New York’s dining scene is such that it’s simply not enough to advertise yourself as an Italian, Mexican or Thai restaurant nowadays. Instead, we’ve got Venetian, Oaxacan and Isaan eateries, which plumb the hyper-regional fare of countries and cities from around the world. Which is why, instead of joining the quickly growing ranks of fried chicken-serving Southern spots in the East Village, King Bee wisely elected to showcase Acadian cuisine — which explores the French and Canadian roots of Louisiana cooking.
Helmed by chef Jeremie Tomczak, a right hand man to Marcus Samuelsson who worked at Aquavit, Red Rooster Harlem, and Ginny’s Supper Club, the menu is approachable and soulful but still undeniably sophisticated; refined with a bit of modern style and panache. Right out of the gate, Tomczak has won raves for his insanely addictive Pork Cracklings; a paper cone brimming with fatty hunks of pork belly, coated with cane sugar caramel and enlivened by malt vinegar powder — essentially, a porcine take on candy corn. There’s also an excellent, mayo-slicked starter of Louisiana Crawfish on Brioche, which piles the meaty mudbugs on crispy slabs of toast, like the dainty, Cajun cousin of a lobster roll.
If chicken is having a moment in New York, King Bee more than carries the torch. But instead of defaulting to the fryer, Tomczak presents a version of Cornell Chicken, in which the meat is marinated and basted in a tangy white sauce before grilling, which produces an especially tender and succulent bird, bedded on top of bread salad and pleasantly bitter chicory. And instead of shrimp, Tomczak luxuriously pairs his creamy Anson Mills Grits with a pile of Salt Pork-Confit Lobster, cloaked in a tumble of wilted mustard greens. And while Fish & Chips might seem an odd order at a restaurant specializing in Southern cuisine of any sort, French espellette pepper adds a special sort of zip to a silky remoulade, that accompanies tasty wedges of potato and beautifully battered planks of cod belly. And at $12 per generous portion, it could actually serve as a terrifically priced entrée, as opposed to a shareable app.
In fact, prices are fantastically fair across the board, allowing even the most cash-poor Cooper Union student to take an occasional dinner break from budget burgers or ramen. And while the East Village is certainly not lacking in cocktail options, partner Eben Klemm’s tipples are every bit as intriguing as they were at Pearl & Ash (where he formerly served as beverage consultant). In the absence of a liquor license, he constructs nuanced, low-alcohol libations from aperitif wine, such as the “Dan Smith Will Teach You Guitar,” with Cocchi Rosa and plum shrub, “His Prices Are Insane,” with Bonal, maple, grapefruit and tonic, and “The Alley The Icewagon,” a ‘Negroni-lite,’ made with Coldbrew Vermouth.
So, seriously, don’t dismiss King Bee as just your run-of-the-mill Southern joint. Because from Caraway Ployes to Poutine Rapee, and Duck Fricot to six-layered Doberge Cake, Tomczak and crew have convincingly brought a taste of Acadia to NYC.