Mon, 10:30am-midnight; Tue-Fri, 8am-2am; Sat, 10:30am-2am; Sun, 10:30am-midnight
1 at Christopher St.-Sheridan Sq.
American Express, MasterCard, Visa
The architect of this carefully curated little space is Gabriel Stulman, who used to run the front of the house at another diminutive, wildly popular West Village restaurant, the Little Owl. He’s named his restaurant for his grandfathers, Joseph and Leonard, and the plates on the cozily spaced tables used to be stored in his mother’s garage. Like the Little Owl, Joseph Leonard occupies a prime piece of Village real estate: in this case, on the corner of Waverly Place near Sheridan Square, where the popular brasserie Les Deux Gamins once stood. There are no reservations at Joseph Leonard. This ensures that tables (there are only seven of them) fill up quickly (arrive before 6:30 or you’ll find yourself loitering out on the sidewalk like I did, several evenings in a row) and that, as the night wears on, the room takes on a pleasantly intimate, cocktail-party feel.
Joseph Leonard’s very standard bistro menu isn’t inspired enough to add to this festive atmosphere, but neither is it so horrible that it detracts from the proceedings. You can procure decent oysters at the bar (fresh bluepoints for $1.50), and a pink slab of country pâté served, predictably, on a butcher board, with a brittle stack of toast points ($9). I’m as weary of grits as I am of pickle jars, but the kitchen serves its version with fresh shrimp, in the proper Low Country style, and laces it with Cheddar and crinkly wheels of andouille sausage. The jar of bland, oily brandade was listless by comparison, and so was the steak tartare, which didn’t benefit from the poached egg planted sloppily on top. My over-peppered bowl of linguine had a needless poached egg in it, too, but if you order the faithful (if undersize) house frisée salad, the egg yolk is placed on a circle of crunchy toasted brioche and plated, mercifully, on the side.
Given Stulman’s keen antenna for culinary fashion, you’d expect a signature burger on the menu at Joseph Leonard, and, in fact, they’ve just begun serving one at lunchtime. There’s also a satisfying version of steak au poivre on the dinner menu (butter-streaked and crusted in generous amounts of pepper), and if you want a truly inventive, rib-sticking dish, I suggest the pork hock ($19), which the kitchen braises, deep fries, and sprinkles with frizzled capers. The best seafood item I sampled was the skate wing, and if you have room at your clamorous little table, you can supplement it with glazed carrots, like your mother used to make, or a crackly, farm-size portion of hash browns. The typically meager small-restaurant dessert roster (there’s no freezer in the tiny kitchen) includes chocolate brownies, a rich slab of carrot cake, and salted caramel pudding. All the ladies at the bar were ordering the caramel pudding. It’s served in a Mason jar, of course.Note
The best table in the house is in the back right corner, away from the trampling herd.Ideal Meal
Shrimp and grits, crispy braised pork hock.