Note: My friend and I were given free dinners at Bread & Stone in exchange for (me) writing a post about the experience, but my opinions are my own and not influenced by anyone else.
Bread & Stone
308 E. 6th Street
Open Wednesday-Sunday, 4-10pm
In my opinion, it’s hard to screw up Italian food. What’s not to like? The building blocks are pasta, bread, garlic, cheese, oils – I’m already sold. Fancier Italian, then, is easier to experiment with – I’m always willing to try new things in Italian cuisine, because the foundational elements are already there. I know I’m in safe hands.
So going out to get an Italian dinner doesn’t have to be a special occasion for me. (It is a rare one, since my love of carbs means I have to make it a treat. And no, I’m not going to waste an Italian outing by getting pork chops or fish.)
But the folks at Bread and Stone want to have it both ways: They want going to their new Italian restaurant (which is still serving a preview menu at this moment) on 6th Street near the East Village to be both a cozy, familiar experience and something fancy-ish and unique. According to the press materials for the restaurant, the creators spent two years checking out the top 100 Italian restaurants in New York, Los Angeles and Italy. (Here’s hoping they skipped Bros in Lecce.)
Side note: How do I get the gig of sampling 100 Italian restaurants?
The Bread & Stone press release also noted that, “This isn’t just a dining experience, it’s a celebration of Italian food and culture.” Okay, then, parameters established.
I met with my pal Chandler for the meal; two stomachs are better than one when determining the selection of food. It was a rainy night in Manhattan, and the restaurant is situated about an eight minute walk from the closest subway at Astor Place. Stepping inside, I was greeted by a narrow, railway-apartment shaped dining area with a bar and a small stage bathed in red dominating the front section. At this time – a bit before 6 on a Friday – there was one other couple in the restaurant. I was greeted warmly and told to pick where I’d like to sit.
The atmosphere was, in fact, cozy. Wood floors, wood benches, wood on the walls. Light was low – almost too dim to see the food clearly – but in these post-menu, pro-QR code days perhaps we don’t need light to read menus. The music was classic pop – Neil Diamond, Fran Sinatra (clearly there’s a law that you must play Sinatra in New York Italian restaurants) – and a bit on the loud side. (Note: I have an issue with all music in restaurants. I get that there’s a dampening effect; it keeps the conversations from getting too loud. But tif the restaurant is largely empty, someone ought to keep tabs on that volume button.)
At some point, the accordion player – again, almost as de rigueur as Sinatra in an Italian place – began warming up, though the music was still coming from the speakers, and it was … disharmonious. When the music cut out and she gave us a Christmas carol on the accordion, it was hard to deny: December 1 means no other holidays have ever existed, or will ever exist again, at least until December 26. Again, volume was something of an issue, though this lessened as the place filled up.
The menu, as mentioned before, is still in its “preview” mode, which means the selection of options was limited (totally fine; it made it easier to choose). After Chandler arrived we ordered drinks – creative combos that looked delightful included Aperol Margarita and The Fiery Italian. She chose Zip Stefano’s Negroni (“a brown butter washed Negroni, Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin, Sweet Vermouth, Campari and Cinnamon Washed in Brown Butter,” a phrasing that could do with about 50 percent less brown butter references and a hyphen), which read on the website as $14, but rang up on our bill as $16. We’re comped, so no quibble – but worth noting.
I got the Pistachio Cream Pie (“vanilla vodka, pistachio simple syrup, amaretto, lime juice, pistachio egg white foam”) which came with a garnish of pistachio halves. This was listed as $18 on the website but rang up as $16, so I guess things evened out. Both drinks were delicious and enjoyed; mine was creamy and sweet with just a little bitter on the back end.
I’m an appetizers person, so it’s hard for me to turn down three options from the antipasti as my meal. I chose the Focaccia con marmellata (four small slices of focaccia bread with three dips: rosemary toasted pistachio (they do love their pistachios here!) apricot jam; honey butter; and house garlic confit ($8). The dips came in a divided rectangular dish and the bread was arranged artfully on a cutting board. I was most impressed by the honey butter – it was smooth and worked well with the (lightly) toasted focaccia; there was a bit too much going on in the rosemary/pistachio/apricot jam for me to separate any of the individual tastes, but we did enjoy it. The garlic “confit” was basically garlic cloves that have been cooked in oil. They were soft and not very appealing to the eye; I tried one and while I do love garlic, it didn’t quite work for me. The portions were modest, but sufficient.
