With some of the ladies who lunched now shamed into hiding, there is something conversely modest about the leisurely midday meal in NYC. It’s a concession that whatever occupies your day isn’t so damn important that stopping for an hour or two will halt the global widget trade. It’s in this spirit that Maloney & Porcelli has opened their The Skylight Shoppe upstairs, a lunch-only pop-up soda fountain for we simple epicureans who take our ice cream at two in the afternoon.
Situated above the steakhouse (where luncheons actually do revolve around trading widgets), The Skylight Shoppe is just the Skylight Room, a private dining hall that’s disguised with a red curtain, checkered tablecloths, and a red leather banquette centerpiece. The maître d’ said it takes them thirty minutes to dress the room. Bowls of penny candy are placed about, and there’s a functioning popcorn cart with a side counter of gourmet seasonings. By far the most entertaining flourish is the straw holder on each table—the kind that spirals out when you pull up the top. The straws come in barber pole red and white, and maybe it’s because they’re made out of cardboard, but my black cherry root beer wound up tasting like, you know, sugar.
Chef James Jermyn hails from North Carolina, and the southern influence is apparent in an abundance of fried things. The shoppe’s hallmark sandwich—fried chicken and cheddar cheese between two fluffy Belgian waffle halves—comes hot in a griddle with a side of lingonberry jam that’s a perfect dose of sweet. The Oyster Rockefeller Po’ Boy, another hit, comes open-faced with its fried Wellfleet oysters doused in a creamy spinach remoulade. It’s a fork and knife affair, but one worthy of the effort.
Where Jermyn really takes it from “better than Chipotle” to “best lunch all month” is with the barrage of fried things in baskets. The bacon and blue hush puppies; the Velveeta-stuffed Peppadew peppers; the salt and vinegar onion rings. All of these dishes have flavors that are rich and distinct in themselves—stuff just happens to be fried. Nothing’s overwhelmed by the taste of oil. Since fried dough can clog the pipes if you don’t wash it down with a few scoops of ice cream, the root beer float is a wise endpoint. If nothing else, you get to use a cardboard straw again.
By 2:30pm, the lunch crowd had scurried back to the office. Had I been so presumptuous, I’d have taken the same tack myself. Then I remembered I’m underemployed, which worked out fine, because every good lunch should lead to a good nap. In my humble opinion.