For a long time now, 200 East Third Street, a skinny parcel of real estate nestled between Avenues A and B, has been home to some of the city’s best Southern Comfort cooking. But for a good 15 of those years, the plates piled high with fried chicken, collard greens, cornbread and mac & cheese came courtesy of Mama’s Food Shop, a cheap and cheerful neighborhood institution, forced to shutter in 2012 in the face of rapid neighborhood gentrification and steeply rising rents. Less than two years later, and the heady scent of pork fat and chicken grease is wafting through the windows once again, but this time, it’s via the building’s newest tenants, Root & Bone, and they’ve attached a much dearer price to their biscuits and meatloaf.
As opposed to the cash-poor college students, hollow-eyed punk musicians and starving artists that used to haunt Mama’s, it’s hype, not value, that drives Root & Bone’s roster of chicly-dressed eaters. Even on an especially frigid and blustery Tuesday, they inevitably show up in such droves, that we were lucky to score a stool for one by the window, perched precariously by the waiting mob at the entrance, and fully exposed to drafts from the incessantly opening door.
They come for the Fried Chicken, heralded by many as one of Manhattan’s best new birds. And indeed, it’s awfully impressive, brined in sweet tea, slathered in Tabasco honey, and ingeniously anointed with lemon “dust,” that cuts a bright, citrusy swath through the oily mouthfuls of crust, flesh and skin. It’s served by the half or whole bucket, but since you’ve doubtless waited long enough for your table, always go for the whole — it’ll taste just as good the next day. Other notable items include the Gooey Corn Spoonbread, a decadent casserole bound together with whipped buttermilk and cheddar cheese and served in its own cast iron pan, Seared Local Fish (most recently, skate), plated with mushrooms, English peas, and a sweet, concentrated Vidalia onion butter, and a hearty Rainbow Beet and Root Salad, dolloped with ricotta crème and strewn with smoky candied pecans. Wash it all down with whiskey-based cocktails like the “Kill Devil Hills;” bourbon, campari, oleo saccherum, and
sparkling wine, sprinkled with nutmeg. Did I mention it’s served in a teacup?
All in all, it’s difficult — and not particularly fair — to take issue with Root & Bone, which serves inarguably delicious, southern-inspired food to the new guard of Alphabet City. But with every house-infused tipple, every chef-y dish addition, like toasted benne seed sea salt, black pepper marshmallow, and Brooklyn lager jus, it’s hard not to mourn the memory of Mama’s, and the simple, unfussed culinary pleasures associated with old New York.