Freeman's Alley (Off of Rivington, between Bowery and Chrystie)
The wife and I went to Freeman's last night prior to my friend's party at the Mercury Lounge (are you a musician looking for great PR? - check out www.tijuanagiftshop.net).
Freeman's has been at the top of my list of restaurants to try for at least a year now and am happy to have finally made it there. I ordered a nice glass of 1995 Bordeaux Blanc from LaMothe (a fair price at $7). I ended up ordering another later.
For appetizers, we shared the Hot Artichoke Dip with Crisp Bread and a (unlisted on the menu) side order of the Three Cheese Macaroni (Mac and cheese). The entree portion ($11) is listed on the menu. The Mac and Cheese was pretty good. We had to fight over the crispy edges. I favor mac and cheese that's entire top is crispy from the broiler. This was very good, but didn't have enough of that crust. The artichoke dip was very good. When comparing it to Penelope (Lexington and 30th), we left it as a draw. The essence of artichoke, I thought, was stronger (better) in this version, but I think Danna favored Penelope's flavor. We both agreed that the consistency/spreadability of the Freeman's version was superior. The bread was just okay, whereas the whole grain bread and pita chips at Penelope rule. For entrees, Danna ordered the Smoked Pork Chop with Stone-Ground grits and apple sauce ($19) and I ordered the Spicy Seafood Stew with Saffron Aioli toast ($21). The pork chop was amazing. I literally cut it with a butter knife. It was salty, it was plush, it was crunchy on the outside edge, it was smokey/bacony. YUM! Wow. What a dish. The grits were actually pretty good too, and the applesauce was great. Very rich dish. My seafood stew, with grouper, celery, 2 mussels and a pathetic, singular cherrystone clam came out at a less-warm-than-I-expected temperature and was fooled by the spicyness the chili flakes gave it. This was pretty good. Not fantastic by any stretch, but good. The fish was cooked well, the celery was a bit overdone and the overall flavor was timid. The shellfish were pretty sorry though. The aioli "buttered" bread, especially when dipped in the broth (minimal broth), was excellent.
Total bill for 2 glasses of wine, 2 apps and 2 entrees was a very reasonable $75.
Service was pretty good. No complaints. We got there early (6:45) and there were plenty of tables available. Another 15-20 minutes later and the place was packed with a group waiting outside. The volume and inside temperature exponentially raises with the amount of people inside.
The host and hostess seemed like they'd be more comfortable in Williamsburg, but I guess the end of an alley in the Lower East Side is pretty similar. Which, by the way, is far more charming than anywhere I've been in Williamsburg. This has the feel of old New York or of pretty much any European city.
A pic of the entrance and part of the alley is above. I really liked how the space has many nooks and crannies. The host/maitre d', when I asked him for a menu, quickly saw his pile of menus, put his hand over them and said "no". Ha. We kind of laughed and moved on.
Unless you have a fear of taxidermy, or live bugs falling on your table (we had three green inchworms land on our table...they must have been hanging from the plants in vases on the fireplace mantel we were sitting next to), this is a great place for everyone. I look forward to going back.