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Fairway Cafe


MartyL
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I hope it's not considered off-topic that I write some words about the dinner I had at the Fairway Cafe last Friday. The onion soup was the classic kind with melted Gruyere on top. It was not distinguished, but just the kind you want when you feel like having French onion soup, which apparently is a very popular craving. My wife and I had the Delmonico steak for two that was tender and correctly seasoned, which means not too salty. My wife's complaint was the somewhat lack of a beefy taste, but overall it was enoyable and a bargain. Just remember to have it brought to the table in one piece if you don't like the kitchen to slice it. The fries and onion rings are very good, as well. People on eGullet have complained about the service. True, it was a long wait for the main course, but someone was almost always near by whenever we wanted something. It's a barebones, unatmospheric place, but it is one of the handful of restaurants we go to on a regular basis. I can't wait to try the burger. Alas, not only are the days of free corkage over, but now you are not allowed to bring your own wine. The list is small, but extremely fairly-priced. Cheap, really, for a restaurant.

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No BYOW? Bummer. The last thread I saw here said that there was a $10 corkage. I'm just sorry I didn't find this place in time to drink a few good bottles of Bordeaux. I wonder if their evening business will continue to be strong without the BYO policy. The food may be great and the price fantastic, but even for a lunch spot the service was terrible and there is no atmosphere. It took me an hour and a half just to get them to bring me a burger and dessert, and the entire time I was getting drenched by rain from a hole in the roof above. If I can't BYO, I doubt I'd be too excited about the NY strip for $ 26.95 (current menu price). I can get a killer dry aged strip at Sparks or Smith and Wollensky for about $ 32.00. Given the quantum leap in ambience and service for the extra $6, Fairway probably ceases to be a bargain without the BYO factor. As Fat Guy warned months ago, the Fairway gig was too good to last. :angry:

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The pricing is still pretty advantageous if you get the combo special, because you're getting an appetizer plus three side dishes with your steak. But the loss of free BYO has, combined with the terrible service, massively demoted Fairway in my hierarchy of eateries from the "places I seek out all the time" category to the "I'll go once in awhile if I'm right there anyway" category. (That being said, last time I was there they had a $10 corkage option, which would have seemed reasonable had the restaurant opened under that system but which is irritating when compared to the old system.)

It's possible to get less-than-terrible service there, but I'm well up into the 10+ visits range and have never had anything approaching good service. At this point, there's no excuse for service that poor and slow at any price point -- you can get substantially better service at any diner. Of course part of the slowness is no doubt a kitchen problem, but why can't Mitchel London address this too? He seems like a smart, experienced restaurateur and he's on the premises all the time, so there's just no justification for the current situation. Nobody is asking for a Gramercy Tavern level of service here -- I think everybody would be happy with minimally competent service but London can't even get his act together to provide that. I had a sense of humor about it early on, but lately I have on several occasions opted against Fairway (it's right near my mother's house so is always one of the dinner choices when we meet up) in part because the wine situation is no longer attractive and in part because I just didn't want to deal with the bullshit of waiting forever, fighting for my food, and struggling against a passive and bumbling waitstaff.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The pricing is still pretty advantageous if you get the combo special, because you're getting an appetizer plus three side dishes with your steak.

You are correct sir. This isn't really an issue for me. I never order an appetizer when at S&W or Sparks, because a side or two and a large steak is enough to stuff me to the gills. I can't remember the exact pricing, but I think sirloin steak in the Grill Room at S&W is about $32. Split an order of hash browns and some creamed spinach with the table and the price without drinks isn't much different from the $40 charged at Fairway for the combo special (was it originally $35?).

So is it a $10 corkage or absolutely no BYO now? If it's the former I'm in, if it's the latter I'm headed back to S&W.

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It's possible to get less-than-terrible service there, but I'm well up into the 10+ visits range and have never had anything approaching good service. At this point, there's no excuse for service that poor and slow at any price point -- you can get substantially better service at any diner.

Not only did it take me an hour and a half to get a burger and a dessert, but the couple next to me arrived before me and were served after me. I heard them asking for water several times over the course of the meal, but it never arrived. They finally got up, walked over to the wait station, poured their own glasses of water, and sat back down. The service was so bad that everyone in my corner of the restaurant passed right through the annoyance and anger phases to reach a state of amused incredulity.

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The pricing is still pretty advantageous if you get the combo special, because you're getting an appetizer plus three side dishes with your steak. But the loss of free BYO has, combined with the terrible service, massively demoted Fairway in my hierarchy of eateries from the "places I seek out all the time" category to the "I'll go once in awhile if I'm right there anyway" category. (That being said, last time I was there they had a $10 corkage option, which would have seemed reasonable had the restaurant opened under that system but which is irritating when compared to the old system.)

