One of the things I love about walking to work is that I never know what I am going to discover. That’s just the nature of New York. The city changes so quickly, and a street you’ve walked down a thousand times can suddenly become an adventure when a new place opens up. And it happens all the time. Just today for instance, as I was trudging to the office in the unseasonable warmth of a fifty degree February, I saw a small awning over the door to a store front I hadn’t seen before. Looking up I saw a sign that read “Jack’s Wife Freda”.
“What the heck…” I thought, momentarily confused by the funny, hand-lettered name, (we live in a digital world of monosyllabic pronouns and slick logo design), and here was someone brazenly flouting convention. I went in. There are certain places that just feel good, and the moment I walked into “Jack’s Wife Freda” I knew I was in one of those places–the room is small yet open and uncluttered, the lighting is bright but friendly, the wood tables and chairs comfortable and inviting and everything feels clean and new–which it is–having only opened two weeks ago. Turn’s out Jack and Freda are the owner’s grandparents–and the place is an homage to them and their simple, elegant lifestyle. I took a seat and perused the menu. This was going to be good. The Matzoh Ball Soup was calling to me, but when I came across the Prego Roll Sandwich–Portuguese skirt steak marinated with garlic butter and served with hand-cut fries I knew there was no chance I would go with anything else.
The menu has a middle eastern influence with kebabs, Greek salads, mint lemonade and vegetable curries making an appearance but these flavors are counter-balanced by American staples, like the burger and a riff on the tuna salad sandwich.
I am a fry guy, so I was eager and anxious to see what my “hand-cut” fries were all about. They did not disappoint. Firstly, they were piping hot–a must, secondly, they were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and lastly, they weren’t too thin or too thick–about the width of my pinky finger. Perfection. When the waitress offered both mayonnaise and ketchup to garnish my fries I knew I was in capable hands. Turns out the owner–Dean–is an alumnus of the McNally empire and his attention to detail shows.
The sandwich was gorgeous–the skirt steak beautifully marinated and sliced with just enough garlic butter to make it decadent, and not so much to make it greasy. The meat was flecked with parsley that brightened it just enough and the whole thing was enshrined in a homemade Portugues roll from Parisi that was the ideal antidote to the mundane hamburger bun–in short it rocked. My partner had a grilled chicken sandwich lightly grilled with an aioli dressing and served with an arugula salad that I didn’t bother to try because I was too busy shoveling the last of the french fries into my face. I ordered a mint lemonade that would’ve been so easy to be sloppy about–”Freda” nails even these small touches–and that says everything about the place. I ordered the cheesecake and the chocolate cake for desert–both were excellent but the cheesecake was a standout, it tasted as if someone had magically buried a pumpkin pie inside a New York Cheesecake and then dusted the whole thing with cocoa–it was incredible and way too big for me to finish.
In the end this is the kind of place I will go back to again and again. the service was great, the food perfection and the ambiance is that perfect blend of casual New York, comfort and sophistication that feels effortless. “Jack’s Wife Freda” is the kind of restaurant that made me fall in love with New York. Thanks to Dean, I just fell in love again.