NYC Restaurants

Penelope
159 Lexington Ave (at 30th St)
New York, NY, 10016
(212) 481-3800
http://www.penelopenyc.com/

Cuisine: American , Comfort Food

Menu Details: , Hummus Plate, Homemade soups, Kale on a Mission, C.J.'s Fish and Chips  

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Cititour Review:
I like to be comfortable. By this I mean that I mostly wear clothes that might in a moments notice be ready for bed, and that you won’t generally find me in shoes with pointy toes, high heels, straps, or anything resembling a peep-toe. Even when I go out at night, I generally toss my real shoes in a purse and wear flip-flops to restaurant because I like to walk places and can’t seem to do it in heels. I realize I am in the minority. My friend Alison could run a marathon in her heels. She wears them as slippers around the house. Susie is the same way. She is actually uncomfortable in flats. Now that she lives in Rome, a city of cobblestone, she has come to wear wedge heels instead. She’d shower in them if she could. Me, not so much. And my lifestyle, as a freelance writer, fits my desire for comfort quite well. As I write this, I am sitting at my desk, cup of just pressed coffee to my left, in a t-shirt and a pair of soft stretchy yoga pants. No, I am not about to do yoga, I just wear them because they are so comfy. And this is how I will remain all day, until I decide to put on “real” clothes and makeup at night. I’ll pull on something remotely fashionable (I can’t do skinny jeans as I don’t have skinny thighs) for a few hours for dinner (or lunch if I have a daytime event), and then come home and its back to the bare feet and the yoga pants. It works for me.

After eating at Penelope several times over the past month, I realize one of the reasons I love this little place is that I not only like clothes that are comfortable. I like restaurants that are comfortable, too. And Penelope is the restaurant equivalent of flip-flops. Owned by Jennifer Potenza, who named her cozy corner spot after her turtle, Penelope is a simple little neighborhood restaurant, albeit one that feels like its true neighborhood might be Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, or the shore somewhere, not the cab-crowded corner of Lexington Avenue and 30th Street.

Craig discovered Penelope on his walk to work and he mentioned it to me when I was writing a lobster roll piece for the Post. He had seen one listed as a special on a chalkboard on the sidewalk. “Penelope?” What’s Penelope?” I asked, not imagining that there could be a restaurant in New York City I hadn’t heard of. “It’s this cute place I pass on the way to work,” he said. “We should check it out.” I was incredulous. What was he talking about and how had I not heard of it?

A few days later, we were walking home from Penn Station and we found ourselves on the corner of 30th and Lex. “Here’s that place I was telling you about,” he said, pointing to a corner restaurant with a gray and blue ticker-striped awning shading a weathered old bench. We walked inside and found a breezy place with worn wooden plank flooring covered with mix ‘n match antique tables with pew benches, and walls lined in turquoise wainscoting. We weren’t planning on staying, but there’s something about the place that makes you want to sit and linger. So we headed over to the bar and ordered a few pints ($6)—a Fisherman’s Ale and Abita Light. (There’s also a Hennepin Farmhouse on tap—a Belgian style wheat beer from Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, and a great selection of bottled beers—Duvel, Turbo Dog New Orleans Brown Ale, Wolaver's Organic IPA from Vermont and Smuttynose Old Brown Dog from New Hampshire, all $5.)


From our seats at the bar, we spied a glass pastry case filled with iced cupcakes. A frosted carrot cake and a layered red velvet cake were each displayed on their own individual cake pedestals. We finished our beer and gave in to our inner cake monsters, and ordered a slice of red velvet to go. The cake was eaten on the couch, and was followed by promises to go back to Penelope very soon.






One morning later that week, we returned for breakfast. We brought our laptops and newspapers and found the place quiet and peaceful, with ceiling fans whirring and rich dark coffee flowing. Regulars were greeted by name. (The place has been open for four years so there are lots of them.) The menu is modest and homey and includes Mabel’s granola ($7, lots of coconut in there), pumpkin waffles dusted with powdered sugar and cranberries, omelettes, buttermilk pancakes, and the Penny Egg Sandwich, which comes piled with bacon, fluffy scrambled eggs and pesto ($6.50). Though I’d skip the pesto next time—garlic in the morning doesn’t really do me right—the sandwich is the perfect day starter, made even better with a side of their fantastic hand-cut skin on fries ($5.50). After we ate, we lingered at the table, writing for about an hour or so. We were never rushed and our coffee cups were replenished regularly.

Lunch and dinner both run the same homespun menu. This is not a foodie haunt. You’ll find no pork belly, not a single lamb rib, nor even one bowl of hand cut pasta tucked in with the season’s first crop of fava beans. No, no, and no. This is the place foodies go when they want to recover from the high-pressure eating train. There’s a bubbly mac’ n cheese ($9.50), a chicken pot pie ($13.95) under a blanket of pastry, a crisp flaky spinach pie with salad greens ($9.50), a juicy burger on a sesame bun with leaf lettuce, red onion and a slice of tomato ($9.50). There’s a smoked salmon sandwich on black bread with tomato, red onion, and arugula and a splash of Green Goddess dressing ($9), a gooey grilled cheese layered with Swiss, American and Fontina on sourdough ($7), and an oversized hummus sandwich spread over puffy somun bread (sort of a thin foccacia) filled out with ripe avocado and arugula ($9).

Craig and I cannot go to Penelope without ordering the warm artichoke and spinach dip ($8.50). You’ve probably had a similar incarnation of it at Freeman’s after you’ve waited about two hours to be seated. That one’s good too, but you don’t have to wait at Penelope and this one’s better. Served with three kinds of bread—pita, seven grain and sourdough (all toasted and warmed), the dip is creamy and spinachy and loaded up with tender artichoke hearts, but it also gets a fresh lemony kick that adds the right amount of zing.

We are also fans of the chalkboard special—the Turtle Cove Lobster Roll ($16.50). Named for one of Jenny’s favorite surf spots in Montauk, this one’s loaded up with hunks of sweet lobster meat dressed in lemony mayo, with a hit of celery, and served on buttered, griddled Tom Cat Bakery brioche. It comes with a pile of those perfect skin-on handcut fries. I love these fries so much, I’ve even thought about a French fry sandwich, maybe topped with melted cheese. I know. I have issues.

If you don’t do lobster rolls (I have taken a break since I wrote the story about them for the Post and ate two a day for a week), there’s also the big ‘ole hero stuffed with light and fluffy well-seasoned chicken meatballs, topped with melted fontina on a hollowed out baguette ($9.50).

I’ve already mentioned the desserts, which are made by Luke, one of Penelope’s waiters, but let me again encourage you to try one. Have a cupcake ($2.25, eat your heart out Magnolia, these are better). Have a tall slice of layered red velvet cake ($5). Have a peanut butter blondie ($3). Come on, you know you want some. Share if you must. Spend another thirty minutes at the gym (or thinking about the gym), but have some cake and eat it too.

Now, I know you may be scratching your head wondering why I took the time to write up a place that’s been around for four years and serves chicken meatball sandwiches for dinner. I thought about it, and I decided to write about Penelope because while it’s not a restaurant featuring advanced culinary degree cooking, it offers really fresh, and really good food that won’t break the bank. I reviewed it because I think you’ll be happy eating here. Maybe it will become your go-to spot for when you are trying to find a place to eat where you don’t need a reservation, where you don’t have to dress up, where you can just walk in, have a cold pint or a glass of wine, have a simple little dinner in your flip flops, and just be comfortable.
Review By: Andrea Strong

Neighborhood: East 30s

Takeout:Yes

Delivery: Yes


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