Mon-Sat, 11:30am-9:30pm; Sun, closed
6 at 51st St.; E, V at Fifth Ave.-53rd St.
American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa
The grandly vacant community hall of a famous midtown church is certainly a novel location for a fancy restaurant. But in these perilous economic times, it’s also an unfortunate one. That was the consensus at the table as my guests and I peered around Inside Park at St. Bart’s, which opened not long ago in an annex hall of Saint Bartholomew’s church on Park Avenue. The big space used to be the site of church pageants and socials, and on this particular evening it exuded an eerie, doomed feel. Flapper music echoed eerily over the speaker system as waiters gamely perambulated trays of food to and fro among the sea of white tops. The tables were mostly empty, except for what looked like a party of parishioners dressed in tweed jackets to our right, and an elderly couple quietly sipping glasses of tap water in a distant banquette. “We’re on the Titanic,” someone said. “I hear the sound of the waves. I feel the tables listing gently off to the right.”
Which is too bad, because the food at Inside Park is thoughtful, well executed, and generally first-rate. The chef is Matthew Weingarten, a well-known forager cook of the old school who worked for many years at the seminal Greenmarket establishment Savoy. Weingarten’s menu is an expansive dissertation on the usual farm-to-table themes, and includes jugs of properly rustic “whole hog” rillettes (in the small “Simple Plates” section), a deliciously chunky rabbit ragù over hand-cut pappardelle, and a well-cooked heritage pork chop as big as a Park Avenue hubcap. Does his brand of carefully wrought farmer’s grub work in such an oddly impersonal midtown setting? Not really. But if you have the urge to sip dirty martinis in church (yes, a full bar is served) while gorging on ribbons of country ham, excellent pasture-raised chicken, and what might possibly be the best bread pudding in Christendom (it’s plated in crème anglaise and scattered with candied pecans), you could do a whole lot worse.Historical Note
The church lost a Supreme Court battle in the nineties to build an adjacent high-rise, and since then it has run this unusual café to support its landmark neo-Byzantine building, built by Bertram Goodhue in 1919.
The restaurant serves brunch on Sundays during the summer. Call ahead for hours.
The vacant room brightens at lunchtime, when business folk fill the tables and a decent burger is served.