Pub Grub With Aplomb

Photo: Hannah Whitaker/New York Magazine

One look at the bill of fare taped to the window of Wilfie & Nell and Ms. U.G.—who reads menus the way Talmudic scholars read the Torah—was in a tizzy. Here were shepherd’s pies and meat pies. Here were fries with malt vinegar. And here were Scotch eggs, which in case you didn’t know are hard-boiled eggs wrapped in sausage, then breaded and deep-fried—or what Ricky Gervais calls “a delicious and nutritious path to cardiac arrest.” In short, here was standard-issue pub grub. But that’s not what made the U.G.’s eyes bulge from their sockets like a snail’s. Closer inspection revealed things like chicken-liver pâté with onion jam (delicious), Berkshire-pork sliders (delectable), and corned-beef sandwiches with Swiss Gruyère (drool-inducing). Furthermore, Wilfie & Nell, the fine print read, would like to thank the following purveyors: Blue Ribbon Bakery, Murray’s Cheese Shop, Piccinini Brothers (meats), and Bob McClure (pickles). Clearly, something was up, and when interrogated by the U.G., Wilfie & Nell co-owner Mark Gibson came clean: As a favor, his friend Joaquin Baca (of Momofuku and Rusty Knot fame) had put together the menu.

That everything on it, from the bacony split-pea soup to the bacony spinach salad, exceeds expectations, speaks not only to the fact that Baca is a good bacon-loving friend to have but that he also did a great job demonstrating to the kitchen crew how to execute the dishes. The cheese in the grilled cheese (choice of Cheddar, Taleggio, or Gruyère) is perfectly melted, the Blue Ribbon pullman-loaf bread browned to a golden crisp. The fries are of the thick and meaty variety and good for soaking up malt vinegar. Best of all, the pigs in blankets come carefully swaddled not in dough, as you might have thought, but still more bacon.

You can eat these fine Irish tapas at the bar or hunched over a rough communal table or beneath a bare-bulb lamp in an odd chair that looks like it might have belonged to Edith Bunker. But be forewarned: If you’ve got an appetite, go early or on a slow night. It gets loud and raucous on weekends, when a thirsty young crowd takes over the room like a swarm of locusts, seemingly oblivious to the pedigreed pub grub at their disposal.

Wilfie & Nell
Address: 228 W. 4th St. nr. Seventh Ave. S.; 212-242-2990
Prices: $3 to $11.
Hours: Seven days 4 p.m. to 4 a.m.; food served until 2 a.m.
Ideal Meal: Corned-beef-and-Gruyère sandwich, fries, pickles.
Note: The cocktails are as surprisingly well crafted as the food.
Scratchpad: Two stars for taking the phrase “good Irish bar food” off the oxymoron list.

Pub Grub With Aplomb