Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Derby: Soulful Southern-Inspired Cuisine Takes Over The Lower East Side

By: Anne M. Raso

I had fallen in love with The Derby in its previous incarnation--the Tiny Fork--which was a seafood-driven establishment where customers feasted on large raw-bar trays. The ownership is the same, but there is an all-new staff. The Derby has only been open 2 1/2 months at the time of this writing, and friendly manager Gabe Voytas is as helpful as they come. He can answer your questions about every fussy detail of every dish. This is his first foray into the restaurant world; he previously managed several hot nightspots in the city.

My dining partner and I started out by ordering the Carolina Chopped Salad ($12), which consisted of romaine, palm hearts, strawberries, pancetta and herbs lightly coated with shallot-thyme vinaigrette. It's a super-refreshing salad perfect for a warm summer day. The salad had a bit of an anise taste, so I think on the particular night I dined there some chopped fennel was added to the salad. The portion is easily big enough for two--I would say that it measures three cups. The herbs and lettuce that the eatery uses is sourced locally and are tender and flavorful. Next we shared the BBQ Brisket Tacos ($12)--the dry-rubbed brisket is cut into cubes and is perfectly marbled and juicy. The three medium sized soft white flour tacos are topped with pickled red onions and Nappa cabbage. The homemade horseradish cream is ultra-fresh and tangy and comes on the side in a metal cup. That horseradish cream made my night and must have been made as the meat was cooking. The red pickled onions were tangy and sweet at the same time and were the perfect compliment to the tender, peppery beef.
Chicken and Waffles 
Next we shared the Chicken And Waffles ($18)—let me say here that the fried chicken is the dish that put The Derby on the map in the short time it has existed. (People line up around the block for their fried chicken, with or without waffles!) The waffles are very rich but fluffy and interestingly enough, the golden battered chicken has the skin removed. The chicken is cooked perfectly crispy and I would highly recommend it. It definitely lives up to the hype. All foul used at The Derby is organically raised and juice dribbles out of it when you pierce it with your fork. The Chicken And Waffles is part of the three dish "Breakfast All Day" program that The Derby offers--the other choices are Shrimp 'N Grits ($13) which includes stone ground grits, maple cheddar organic fried eggs and Andouille sausage, and The Country Breakfast ($17) which includes eggs, sausage, stoneground grits, a buttermilk biscuit and red eye gravy.
Cast Iron Rib Eye Steak
Next, we shared the Cast Iron Rib Eye Steak ($32) done medium and it was a beautiful piece of meat that was grass fed. It is the best ribeye I have had in the past year. It was so tender and did not have too much fat, and came with a delicious roasted garlic bulb and pieces of fresh lemon and thyme. The portion was large--I would say about 12 ounces--so two people can share it for dinner if they also order an appetizer or salad to share. More specifically, I would definitely say that two people could definitely be full sharing the Carolina Chopped Salad and the Rib Eye. I ordered the Market Vegetable Of The Day ($6)- which happened with be Swiss Chard lightly sautéed with leeks and red onions in a combo of olive oil and lemon. It was a very large and delicious portion. I could tell that the chard and accompanying leeks/red onions had been locally grown, as they were full of flavor. This was a delightful healthy green side dish for a summer evening and the strong lemony taste was a perfect accompaniment to the meat I ordered.

The atmosphere in The Derby is casual, airy and comfortable. The walls, ceilings and floors have all been renovated but have been given an intentionally "lived in" look. All the chairs are bright yellow metal, which spruces up an otherwise neutral looking space. The bar area has plenty of tables so you can drink at a table or the super-long bar. There are a lot of glass doors on the front and side of the restaurant that are fully opened when the weather is nice, and diners have the choice of al fresco if they wish. The Derby is the kind of place with a neighborhood feel and can please many different palates. It's farm to table Southern food with a nouveau twist. They're always changing the menu while keeping the staples like the fried chicken and the Breakfast All Day items, so be sure to check them out often. It will be a place you will want to bring out of town guests because you just know they'll find something they love whether they are vegans or hardcore carnivores. And The Derby is a must for those who like down-home Southern cooking "done right"! (Aunt Bea would be proud!)

I will be returning to The Derby--I must try their much-praised Braised Pork Belly ($12) and Pulled Pork Sliders ($11). These folks know eveyr angle for serving The Pig deliciously! I was too full to try dessert during my first visit to The Derby, so I will be checking their sweets out the next time I visit. The Derby also prides themselves in bourbon-based Southern style drinks, which I will be trying in the near future as well.

The Derby
167 Orchard Street
New York, NY 10002
(212) 777-8469
Cuisine: American

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