Next up: Cesare di Bruxelles, or shaved Brussels sprouts sautéed with lemon, olive oil, fresh herbs with pistachio (again!), cranberries and caramelized onion, then tossed in Caesar dressing and given a crisped Parmesan crown ($14) surrounded by focaccia crouton dust. And it was served warm. Delicious and a pleasure to mix up – you get to crush that hat, er, crown, into tiny pieces and enjoy the combination of textures. If I had to leave anything out I’d say the cranberries clashed rather than complemented the savory aspect of the rest of the salad, but that doesn’t mean I spent any time picking them out. Ate the whole thing, would have had more.
I also got a Pizza Fritta ($10), because if you say “fried pizza” (which is eaten frequently in Naples) I will marry you. It’s described as “flash fried dough stuffed with Romano and mozzarella” and rests on a “ten hour slow cooked marinara” (there’s another hyphen needed there). What came out was a cheese-filled dough package on top of a very dark (though remember, the place is dim) sauce, covered gently in some Parmesan and basil. A little research indicated that yes, this is what fried pizza looks like in Naples – which lost most of its wood-fired ovens in WWII bombing and so got creative with one of the nation’s most famous dishes – though usually the cheese inside is ricotta and pork cracklings. (I would eat that 100 percent as well.) It was fun to cut into the dough and mix my pizza myself; the marinara was rich and flavorful, and it was a fresh way to enjoy a slice of classic ‘za. Note: This was my first course of the evening without pistachios.
Chandler ordered the Bucatini al Pomodoro con Burrata ($30), and it arrived as a swirl of sauced noodles (that ten-hour marinara gets another starring role, and a proper hyphen in the web text) topped with a fat scoop of burrata. The bucatini was properly al dente, and the sauce clung to the noodles pleasantly. She said she enjoyed it, and with the taste I had, I agreed.
I was pretty full at this point, but it seemed to be an error not to order at least one main course to try, so I picked the Manzo alla bolognese ($28, above), which is slow-cooked beef bolognese over papardelle. It was hearty and meaty and delicious, but I only had a few bites before I knew I’d be taking home leftovers. (Which I enjoyed the next morning, heated up, again.) Both mains that we sampled were well done, but I question whether either was worth their price point, especially compared to the very reasonably-priced appetizers.
Not sampled: the official pizzas on offer – a Tartufo di Parmigiano, a Margherita Classica, and a Vegan Margherita Classica (their house dough is infused with Peroni beer); Ravioli de zucca, Forma di Formaggio Fettucini Alfredo, Penne assolute alla vodka, Gnocchetti al pesto. All of which are things I would happily try out on another visit.
We knew we had to at least give one dessert a shot, so of the two – Rosemary Balsamic Apple Pie and Brown Sugar Bourbon Pecan – we went with the pecan pie ($12). It arrived with a scoop of vanilla gelato drizzled in bourbon caramel alongside an adorable tiny whole pie (which I recommend above a “slice” of anything, as I am a crust fan) . The crust on the pie was flaky and savory, and the pecan filling sweet but not headachy-sweet; the gelato and caramel sauce paired beautifully.
Overall, it was a hearty, delicious Italian meal with a few sparks scattered within to make it a cut above the usual pasta/pizza fare. There were some fussier elements that I’m not sure elevated anything – those cranberries, the ubiquitous pistachios, and I’m not sure how a 10-hour marinara is superior to a 9-hour or 11-hour one – but nothing actually dragged down the experience (though the garlic confit sticks with me as the one “meh” note). Service was attentive and friendly, and long before we ordered dessert the rest of the place had filled with more diners, and the piped-in Sinatra wasn’t fighting for dominance with the accordion player.
There was one other small treat as we headed out: The bartender walked us next door, to Bread & Stone’s owners’ other restaurant, Beetle House – another cozy setup done up in a Tim Burton movie theme. (He noted there was one in Los Angeles, and that they did have Burton’s blessing.) It’s a very different kind of theme, but a fun one and something we’ll sample in the future, too. (We have a lot of horror writer friends, you know.) Also, that’s where the “Scream, bitch!” sign comes from in the photo. Bread & Stone is not a “scream, bitch” sort of place.
Thanks again to Bread & Stone for inviting me to sample their wares! I don’t do a lot of food writing, but I’m always happy to be invited to sample fresh dishes. If you’re looking for a new Italian restaurant, Bread & Stone is definitely worth seeking out.