It's possible to get less-than-terrible service there, but I'm well up into the 10+ visits range and have never had anything approaching good service. At this point, there's no excuse for service that poor and slow at any price point -- you can get substantially better service at any diner. Of course part of the slowness is no doubt a kitchen problem, but why can't Mitchel London address this too? He seems like a smart, experienced restaurateur and he's on the premises all the time, so there's just no justification for the current situation. Nobody is asking for a Gramercy Tavern level of service here -- I think everybody would be happy with minimally competent service but London can't even get his act together to provide that. I had a sense of humor about it early on, but lately I have on several occasions opted against Fairway (it's right near my mother's house so is always one of the dinner choices when we meet up) in part because the wine situation is no longer attractive and in part because I just didn't want to deal with the bullshit of waiting forever, fighting for my food, and struggling against a passive and bumbling waitstaff.

I agree about the service, I have been twice, and yes it is good value at first glance, but how much does poor service take away from that? I think it demotes it considerably.

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the $40 charged at Fairway for the combo special (was it originally $35?)

Is it really up to $40? I was there just a few weeks ago and it was $35. Not a huge difference, but between that and the change in BYO status the value is seriously eroded.

So is it a $10 corkage or absolutely no BYO now? If it's the former I'm in, if it's the latter I'm headed back to S&W.

My $35 information seems to be out of date so I'm not making any promises, but when I was there a few weeks ago it was $10 corkage.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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the $40 charged at Fairway for the combo special (was it originally $35?)

Is it really up to $40? I was there just a few weeks ago and it was $35. Not a huge difference, but between that and the change in BYO status the value is seriously eroded.

So is it a $10 corkage or absolutely no BYO now?   If it's the former I'm in, if it's the latter I'm headed back to S&W.

My $35 information seems to be out of date so I'm not making any promises, but when I was there a few weeks ago it was $10 corkage.

I'm going to go next week for the steak dinner a will try to bring a bottle of wine. I am certain the price is now $40, and I will verify the no BYO/corkage policy and report back.

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BYO is indeed a thing of the past at Fairway. I had dinner there last month and wasn't the only one in the restaurant who went home with a full bottle. I talked to Mitchell London about it, and he claimed BYO is in violation of some liquor law and Fairway's attys urged him to do away with it. When I asked him if Craft, Gramercy, etc., were breaking the law by allowing BYO, he said they were. A lawyer friend of mine looked up the relevant information, and it turns out (not surprisingly) that BYO is perfectly legal. So, I'm not sure what the deal is.

At the time, dinner was still $35.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I know there's another thread somewhere about the Fairway Steakhouse/Gordon Mitchel's (Broadway and 75th), but I think their pancakes are worthy of their own mention here.

I've now eaten at this place 4 times, and each time the food has been excellent. One of the best burgers in NYC, great salads, fantastic desserts, etc. Then I tried the pancakes....

Unbelievably good. In fact, the best pancakes I've had in my life, period. These pancakes are small - maybe 4 inches in diameter and so thin that a stack of seven cakes was about 2" tall. They have a moist and slighty spongey consistency, almost more like a crepe than a cake. They remind me a bit of something called "swedish pancakes" I used to get years ago at long forgotten pancake house down South. I have no idea how their recipe differs to make them so special, and apparently Mitchel isn't gonnna tell. They're served with real maple syrup on the side too.

I can't really describe them adequately in words. You'll have to make the pilgrimmage to Fairway yourself to truly know this holy grail of hotcakes.

By the way, Mitchel has been watching the floor like a hawk during my past two visits (breakfast and lunch), and the service has improved quite a bit as compared to previous visits.

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Then I tried the pancakes....

Unbelievably good.  In fact, the best pancakes I've had in my life, period. 

DITTO

Mitchel and I worked together in the late 80's and I have been enjoying his inspired cooking and his charming crumgeonly demeanor ever since.

His pancakes are just the best. In fact, when the topic has come up I've always maintained that it is difficult to understand how pancakes in general could be THAT good.

If you think he is guarding the dining room like a hawk (I would never bet that there will ever be really good service there), you should see how he guards that recipe!

As Michelin would say - ***- 'worth going WAY out of your for.'

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I have a sneaking suspicion there's a lot of butter involved here somehow. :wink:

And that's a bad thing? (I need a perplexed emoticon)

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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  • 11 months later...

Has anyone tried the pizza at Cafe Fairway? They have added a new pizza oven in the past month or so and now sell 12" pies at the cafe for $8-10.

I asked Mitchel London about the pizza and he declared it "The best in New York...or at least one of the best". I will have to return at lunch time to see if he is right.

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  • 2 months later...

