Hit list - New York
by Jordana Rothman • In partnership with FOOD & WINE
FOOD & WINE Best New Chef Alex Stupak of Empellón Taqueria, Cocina and Al Pastor sees the oyster as New York City’s most iconic food. Here’s where he heads for history on the half-shell.
Before dirty water dogs, salt-speckled pretzels and coal oven pizza took on the title of Gotham’s most iconic foods, New York was an oyster town. In the 19th century, the city was renowned for its bivalves—bought by the piece from street vendors; slurped by the pile at Canal Street cellars where 6-cents bought all-you-could-eat; or shared among bon vivants at continental restaurants, where they might have been lavished with cream, broiled with breadcrumbs; or stuffed into the cavity of a roasted chicken.
There’s a raw bar resurgence happening in New York these days, so it’s no wonder that oysters were top of mind for Alex when we asked him to spill his go-to spots for classic NYC eats. Here, he breaks down his three go-to seafood spots.
Owner Shane Covey worked at an oyster bar in Midtown before opening this stripped down East Village spot, with brick walls and wood salvaged from barns in upstate New York. Alex says Shane is a regular fixture at the bar, pouring craft beers from breweries like Kelso and Radiant Pig for regulars. “There’s a crazy selection of east and west coast oysters here—much deeper and wider than you’d expect for such a tiny place,” says Alex. “Shane sources them all directly from the farmers, so there’s a real sense of traceability and personal relationships behind the menu.” Pro tip: There’s no dessert menu but, Alex says, “if Shane likes you, he’ll give you a slice of his wife’s whiskey-soaked pound cake or blueberry moonshine every now and then.”
Upstate: 95 1st Avenue, New York, NY; 917-408-3395; upstatenyc.com
Grand Central Oyster Bar
A true artifact from a time when oyster cellars were as common as short-order diners in New York City, this restaurant is the star of the architectural jewel that is Grand Central Terminal. Opened in 1913, GCOB serves an absolutely staggering selection of oysters that stretches miles beyond the Bluepoints and Malpeques that are pervasive on NYC menus. “I only ever come here with my wife Lauren,” says Alex. “One of the many qualities that made me fall in love with her right away was the fact that she could eat as many oysters as I could—up to 36 in a sitting. When we come here, I am always reminded of that part of her that I think is super attractive.”
Grand Central Oyster Bar: Grand Central Terminal, 89 E 42nd St, New York, NY; 212-490-6650; oysterbarny.com
Mary’s Fish Camp
If Upstate is Alex’s oyster haunt when he is working at his East Village restaurants, Mary’s is his cross-town equivalent. A block away from Empellón Taqueria in the West Village, Mary’s has been offering New Yorkers a fever-dream vision of a quintessential fish-shack since 2001. Alex will come here to raid the raw bar, but Mary’s also reminds the chef of his Massachusetts roots. “There are two things on this menu in perpetuity that are very important to me as a New Englander,” he says. “Fried clams and a lobster roll.”
Mary's Fish Camp: 64 Charles St, New York, NY; 646-486-2185; marysfishcamp.com