Around the corner from Freeman’s, the taxidermy laden, clandestine tavern that has been repeatedly reviewed by food paparazzi over the years lays the charming cafe/restaurant -The National. Opened by Jeremy Hogeland and partner Julie Dickstein 7 months ago, they have dodged the press radar relatively well, a tactic to achieve their excellence before the hordes of foodies sunk their teeth in, literally! I was interested to learn that the namesake was inspired by Hotel Nacional de Cuba, featured in Godfather II .It was the real-life La Cosa Nostra meeting spot for charismatic hoods Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano, back in the 40′s, and also featured in Godfather II. Jeremy informed me that his personal vision was to practice their “schizophrenic like” menu, which was jointly created by him, Julie and Chef Zoe Feigenbaum, and incorporates endless international eats and inspirations. The decor is cafe style cozy, scattered flea market trinkets and adornments, mother of pearl shades, antique mirrors, with the Cubano style name sign splashed high above with floor to ceiling white surgically clean subway tiles that plaster the walls. Oh –by the way – if you are wondering where the tables that you are eating on are from- none other than Meyer Lansky’s old haunt- Lansky Lounge!
The National originally opened as a cafe, so hence I decided to sample the expert young barista’s handy work, that was hurriedly serving cap’s and latte’s to a fashion forward crowd at her tiny mini coffee bar. The coffee was insanely good, with just the right amount of foam to put a smile on my face on this gloomy afternoon. The space was tight, but I had adequate room at which to perform my burger surgery, seated in front of the door, I glance around at the crowed dining room filled with Euro hipsters and East Village type style mavens, undoubtedly stopping for some quick sustenance before browsing through over highly priced duds and haircuts and next doors Freeman’s Sporting Club. French Culinary Graduate, Chef Zoe Feigenbaum at the helm, and was busy creating in the kitchen, a selection of tasty brunch treats such as Shrimp and Grits, Lobster Roll, Jerk Pork, Fish Tacos and Banana French Toast.
Zoe’s contribution to my appetite today was The National burger, an 8 oz. Pat La Frieda blend burger, served with colossal chunks of Smokey blue cheese, slabs of rosy red tomatoes on a toasted brioche. Jeremy Hogeland explained to me that their genius method of pan-frying the burger in a cast iron skillet, than broiling it under the Salamander, seals the juices and makes for a tenderer succulent patty. My plate arrived with a gorgeous looking specimen of burger handy work, winning top marks for looks alone. The chunks of blue cheese had a subtle coating of bronzing, just ever so slightly tanned. The brioche bun was delicately toasted with the right amount of give, when poked with my finger. The French fries were cut in exact symmetry and crispy to the taste, with a generous burst of herb after flavor. The patty itself was juicy, plump and charred to perfection, as I gorged into this delicious burger, I really tried hard to find something wrong with it, but I just couldn’t!! I thought it was pretty much as close to perfection as a bistro style burger gets, just as Lucky and Meyer were the mastermind’s of crime, The National was this day the mastermind of the burger.
I also tasted the Fish Tacos which were crispy fried little pieces of Cod, adorned with zesty pickled cabbage, Pico de Gallo and a homemade tortilla. I can tell you as a Taco fan, these babies rated high on my list for some of the best I have ever had! The National is a charming place for a coffee, brunch or dinner, with an evening menu that some say surpasses its more famous neighbor. So if you’re growing old waiting in line for a Freeman’s table, stop that insanity and dine at The National!!