Earlier this year, a tireless restaurateur, Jeffrey Chodorow, opened Wild Salmon: a Pacific Northwest-themed restaurant that made a point of its ingredients' authentic regional sources. His newest project is Borough Food and Drink, collaboration with Fatty Crab's Zak Pelaccio which brings the focus to the ingredients of New York The restaurant, in a Flatiron district space that's been many restaurants in its time buys components such as cheese and sausages from local providers, and proudly boldfaces their names on its menu.
A meal at Borough isn't quite like an aggregated tour of the boroughs, though The recipes are a mixed bag of classics, inventions, and borrowings from New York's many immigrant groups. Paul Williams, whose creative cooking at Sweetwater in Williamsburg amassed a following, here seems to act more as a curator than a chef: You can get a bowl of Katz's matzo ball noodle soup, just like they serve it down on Houston Street, but marked up to $9 from $5, or fried dollara-dozen dumplings brought up from Chinatown at $12 a bowl. Nobody's complaining about the markup, though. The large room — shelves stocked with foreign groceries accent the farmhouse-style bare wood interior — is crowded most nights, with reserved tables and a waiting list for walk-ins. Although a couple of more or less exotic items appear —Balkan kajmak clotted cream and Jamaican jerk seasoning, for example — most of the recipes would be at home on any Main Street. There is fare such as sandwiches with potato chips and pickles on the side; shrimp cocktail; macaroni and cheese, and fried chicken. If there's a common theme, it's fat — and plenty of it.
The greatest variety appears among the appetizers: those dumplings and matzo balls, as well as treats such as a pizza ($15) loaded with bacon-crisp cured pork jowl and ricotta cheese. The former comes from the estimable Salumeria Biellese, the latter from the redoubtable DiPalo's, and it adds up to a heavy delicacy with an excellent thin crust, an appetizer big enough for four to share. Smaller, but similarly rich, is a bowl of thick-cut tender bacon in a sweet pea purée ($12), accented with morel mushrooms; and a terrific bean salad, delicately flavored with celery and placed on a hardly necessary maroon sheet of dried beef.
A weighty arsenal of sandwiches makes up a full third of the dinner menu. Chopped liver on rye bread ($13) comes with a few shreds of white-meat chicken to appease the diet set. However, the sandwich is smeared with chicken fat, topped with sliced hard-boiled eggs, and, wedged between the french fries and the coleslaw, it leaves a puddle of grease when you pick it up. Bacon is an optional addition. Rivulets of delicious grease are a common theme: They appear, too, below the bacon-topped pork mini-burgers ($14), which are billed as "spicy" but taste mild; and soaking the top-quality puffy pita bread that houses the evape ($15). This is a Bosnian sandwich of little peppery beef sausages, which the restaurant smothers in super-rich kajmak. I'm not sure whose appetite Mr. Williams is cooking for, but I noticed a lot of customers leaving with doggie bags.
For such a thought-out production, the service is uncharacteristically amateurish. Dishes come out late or not at all, and servers are alternately brusque and overly familiar. The restaurant seems to employ more staff members to come over and apologize for mistakes than to wait on tables.
The local fried chicken ($18), breaded and cooked to a deep mahogany color, is moistbutnonetootasty; the sides, braised greens and a patty of macaroni and cheese, make the dish. From a diner or institutional cafeteria, the pale, fatty sliced brisket ($19) would be a success, but here it's a bland disappointment, barely smoked and drenched in brown, salty "six-onion" sauce. Local ingredients show off in a dish of rigatoni ($16) that would be completely ordinary if not for superior cheese from Sprout Creek Farm, and crumbled sausage from Arthur Avenue's Calabria pork store.
The bar pours a wealth of local beers, alongside cocktails named for boroughs, and a miscellany of wines, a few from New York State. Desserts are mostly brought in from elsewhere — cheesecake from Eileen's, for example, and cakes from Two Little Red Hens — but the deep-flavored house-made ice creams, in flavors such as salted caramel, stand way out.
Borough Food and Drink (12 E. 22nd St., between Broadway and Park Avenue, 212-260-0103).