While food etymologists were losing it last week over the cronut, a subtler move was taking full effect: pickles no longer means pickles, as in pickled cucumbers. Order the house-made pickles at a New York restaurant, and you’ll get ramps (Betony), or cauliflower and okra (Battery Harris), or stringy white mushrooms (Lavender Lake). At the newly opened Preserve24 on East Houston, you’ll get carrots, red onions, ramps, and jalepeños (be careful with those). Cucumbers, meanwhile, have become the red velvet cupcake of the pickle world.
Aside from the pickles nouveau, most everything else at Preserve24 takes inspiration from 19th-century styling. The subterranean dining room’s reached via an artfully distressed spiral staircase. Liquor bottles are nestled in a bar made from hollowed-out old pianos. Antique doors and stiff wooden booths fill the rest of the upscale Mark Twain-Disney-esque space. The food is rustic. Oysters come raw, fire-roasted with garlic butter, or fried and settled into bacon sliders. Truffle fries are topped with generous shavings of Ouray cheese. Hearty entrées like the fennel-crusted veal chop or the organic roasted chicken pair perfectly with roast vegetables, which come hot in cast-iron pots. It’s all comfort food, down to the ice cream sandwiches for dessert.
Old-timey themes are also at play at Parker & Quinn (pictured), a 1920s-styled American bistro in the otherwise mod Refinery Hotel. Jockey-sized busboys in plaid newsboy hats shuffle around a sprawling honeycomb-floored dining space, which sees a wraparound bar as its centerpiece. Rumors of a roaming cocktail cart have been squashed, but they will let you keep bottles of liquor in special VIP lockers.
On the kitchen end, chef Jeffrey Forrest sticks to what American fare’s all about—fine ingredients, buttered or fried. The conch fritters, with their fluffy-chewy insides, could make a meal on their own. Fried oysters don’t skimp on the batter; soft-shell crabs don’t skimp on the browned butter and capers. A sprawling menu is divvied up by food source (baby back ribs are “from the pen,” Natchitoches crawdads are “from the water,” and bacon grits are “from the mill.”) “Shared plates” is the preferred angle, to make maximum use of the giant bar and the elevated pub booths. Speaking of bar fare, be sure to order the house-made pickles. They’re made from cucumbers.