5 Outdoor Eats You HAVE to Try in the Last “New York-Minute” of Summer
Summer in the city is almost over. And while some may be jumping at the bit to put their plastic pumpkins on the fire escape or exchange their Reformation sundresses for Aritzia cable-knit jumpers, I’m freaking out about outdoor dining. Anyone who knows me understands my insatiable need to spend way more than I have to on the latest Michelin or hot bottomless brunch spot; however, although we’re technically allowed to eat indoors starting September 29th, restaurants’ capacity will only let 25% of me and the rest of the foodies in Manhattan (which believe me, is a lot) enter their hallowed halls.
So naturally, I went a little crazy this weekend.
I pulled out my saved TikToks and scrolled through @eater_ny on Instagram in order to compose a list of some last-minute dining options, before tables become a hell of a lot harder to reserve. I therefore present to you now, every food-related establishment I visited this weekend and a mini review of sorts to complement each one. These are overall must-tries, so read on for some awesome final summer eats destinations before the Big Apple’s temperature drops below 50 degrees.
Friday night, 1st Stop: John’s Twelfth Street Restaurant
The Impression: I was only here once before with my folks. It was a few years ago and inside, of course; melted candle wax coated the walls, and dim lighting set the mood for a night filled with wine and authentic Italian. Outside, however, mini vans line the curb, and Manhattan winds disrupt the napkins and menus. Although this is true for every outdoor restaurant under the city’s current conditions, John’s setting could use an elegant touch for such renowned delicacies.
The Prologue: Making a reservation here was originally rather confusing. The first time I called they said they only made same-day reservations, and when I phoned at 3pm to secure a table for 6:30pm, the staff member who answered claimed they did not take advance reservations at all. But when I expressed my grievances, they genuinely apologized and offered to add an extra table in the vicinity no matter how booked they were. No harm done.
The Service: So, so charming. If you didn’t already get a sense of John’s customer appreciation from the Prologue, I’m overflowing with examples. Upon providing a series of taste preferences, our original waiter called over a more versed wine connoisseur to ensure complete satisfaction. He also rather dramatically placed a plant right next to our table to make up for the less-than-picturesque views (recall the mini van comment). They let you use the bathroom inside, and our waiter checked in on us regularly.
The Drinks: Tonight, I requested a dry, rich wine to complement my main course. After sampling two endorsed selections from John’s stocked menu, we ultimately chose two glasses of Chianti. They surely lived up to their recommendation and balanced the sweet/tangy ragu wonderfully.
The Food: Just excellent. I had no idea that John’s was featured on the Food Network’s hit show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives (yes, the one with Guy Fieri). Per Guy’s medley featured on the episode, the Beef Ragu was thick, savory, loaded with parmesan, and more than satisfying. I pride myself with the ability to clear a plate, but I ended up taking about half of it home. And snacked on it for the next two days.
Rating and Conclusion: With a vibe of a family establishment and the food quality of a Michelin star, John’s Twelfth Street is a hole in the wall that deserves to be jumped in headfirst. Like every understaffed outdoor establishment, it has its faults and predispositions; however, I personally had an easy night and superb meal. 8/10
Saturday brunch, 2nd Stop: Local92
The Impression: Easily overlooked (as most establishments are on Second Avenue), Local92 is a tiny Mediterranean restaurant partnered with bright, dashing colors, the best hummus on this side of the East Village, and a secret bar. Although the hush-hush Blue Quarter is not open for business due to the pandemic of course, the restaurant itself looks and feels like an Israeli summer holiday.
The Prologue: Saturday brunch was a breeze. Even though we arrived at 11am, we didn’t have to make a reservation in advance, waited less than 60 seconds before being led to our table, and wevwere able to inquire about the bottomless mimosa special right away.
The Service: Local92 is surely an establishment that expects you to order. In between each food or drink request, our waiter literally left us alone for thirty minutes unless we flagged him down. I was in good company and did not mind the wait, but if you have somewhere to be, a quick comment or perhaps a reservation somewhere speedier is in order. The waiter did complement my bold eyeliner wing though, so all is forgiven.
The Drinks: Usually, Local92 has a bottomless mimosa deal ($14 per person). I believe they stopped offering it though, because this time we were informed that they only sold by the glass and pitcher. After stifling our disappointment with a few Americanos, our waiter presented us with an enormous pitcher of champagne and orange juice. Safe to say that it’s still a good deal.
The Food: I ordered the Caprese omelet (creamy, tomato-stuffed, and balsamic-drenched) and my company requested the French toast (creamy, cream-cheese stuffed, and fruit syrup-drenched). The latkes that accompany most brunch selections are fried to perfection, as each menu item is Israeli-catered (ie: challah bread as toast, lamb as protein in the Eggs Benedict, etc…). It’s an acquired taste; one of my girlfriends would rather stab pins in her eyes than take a nibble of hummus on a chip. I’m personally fond of Mediterranean, so I suppose it varies on the diner’s palette.
Rating and Conclusion: Although Local92 appears to be just another commonplace bistro on the side of Second Ave, its dashing aura and not-awful expenses make it a gem. Compared to other higher end / more renowned establishments, it could be considered mediocre; Local92 however, is one of my favorite haunts in Ukrainian Village and is certainly worth a stopover. 9/10
Saturday evening, 3rd Stop: Little Cupcake Bake Shop on Prince Street
The Impression: Pink. One of those cute mini chalkboards out front that lists the specials. Wall to floor glass windows. TikTok worthy.
