Chances are the last time I was hung out with my friend Steve, he and I were slugging down Irish car bombs at Butler’s, chugging bourbon and cokes at the late, great Ms. Mae’s, or else doing other illicit, alcohol-laden activities in the basement of our filthy frat house. Oh, the college day debauchery. Yet there we were, 11 years later, and Steve and I found ourselves reuniting in a decidedly different drinking scene.
Instead of heading straight to a bar for a double-round of shots, we scored a quiet table upstairs at Greenwich Project, a trendy restaurant in the West Village. Steve and I knew we had a lot of catching up to do, but we also knew that we needed to decide which teas to order that would best complement the looming tower of scones, pastries and finger sandwiches set between us.
Like an awkward first date, we both battled indecisiveness aloud while thumbing through our menus. Our waiter stood waiting. "They all sound so good -- you choose,” I strongly asked the waiter, hoping he’d make the right move.
How we found ourselves in such a dainty dilemma is owed to a combination of social media magic and Stephen's girlfriend, who handles the PR for this popular spot on West 8th Street.
The waiter must have sensed our ties to New Orleans college roots. Minutes later he came back with a pot of steeping Rouge Bourbon, a deep red tea with strong flavors of vanilla (but not so much Jim Beam). We each poured ourselves a cup and took in the sweet, relaxing aroma while the initial anxiety about reconnecting after so long dissipated. Soon enough, the Rouge Bourbon was conjuring up memories of parading down Bourbon Street in lavishly absurd costumes on Halloween, and we began to reminisce about all the Mardi Gras, Jazzfests, and epic parties we had stumbled through ten years prior.
We stuffed our faces with petite finger sandwiches filled with smoked salmon and cucumber, truffled egg salad, and seabream rillette. We chased it all down with sweet, fruity scones slathered with double Devonshire cream and rich strawberry preserves. Clearly, we had elevated our tastes somewhat from the dingy dives we had loved to frequent as college students, but still: Greenwich Project’s decor is anything but pretentious. Its atmosphere is shiny and clean yet pulsates with an easygoing, down-to-earth vibe.
The high tea at Greenwich Project ($35 per person; $45 per if you add in champagne or sherry) is a great way to spend a weekend afternoon with quality people and quality teas.
There is a large variety of teas on the menu, including flavors like jasmine mandarin, French breakfast, and Marco Polo. Even better is that the snacks are equally as good and come from a diverse mix of sweets including linzer tarts, chocolate truffles, Russian tea cookies, and my favorite guilty pleasure, financiers.
After downing the Rouge Bourbon and half a pot of Earl Grey Imperial, Stephen and I were met by our girlfriends who helped us leave nothing but crumbs on the tower by the time we were ready to call it an evening. To say the least, it was a successful reunion of bros.
But the Greenwich Project isn't all about tea. The shop also does a bang-up job for dinner and brunch. If you come at night, start with a half portion of goat cheese gnocchi with artichokes, capers and tomatoes and the asparagus salad with white beech mushrooms and brown butter. The dishes are bursting with flavor and serve as textural counterpoints to each another. If you’re into interesting proteins, the “Odd Couple” appetizer, composed of sweetbreads, wild Burgundy snails, bacon and roasted garlic, is the perfect dish to add to the starters. And if you love scallops like I do, you’ll be pleased with GP’s version, an entree served with salsify, romaine, Meyer lemon, and truffle pistachio vinaigrette. For brunch, the eggs benedict with spicy ham and a house-made cheddar biscuit is a local favorite, but it faces heavy competition from cornflake-crusted French toast, chicken paillard with pickled red onions and arugula, and pork belly hash with chipotle hollandaise and a poached egg to choose from.
Perhaps the best part is Greenwich Project’s cocktail menu. If you haven’t heard about the non-tea drinks being concocted over there (as well as at its sister restaurant Mulberry Project, a speakeasy-style bar and restaurant hidden in Little Italy), find a reason to get crunked up and let the bartenders there work their mixing magic. Cocktails like “East of Eden” (mixed from Reposado tequila, yellow chartreuse, basil, ginger, fresh lemon, and house-made celery bitters) and “Mr. Tingles” (a blend of Sichuan peppercorn-infused Brugal dry rum, pomegranate, fresh lemon, and bitters) are perfect for people with palates that crave diverse flavor profiles, while “Rye, Roots & Roses” (an elixir of rose petal-infused rye, maple syrup, and house-made “root” bitters) is for more adventurous drinkers. And for brunch, you can get your buzz on in a relatively healthy way with “La Maquina Verde,” featuring fresh green apple and kale juice, tequila, and “fire water” bitters, or with “Uncle Sven,” a mix of fresh beet juice, Bols Genever, kimmel, and house-made celery bitters.
So, whether you want to relax with some hot tea and fresh baked treats, to enjoy a full feast with unexpected flavor profiles, or to get wasted on some creative, high-quality cocktails, you now have a place in Greenwich Project where you can do all of the above. Just don’t try to do all three on the same visit.
Erik Mathes is a special contributor to The Daily Meal. You can follow Erik on Twitter @FeastsOfFury