Somewhere South of Great

Photo: Hannah Whitaker/New York Magazine

W here’s the fried chicken?” one of the portly, southern-fried-food freaks at my table asked as we squinted at the menu of the amiable Chelsea restaurant, Tipsy Parson, which has been open for a couple of months now, among the jumble of storefronts on Ninth Avenue. There were no crispy fried pig tails on the menu either (although for a time the kitchen did serve fried turkey tails), and unlike other southern-themed establishments that have sprouted up in the midst of the city’s well-publicized fried-chicken boom (Brooklyn Star, the Redhead), there was a curious lightness to the décor. Silk tassels hung from the ceiling fans, and the windows were adorned with cushioned seats and carefully sewn striped pillows. Elegant, antebellum bric-a-brac was scattered here and there (julep cups, tiny porcelain dogs, a riding helmet), and as another of my portly friends discovered to his horror, the tidy unisex bathroom was heavily perfumed and decorated with painted white peonies.

These stylistic choices are the work of Tasha Garcia Gibson and chef Julie Taras Wallach, who also run a fashionably tiny Lower East Side restaurant called Little Giant. Their new venture (it’s named for a boozy, trifle-style dessert, popular in the old South) is clearly designed as a decorous, tea-social alternative to the usual barbecue joints and fry houses that pass for southern restaurants in this Yankee town. The bar list includes several Confederate-themed cocktails (a Slushee-like julep spiked with pomegranate, a bracing Mississippi Mule made with ginger and rye instead of gin) and is accompanied by a variety of snacks, many of which are, in fact, fried and served on paper doilies. They include deviled eggs (with possibly not enough mustard); fat, golf-ball-size hush puppies and stacks of fried pickles (both overbattered); and excellent, plume-size cheese straws, served with appropriate ceremony, in a square, silver-colored cups.

But since this popular, consistently crowded restaurant opened, several of the more traditionalist southern-style appetizers and entrées appear to have been excised from the menu. There were no chicken and dumplings available on my last visit, and the braised pork shank with chunky applesauce had been removed, in favor of an overbrined pork chop served with grits and braised cabbage. You can get a mini-appetizer of oysters fried in cornmeal (very good), and fried chicken livers (not so good), but the only thing resembling a rack of ribs is an appetizer-size serving of lamb riblets, which were fork tender on the evening I sampled them and microwave hot. Most of the other dishes (an overcooked duck leg muffled in a mountain of spaghetti squash, scallops paired with celery-root purée, a lone baseball-size spare rib with broccoli rabe and a squash purée) tasted like generic restaurant food, overlaid with a cloying southern sweetness.

The kitchen is on firmer ground at breakfast (served weekdays, along with a good weekend brunch), when you can get baked biscuits, warm sugar doughnuts, and respectable Chelsea renditions of down-home specialties like a catfish po’boy (on a Parker House roll), and pigs in a poke (poached eggs, plus Andouille sausage, plus toast soldiers, plus grits). The lunchtime burger ($16) is fairly respectable too, provided you don’t mind your patty covered in an iridescent layer of pimento cheese spread (I didn’t). For dessert, the deep-dish apple pie (for two) is almost ample enough to make up for the lack of fried chicken, and the chocolaty grasshopper pie is a proper cough-syrup green. But the most satisfying of these crypto-southern confections is the eponymous Tipsy Parson, which is made with chunks of sponge cake, layers of fruit trifle, and just enough brandy to conjure up pleasant images of summer hats, green lawns, and church picnics in July.

T he panini/small-plate/Italian-finger-food craze predates the fried-chicken/southern-food craze by almost a decade, and if Jason and Joe Denton have their way, it may run on forever. The Denton brothers’ latest dining outlet, Corsino, occupies the old Frederick’s space, on Hudson Street in the West Village, and like their two popular ’inoteca outlets (in Gramercy and on the Lower East Side), it seems to have been designed with durability, and a high turnover rate, in mind. The walls of the neighborly little space are covered with shaved wooden slat board, and not much else. An ’inoteca-style wine bar sits in the front of the room, and in warm weather, large French windows open onto the street. But light metal chairs and round, industrial-style light fixtures give the room a utilitarian feel, and the small, interchangeable café tables are painted with big red numbers, like in a factory cafeteria, and look like they’ve been purposely distressed with a ball-peen hammer.

Jason Denton was one of the original partners at Lupa, and he and his brother have flirted with upmarket Italian cuisine before. But they’re taking no chances here. There are seventeen varieties of crostini on the menu at Corsino (try the chicken liver, or the ricotta drizzled with orange honey), and eight more-or-less interchangeable kinds of panini (when in doubt, order the prosciutto with melted Fontina). None of the pastas or entrées costs over $20, and most are competent in a serviceable, professional way, but not outstanding. My favorite antipasti was a big, crispy-edged croquette made with risotto and melted Parmesan, and the pasta everyone at my table liked was the tagliatelle, which is mixed with a rich lamb ragù. If you’re in the mood for a hearty winter meal, the braised pork ossobuco is the dish to get, and if you’re still in need of sustenance, order the densely boozy tiramisu, which is thick as a brick and dusted on top with drifts of powdered chocolate.

Tipsy Parson

Address: 156 Ninth Ave., nr. 20th St.; 212-620-4545
Hours: Dinner Sunday through Thursday 5:30 to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday to midnight. Lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Breakfast Monday through Friday 8 to 11:30 a.m. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers $5 to $14; entrées $20 to $26.
Ideal Meal: Fried oysters, pimento burger (lunchtime), Tipsy Parson dessert.
Note: The well-appointed back room is a much nicer place to eat than the bar area up front.
Scratchpad: Half a star for the winning décor and another for the brunch.

Address: 637 Hudson St., at Horatio St.; 212-242-3093
Hours: Lunch and dinner Monday through Friday noon to 2 a.m., Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers $5 to $13; entrées $12 to $19.
Ideal Meal: Risotto croquette, lamb tagliatelle, pork ossobuco, tiramisu.
Note: There are 300 bottles of Italian wine on the rigorous, well-priced list.
Scratchpad: Half a star for the solid, small plates menu and another for the wine.

Somewhere South of Great