When it's a sunny-but-not-TOO-sunny day in New York, it's hard to imagine voluntarily drinking in a bar that's dark before sundown. But one late afternoon, Soft-Spoken Feisty Lady and I found ourselves traversing the basement stairs to the subterranean gloom of Jimmy's No. 43 for two good reasons:
- Happy Hour Draft Specials (Daily, Noon - 6 PM), $4 American Microbrew Pints
- New Catch Holland Herring from Russ & Daughters
There was a ton of press about these seasonal piscine visitors from the E.U.; worthy of festivals in their native Holland, herring are a definitive cornerstone of the Dutch diet, as readily available a street food as hot dogs are in NY. New herring--the first catch of the spring--are especially cherished, eaten spanking-fresh and unadorned.
I'd just finished off a book about regional Dutch food and quirky herring eating procedures (AKA haringhappen), so I was eager to put all those diagrams of smiling, fish-gulping Dutch folk to good use.
C'mon. There's nothing more appealing than a couple of chicks tossing back herring and beer like so much drunken, back-talking sea lion.
We went with one order of the "traditional-style" New Holland Herring ($7):
...which quickly became two orders (and would have multiplied to 3 had good graces and budget not intervened). SSFL and I had no problem polishing ours off: Tilt your trap back, lower the fish into said trap by the tail, chew, order more.
Garnished minimally with chopped onion, these lightly cured fish were fatty, tender, and redolent of the sea--like giant, high-grade anchovies.
Dutch Delight mentions that the new herring aren't raw "in the strictest sense": On the herring ships, they are immediately gutted, salted, and frozen. So basically you've got curing and quick-freeze to buffer you against any narsty Baltic-borne parasites.
We also got the training-wheels version of the Holland Herring, perched atop ricotta and toast ($7):
Pretty, but we both felt the delivery mode sublimated the briny goodness of the herring. Go hard or go home.
Woman cannot (afford to) survive on herring alone, so we gave into an order of Fraegola with Sugar Snap Peas, Mint, and Pecorino ($12?):
Simple, verdant, and definitely replicable in a home kitchen--I'd add a poached egg, but I tend to think everything needs an egg on top. I wanted to think the mint helped us from walking out reeking entirely of fish and onions.
It may have still been light out when we emerged from Jimmy's, feeling happy and suitably appetized...but not full. So we went in pursuit of vaguely less seasonal, basement-based prey:
Spicy Redneck = Deep-Fried Hot Dog (Wrapped in Bacon) + Chili + Chopped Jalapenos + Cole Slaw
No worries, I've made peace with my maker.
I want to say I loved it, that this was a gloriously filthy sum of parts, but...it didn't do it for me the way The Garbage Plate did. It was fun romp into the wonders of wrong junk food, but I didn't like that I couldn't taste the actual hot dog (which, under the coil of crispy bacon, was grey and sad...like a giant lost breakfast link).
SSFL came to much the same conclusion with her Good Morning Dog ($5), another bacon-wrapped number with a fried egg and cheese, + jalapenos ($0.50), + Chili Cheese Tater Tots ($3.50)...'cause that's how SSFL rolls.
Though we were a little disappointed with the food, the entertainment was priceless--within Crif Dogs sits an old-fashioned phone booth with a false wall that leads into the speakeasy/bar PDT (short for Please Don't Tell).
Neither of us had ever been, but SSFL and I were curiously eying the booth as we waited for our hot dogs.
SSFL: How does it work?
EF: I'm not sure! I think you pick up the phone, it rings, and they tell you if there's seats available.
SSFL: <giggling> Shall I try?
[SSFL goes into the booth, shuts the folding glass door behind her, and picks up the phone. It rings twice before the wall she was leaning on swings open and she almost teeters into the imposing Rocky Horror Hostess. Said Hostess curtly mentions that there are no seats open at the moment, and to try again in a half hour.]
It being a Friday night, there was a steady stream of hopeful imbibers trying to win over the Hidden Hostess of PDT. We ate our tater tots (which were okay, nothing special) and watched as all walks of life--bridge-and-tunnelers, hipsters, and tourists alike--were turned away from the phone booth.
As we were giving up on the cold tots, something changed: Unprovoked, the wall opened, and the door folded inward. People were leaving the bar, looking smugly satisfied.
SSFL and I looked at each other. Why not? I went into the booth, picked up the phone, was sure enough stared-down by the Hostess...who says why yes, seats have opened up in the bar! WOOHOO!
The space low-ceilinged, dimly lit (SURPRISE!), and larger than either of us expected. SSFL and I felt like kids at a candy store perched at that bar. (Turns out, walk-ins are seated at the bar, and tables and booths are for reservations only.)
The bartenders were super-sweet, and we were happy to watch them work their magic with their multicolored vials, extracts, and glass-and-brass tools that resembled 19th century pharmacy equipment. We stared as the barkeep (er, mixologist?) placed a large ice cube into a weighted metal mold and voila! A perfect ice sphere, plunked purposefully into heavy-bottomed glass, waiting its complex bath.
Sorry to say, photography was expressly discouraged in this "sexy time" dark little place, and the cocktails were so intricate that I can't remember what we drank. I do believe my first cocktail was a Mai-Tai-like confection, maybe called the Luau? And I do believe that SSFL had a Paddington something-or-other. We had one with a tea extract, an maybe another with Chartreuse...or they could have both been in the same elixir.
EPIC FAIL!!! I'm so sorry, readers!!
But I do know that we had 2 apiece, and they were admirably original and delicious. At $13 each, they're not cheap, but all of us have been guilty of paying more for far less.
And I'll admit it--we couldn't help but be a little miffed when we were initially shut out. Who do they think they are??? A speakeasy...ridiculous!
Once you're in, though, basking in the shadows, sipping at a vintage daiquiri glass brimming with something smoothly green, tasting at once fresh-yet-ancient...it's hard not to feel special.
Jimmy's No. 43
43 E 7th St.
(between 2nd & 3rd Ave.)
NYC, NY 10003
12 noon - 2 AM (till 4 AM on weekends)
Kitchen: 5:30 PM - 12 midnight