guess that this is the kind of restaurant where Bruni will be eating for fun, once he’s no longer paid to do it. Reviewing the three- and four-star places always seemed like a duty to him, not a joy.

Now more than ever, diners find principled, distinctive cooking in places where they wouldn’t have expected it before: dessert trucks, baseball stadiums, postage-stamp storefronts, wine bars, taverns and cocktail lounges. In fact the Redhead was mostly a tavern and cocktail lounge during that span of Thursday-only dinners, which exemplified the possibility of terrific eating with untraditional trappings and captured the sense of gastronomic serendipity that defines this culinary moment.

With its first-come-first-served seating policy and its televisions showing sporting events behind the bar, the Redhead speaks to the moment’s casual ethos. And it underscores the extent to which the East Village has become a center of gravity for young chefs intent on bold flavors. They clearly feed off of one another, a loose network of validation and motivation.

This was one of the most positive one-star reviews that Bruni has ever filed, but it does underscore one of the worst failures of his tenure. Most of his one-star reviews were insults. His last three one-star reviews — Spice Market, Bar Artisanal, and Monkey Bar — were negative. Those reviews create the perception that one-star restaurants are bad. I’ll bet the owners of The Redhead are getting condolence calls today, which is clearly not what Bruni intended.


Review Preview: The Redhead

Record to date: 9–3.

Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews The Redhead in the East Village, bringing his five-year tenure to a close.

The Skinny: First, we have a little catching up to do. Before we went on vacation, we took a guess at Bruni’s last three reviews. We were right about just one of them: four stars for Eleven Madison Park. We missed the chance to issue our prediction on Union Square Cafe—a pity, as we knew it had to be two stars the instant we heard about it.

He didn’t review DBGB, and it turns out he’s skipping Marea, as well. That last one’s strange: Bruni taking a pass on an upscale Italian place? Is there a story waiting to be told?

So we come to The Redhead, a fine neighborhood place, but hardly an impressive choice for the final review. The one time we visited, it struck us as the quinessential one-star place—in a good way. When Frank Bruni takes pen in hand, two stars can never be ruled out, but we have trouble imagining how he would make the case for it.

The Prediction: We predict that lame-duck Frank will award one star to The Redhead.


The Redhead

I am late to the Redhead party. There’s a discussion thread on mouthfuls that is now up to 48 pages—more than almost any other restaurant in the city. I remember thinking, “What could the fuss be about?” In mid-2008, it got the Dining Briefs treatment from Pete Wells of the Times, even though it was then serving dinner only one night a week.

The fuss is about good southern-fried comfort food priced so low that it’s one of the best deals in town. In late 2008, the Redhead opened for full-time dinner service. With most appetizers $12 or less and most entrées $20 or less, you can put together a respectable meal for well under $50 per head, including alcohol.

I started with the excellent Grilled Kreutzer Sausage ($8), which comes with a mid-sized warm pretzel that I found almost superfluous. The acclaimed Buttermilk Fried Chicken ($17) has a nice side salad decked with walnuts and the best cornbread I have ever tasted. Counting the pretzel, the cornbread, and a dinner roll, it was a carby meal indeed. A free chocolate oatmeal cookie came with the bill, but I set it aside after one bite.

The setting is a dimly-lit pub. I didn’t try any of the house cocktails, but a decent Côtes du Rhone was just $8 a glass. Service was much more attentive and friendly than you’d expect in such a place. I was seated immediately at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday evening. I wanted to linger, but by 7:20 p.m. the bar was packed. Though no one asked me to leave, it seemed unfair to monopolize a table when others were at the bar waiting. So I left.

This is one of many East Village places that I would gladly patronize all the time, if only it were on my commuting path home. Perhaps it’s time I rethought my travel pattern. After all, it isn’t that much of a detour to hop an L train to First Avenue, where the Redhead is only a block away.

The Redhead (349 E. 13th Street, west of First Avenue, East Village)

Food: *
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *