It was 7 p.m. on a Thursday evening, and I had plans to meet a friend in 45 minutes to see a play. Where could I grab a quick, honest bite to eat by my lonesome in Midtown?
Not Mitra, Spice or Eno -- too protracted and fancy. Ditto for Nan Thai and Nam. Not Baraonda -- too slammed with the pre-Fox crowd. Toast, maybe? Or ...
I made a random turn off Peachtree and there it was: McCray's 6th Street Tavern. All I could remember hearing about the place was that they served out-of-the-ordinary bar food. It was enough of a recommendation for me. I lucked out with a parking spot a block away, hiked up the street and slipped through the doors into the smoky dimness.
Actually, even though McCray's is an 18-plus establishment and smoking is permitted throughout, the room didn't seem too polluted. I scurried up to the bar and asked for a menu. A kind bartender took my hurried order, spread a burgundy napkin in front of me as a makeshift tablecloth and chronicled the plans for her forthcoming trip to Napa's wine country as she poured me a glass of Zinfandel.
It wasn't until I was gratefully gobbling down my dinner that I stopped glancing at my watch and started to digest my surroundings. A row of tables lined a handsome brick wall. The bar radiated a deco feel. A light fixture in its center glowed green and splayed out like the NBC peacock. Business types filled most every seat -- not cocky executives, but regular folks who were glad to be out of the office for the night and have a good brewsky in hand.
I took in the endless, enticing panel of draft beer handles behind the bar. I looked down at my so-so glass of wine. Bad choice.
But my burger, piled with bacon, cheddar and caramelized onions, was cooked well (that is to say, medium-rare like I asked for) and the homemade potato chips on the side were a rewardingly crispy alternative to standard French fries.
Then the meal for the woman seated next to me arrived. The unmistakable, garlicky perfume of Italian-American cooking pierced the air. People on either side of the woman ogled her plate: chicken parmigiana, with a side of linguine. She pretended not to notice the attention but carefully cut off small bites of chicken and stretched out the blanket of mozzarella luxuriously before each forkful reached her mouth.
Brew pub meets red sauce joint? That enigmatic collusion in itself was worth returning to investigate.
McCray's is a co-venture of Scott McCray, who owns Lava Lounge and Cosmopolitan seven or so blocks up the street, and Tony LaRocco, who previously owned Fratelli di Napoli. It makes sense that both these partners would want to inject some culinary heritage into their affordable neighborhood hang.
So, then, the pressing question: Which beers go best with Italian food?
I think I worried a newly employed server while trying to answer this quandary with a buddy on a subsequent visit.
"You guys didn't like that one either?" she'd ask, perplexedly examining another mostly full glass of beer as we ordered more.
"No, no, it's great. But can we try ... ?" we'd inevitably respond.
To my taste, malty brown ales, like Newcastle, and lagers, like Spaten Premium, seem to pair up best to linguine with fat links of sausage or dense meatballs in the restaurant's sweet, not overly insistent marinara. Raisiny notes in a Chimay Triple married well with rigatoni escarole e fagioli in a peculiar, opposites-attract sort of way.
That rigatoni dish was my singularly favorite Italian offering. The escarole is cooked to the point that it has just enough of its bitter character left to make life interesting, and melds cozily with the white beans in a thick broth spiked with crushed red pepper, garlic and olive oil. I'm less taken with a big bowl of rigatoni in a blandly creamy vodka sauce that needs more vavoom to keep it engaging.
Not everything has an Italian bent on the menu, but, with the exception of the virtuous burger, you may find yourself in dubious territory if you stray far from mama's meatballs. McCray's filet is a noble hunk of beef, but don't be tempted to order it gussied up with roasted garlic and port wine reduction sauce. Both are so salty they trample the steak's integrity.
And I'm fairly certain the citizens of Philadelphia would uniformly reject McCray's version of a cheese steak sandwich. The shavings of prime rib are soldered together with peppers and onions by gluey provolone that you can peel off the bread in a congealed puck. If you're jonesing for a sandwich, try the classic Reuben with corned beef.
And for dessert? More beer would be my choice. They have, on tap, a Lindemans Framboise Lambic served in a tall, champagne flute-like glass that lullabies vibrant raspberry straight down your gullet. I'd choose that over pallid variations of tiramisu and New York cheesecake any ol' day. If you must squelch the sweet tooth, order the goopy, warm brownie.
But even then, treat yourself to a chocolaty glass of Belgian Maredsous 8 alongside the brownie. We'll see which one disappears first.
Sides, apps, drinks--whatever. What I want to know is how their beef and pork compares…
Great food, yummy drinks and perfect atmosphere who could ask for anything more! Oh and…
WOW, Cliff writes an article promoting a $9 crappy steak at a gay bar and…
Oh, this is sad.
Great, great food. I have been there 3 times. The smoked chicken wings rock. The…