Gramercy Park Pizza & Grill recently debuted in Meridian's Gramercy District, both of which get their names from the historic Gramercy Park neighborhood in New York City.
That's about where the similarities end.
Actually, building brownstones - along with patio homes, retail shops and restaurants - is part of the developer's ambitious plans for the district, which has been on hold for a few years due to the Great Recession. It's currently not much more than an expanse of dirt (just off Overland Road) with paved roads leading nowhere. A little urban inspiration never hurts in suburbia, though.
A strip mall did get built at the entrance to the development before the economy plummeted, and this is where you'll find Gramercy Park Pizza & Grill, in the former R & R Public House spot.
Gramercy Park's upscale pub menu doesn't appear to glean inspiration from the Gramercy Tavern, a venerable eatery in Manhattan's Gramercy Park. No duck meatloaf. No celery root chowder. But creativity and whimsy are surely at play here, helped out by a good selection of regional craft beers and boutique wines.
The decor is modern and rustic at the same time. Plum-colored walls and exposed brick give a warm feel to the small dining room, situated in a corner rotunda bedecked with a metal chandelier. A row of island booths separates the long bar from the exhibition kitchen, where cooks in black chef coats move about making sliders and pulling blistered pizzas from the flickering stone oven.
The pub was packed one evening, when my dining partner and I were lucky enough to score a booth. Right away, we ordered a pint of hoppy red ale from Grand Teton Brewing Co. ($5) and some amber-hued barley wine from Sandpoint's Laughing Dog Brewing ($5).
Soon we were staring at a bowl of steamed manila clams ($12.95), a la Biscay. These Basque-inspired bivalves, fragranced with chorizo, fennel, crispy shallot, tomato, white wine and butter, get served with garlic bread for sopping up the broth.
Next came a sampler of pork belly sliders ($10.95), a trio of globally inspired sandwiches made on mini Kaiser rolls. The first slider, an Asian interpretation, unfortunately had too much five-spice seared into the crunchy pork, muting the flavors of the kimchi and chili aioli. The second slider, an American version, had a similar problem; a profusion of blackened seasoning overwhelmed the tomato mayo, onion rings and pork, which was slightly dry. But the third slider, a Mexican creation, was just right, with its juicy pork, cilantro-flecked slaw, avocado-ranch dressing and essence of cumin.
We also tagged on an order of Crabber Tots ($9.95) and a small cheese pizza ($5.95). Even though Gramercy Park makes several specialty pizzas, I believe ordering a simple cheese pizza is a good barometer of how well a place can do pizza in the first place. Happy to report, it's an excellent little pie, with bubbly mozzarella, aromatic tomato sauce and chewy dough, stone oven-seared with semolina on the flipside.
Crabber Tots, as the name suggests, are crispy nuggets filled with finely chopped blue crab and bacon, smoked corn and cheddar. Our tots were golden brown and served upright on the plate (think Stonehenge) with dill-perfumed Louie dressing.
Our next course, a chicken potpie ($11.95), came from the nighttime portion of the menu, where you'll also find entrees like pot roast and grilled salmon. This potpie is not like the one Grandma used to make. Instead, sauteed carrots, red spuds, peas, celery and chicken breast (in light gravy that was a little salty during our visit) come in a bowl, on top of which a buttery slice of ciabatta toast is perched.
A few days later, during lunch, I eyed - with bad intent - the Idaho cheesesteak ($9.95) of the woman sitting next to me. Had to have one. It turned out to be a delicious sandwich made on a crunchy roll with toothsome pot roast, caramelized "Canyon County" onions and Swiss cheese, served with crispy hand-cut fries.
My dining partner's Portabella Paprikash ($9.95) proved to be a good pick as well. This flavorful Hungarian-like dish is made with gemelli pasta, mushrooms, onion, green bell pepper and fresh thyme - in a paprika-heavy tomato sauce - dolloped with sour cream.
On a lighter note, we went for the Vanilla Panzanella ($9.95), a refreshing mixed greens salad with artichoke hearts, braised fennel, roasted leeks, tomato and shredded, aged mozzarella (not fresh mozzarella like the menu promised!) in a vanilla-basil vinaigrette. The salad came with grilled toast points, thus the name panzanella (bread salad in Italian).
The pros outweigh the cons at Gramercy Park. Service is efficient and friendly; the place goes out of its way to pour local libations; and the food, save a few seasoning inconsistencies, is some of the most creative pub fare around. But most importantly, it's a fun place to hang out, the true function of a neighborhood pub - even if that neighborhood is a work in progress.
Email James Patrick Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org