The Prologue: Since you’re permitted to go inside the shop as long as you social distance, the line stretched outside and wrapped around the store. My friends and I granted ourselves the customary, preemptive “oh-my-fuck-there’s-a-line” sigh, but it actually moved fairly quickly with minimum crowd annoyance.
The Service: For a line of about thirty people on a Saturday, I was perplexed to see that there were only three employees behind the counter. And honestly… they’re a little rude. Not spit-in-your-food or insult-you rude; just extremely off-putting. This is nothing that would encourage me to actually avoid the Little Cupcake Bake Shop in the future, but worth noting, of course.
The Food: Both my sweet tooth and caffeine addition encouraged me to order a strawberry cupcake and a latte. I’m always pleased by the Bake Shop; the icing is light but not whipped, and any additional flavoring - the strawberries in this case - is mushed within the cake in a way that gives me a rush of serotonin. This was my first occasion sampling their coffee, however, and it was pretty average with a dash of cinnamon.
Rating and Conclusion: A fan favorite. I frequent here a lot solely for the quality of their baked goods; it puts enterprises like Buttercup and Magnolia to pure shame. 7/10
Sunday brunch, 4th Stop: Citizens of Bleecker
The Impression: My first time here! (I don’t get to say this a lot anymore because I genuinely believe I’ve frequented most restaurants in Manhattan at least once.) It’s a chain, so I didn’t expect anything grand… but it was dripping with fake ~nature and offered brunch cocktails. Naturally, I was game.
The Prologue: It was Sunday brunch and we did not have a reservation. And I thought we were doomed. If you’re a seasoned “Bruncher” in NYC, you know the pure exasperation of the phrase I’m sure restaurant hosts recite thirty times a day: “Sorry, we’re fully booked. I would recommend making a reservation in advance next time.” In a stroke of good fortune, however, we snagged a table in the shade off to the corner. Unheard of, and sincerely appreciated.
The Service: Simply mediocre. Not fantastic, not dreadful; our waiter gave us our food, checked in on us exactly the amount of times he should have, and went on his way. Perhaps he could read that my company and I were doing business, or perhaps the restaurant was simply busy (because it was). Solid, overall.
The Drinks: I ordered both Citizens’ Velvet Latte and chai latte. Both were absolutely incredible, featured on the TikTok and Instagram (the Velvet Latte was pink), and thoroughly rejuvenating. However, … HOWEVER. I have a bone to pick with these mimosas. Although the Carafe was fairly priced (only $22 for an entire pitcher), it could fill all but four full glasses, whereas the pitcher at Local92 had room for about eight or nine. This sentiment may be a tad of an over exaggeration, but on a hangover-stained Sunday morning, it was truly unfortunate.
The Food: The BBQ Brekkie Bowl comes with perfect poached eggs and succulent braised pork; it’s more of a mash but satisfying either way. Although I found the Breakfast Wraps a little bland during previous visits, most of the brunch options (including the Smashing Avocado, of course) are loyal to your basic bitch taste buds.
Rating and Conclusion: Comparable to Bluestone Lane, Citizens is a trustworthy option. It’s a tad generic, but isn’t that what we all need sometimes to cure some of last night’s mistakes? 7.5/10
5th Stop: Sandbar Rooftop
The Impression: On TikTok, it seemed like a Santorini paradise. In person, it felt like a Santorini paradise. Placed conveniently with 360-degree views, Sandbar is weather-proof and Instagram-worthy (you can see both the Empire and Freedom). My coworkers and I were there to celebrate 100k podcast listeners, so we had high expectations; surprisingly, all of them were met.
The Prologue: We arrived ten minutes late to our 5pm reservation (curse Manhattan traffic). Once we rode the elevator up to the top floor, the hostess led us to a picturesque, lifeguard-like waiting area accompanied with a tropical swing and canvas beach background until our table was ready. We originally were seated underneath the neon “Life is Good” sign and asked to move closer to the view, which we were. There were swings, lounge areas, and we could smell the Bianca pizza from a mile away.
The Service: The staff at Sandbar are just spectacular. They made every sort of accommodation we requested and were extremely amicable - a welcome change from the stereotypical “New Yorker” attitude. You have to put a deposit down upon making a reservation to prevent cancellations (which then goes towards your bill if you do indeed show), and dare I say, it was completely worth it; we were practically treated like royalty.
The Drinks: Throughout the night, we ordered the Ditch Plains (the most Instagrammable drink I’ve ever seen), Mavericks (pink and sour), the Pelligrini Cabernet (dry and deep), the Wagner Dry Rosé (fresh, fresh, fresh), and the Bridge Lane Sauvignon Blanc (nothing special, but revitalizing nonetheless). Although the wines were a little pricey (around $15 or so), each comes in a small vase with enough for approximately two glasses.
The Food: Our first order of the evening was the Summer Picnic Tasting Board, which I split with two of my girlfriends. Its cheese was somewhat standard, but the salami and bruschetta perfectly balanced the grapes, strawberries, and guava jelly (don’t knock it ‘till you try it). The Traditional Margherita Pinsa was thick, cheesy, and perfectly satisfactory; I am not to be trusted on this particular sentiment, however, for I was in dire need of substance and anything would have been agreeable at that point.
Rating and Conclusion: What a really memorable experience. Although the girls and I were ecstatic about our own personal endeavors, Sandbar kept our mood up and elevated it threefold. The environment takes you straight out of New York and into the Bahamas which, let’s be honest, we all need a little escape sometimes… and a cocktail doesn’t hurt, either. 9.5/10