It appears that an era has ended. According to today's NY Times, Mitchel London no longer runs the Fairway Cafe. The Times says the next thing for him is Sunday brunch chef at Lucy Latin Cafe on East 18th Street -- although I can't imagine that this is what someone with his talents will really end up doing. Maybe he's just taking a break? He will still oversee Fairway's prepared foods.

--

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in the beginning, fairway's cafe had promise, regardless of the amazingly bad service. with byob, & a very good menu - from amouse-bouche - to - dessert, it was worth putting up with whatever service you received. unfortunately, mitchell got more ornery, the wine policy changed, the amouse-bouche disappeared, prices went up, but the service remained the same.

early on, i approached mitchell & one of fairway's owners with some suggestions that would have improved the ambiance & the experience. mitchell, to his credit, took the list, but did nothing with it. the owner was a complete buffoon. its too bad, because i don't consider myself having the last laugh. the restaurant is empty at nite, but i was hoping it would have been an excellent addition to the area. with everything needed at their fingertips, it would have appeared this should have been a "can't miss" alternative to the many mediocre places on the UWS.

i like fairway market & it fits into the fabric of NYC. vs whole foods, it still comes out ahead. obviously, whole foods is larger, cleaner; but the food offerings are not any better, & this is after repeated trips. initially, its a rave, but the more familiar one gets, the luster is gone; while fairway is always an adventure - sometimes not a good adventure, but nevertheless, an adventure.

whole food's "food court" is a cesspool of germs" from fingers - to - breathing. its a great concept , obviously the stk mkt agrees, but probably better for areas that do not have a zabar's or a fairway nearby.

1 additional note: westside grocery on broadway bet 76th & 77th, continues to amaze me. although it does not have the "buzz" of fairway, nor does nora ephron write about it, BUT i always seem to find products that one cannot get anywhere else!!!

ex. "texas pete" hot sauce - i had asked the owner to order & he did. this in addition to many "difficult to find" products they carry. less hectic, small meat & cheese selection, but for a "grocery" store, its very good.

Edited by jgould (log)
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Oh, gee -- come on downtown: I can get Texas Pete in the Pathmark under the Manhattan Bridge. :smile:

LOL :biggrin: just what i want to do - travel diagonally from UWS to manhattan bridge & back. is it not better to walk 1.5 blks, n'est-ce pas? or, u could drop off a few bottles every month?? :raz:

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  • 2 weeks later...
It appears that an era has ended.  According to today's NY Times, Mitchel London no longer runs the Fairway Cafe.  The Times says the next thing for him is Sunday brunch chef at Lucy Latin Cafe on East 18th Street -- although I can't imagine that this is what someone with his talents will really end up doing.  Maybe he's just taking a break?  He will still oversee Fairway's prepared foods.

I wondered if that was the case when I last dined there about a month ago and Mitchel's name was no longer plastered all over the walls.

Has anyone noticed if the food (especially those pancakes!) has suffered since his departure?

I've never had dinner there, but always found the breakfast and lunch items to be quite good and reasonably priced.

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  • 2 months later...

Well it took a month or so, but Mitchell London's departure has finally taken its toll. I've eaten at Fairway Cafe regularly since it opened as it has been one of the better consistent values in in my neighborhood. Over the past two months the food items that I regularly order (Big Boy special with pancakes, french onion soup, croque monsieur) have really slipped. The last order of pancakes I had were rubbery and tasted fishy, as if they hadn't cleaned the grill properly. The formerly excellent onion soup has gotten steadily worse and today was nearly inedible - what little cheese was on top wasn't even browned, the onions were an undercooked mess, and there wasn't enough broth to allow even half the onions to be consumed.

I'm sorry to see this place in decline, as it really was a great asset in terms of price/quality in this neighborhood. It goes to show how important attention to detail is in even relatively simple foods. I'd bet that most of the supplies and produce are the same, but without Mitchell London at the helm, the execution has gone to hell in a handbasket.

The only thing that hasn't changed is the service - disorganized as ever.

Edited by Felonius (log)
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  • 4 weeks later...
Well it took a month or so, but Mitchell London's departure has finally taken its toll.

The only thing that hasn't changed is the service - disorganized as ever.

I have to agree. We ate here last Friday night before a show at the Beacon - my burger was a mess - totally overcooked (ordered rare and it came medium-well). I left the fries on the plate - something I rarely do. Caesar salad was way underdressed. My wife's pasta had so much sauce on it, it was like eating at Olive Garden - when London was there, it was a great pasta dish for the money.

Should have gone to Uncle Nick's!

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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I've eaten there three times since London left. The first time gave me hope: service was the best it ever was, and the food was on par with previous visits. The next two visits saw slippage in both food and service (decor, especially those horribly uncomfortable chairs, was unchanged). I'm pretty much finished with the place.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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