The online magazine
dedicated to the
discussion & revival
of British foodways.

NO.53
SUMMER2017

Oysters in a Little Town.

Little Town operates at two Manhattan locations, the Irving Place and Restaurant Row. The neighborhoods and so the denizens of the two bars share nothing in common, the first infested with hipsters, the second with tourists, theatergoers and office workers wearing ghastly ‘business casual’ clothing.

Little Town, however, is a happy addition to Restaurant Row. Its ironic interpretation of a dive, all wood and noise, feels welcoming in no small measure due to the young, lovely and overworked staff. They may look harassed and even hunted--the owners underhire to the point of cruelty--but during our chaotic visits they never have been anything but nice.

They even treated two thirtysomethings (business casual) engaged in a scavenger hunt with courtesy and charm. Their giddy obsession over the hunt alone would have justified expulsion, but their quarry was the direction to consume as much beer as possible at a sitting. Our happy couple therefore ordered five flights of four beers each, and just in case their waitress and bartender might have been mental defectives they reiterated the cries that (1) they were on a scavenger hunt; (2) needed twenty different beers (‘make sure they’re not the same… are they all different… ” and (3) needed them fast.

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This was bad enough but then each scavenger proceeded to take a single sip from half the glasses, a double demerit; they not only were cheating on the terms of their quest but also wasted a hogshead of beer, or part of one anyway; sad.

You do not go to Little Town for the food that they cook. It has a theme, or rather two. Everything must refer somehow to something originating in the state of New York (although ‘Adirondack Chicken Pesto’ is a stretch) and all of it is in the Adolescent Arrested Development mode of bar food that characterizes so many such places and brewpubs.

There are the obligatory burgers, pizzas, wings and ribs, but also Buffalo beef on weck (actually pretty good) and something called a garbage plate. This apparently is Rochester’s culinary claim to immortality and based on its ingredients the city has enacted a stringent truth-in-advertising ordinance. The garbage at Little Town resembles a kind of poutine, but one concocted by criminally insane cooks; ‘tater tots’ topped with macaroni salad, baked beans, a pair of cheeseburgers, onions and chili.

From this it might appear that there is nothing worth eating at Little Town, but unwarranted assumptions have felled better men than me. You may not want to sample anything from the kitchen, but a shucker of oysters works hard at Little Town. Demand is great; these oysters cost only a buck until eight at night on weekdays and half again as much at other times, still cheap for Manhattan.

They always originate in… New York, and the staff knows them only as ‘points,’ but they are good, bigger than we usually want yet mild and freakishly fresh. Our voluble shucker endured fits because the oysters kept chipping into shards; they must have been farmed and we sympathized. He kept at his work (dogged frustration) and satisfied demand, if at a certain remove. We waited an hour for our oysters, in part through no fault of his; a harried waitress jumped the queue and stole our dozens for a cranky table.

The shucker cares, and even has created his own oyster sauce, something he had needed to convince the boss to let him do (“You need something with bite, not just ketchup or mignonette”). We are glad he did; the shucker’s solution sounds unorthodox if not unpromising and tastes wonderful with oysters. He combines cayenne, Champagne vinegar, jalapenos, mayonnaise, cream, mustard and mustard seed. Our version appears in the practical.

This is a bar, there is beer, twenty-two varieties on tap and all of course from New York. Lots of good choices too, including Hoptimator from Blue Point and the incomparable Six Point Bengali Tiger IPA. Pints cost us only $5 apiece.

So go to Little Town for oysters and beer on an evening when your wallet is light and your patience profound.