Whorebivore: Fun With Cheese

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365 Fifth Avenue (betwn. 5th & 6th Sts.)B'klyn

Should I ever raise a kid in New York and find myself faced with the dreaded “Where do babies come from?” question, instead of mincing tales of storks, tummies and cabbage patches, I’ll simply (and more believably) say to Walmsley Jr., “Park Slope.”

The mean streets Pete Hamill described in A Drinking Life have morphed into an upper-middle class hatchery for tykes with tolerant values. And just as boozers and junkies have given way to postpartum-Pilates moms, meat and potatoes have been replaced by vegetarian options in many places. Some good ones can be found at Perch.

During lunchtime, I stopped by and sat amid the café-cum-bar’s tightly regimented red, white and wood color scheme, in a front area beneath bulbous Japanese lanterns and an escaped balloon. I shared the space with toddlers and MILFFs (Moms I’d Like Funding From). Past the “Please fold your stroller” sign were a few people at the bar with midday wine and open MacBooks.

A cheery waitress took my order and brought a small mixing bowl filled with the Tart Apple & Cheddar Waldorf Salad ($8.50). Snow drifts of grated white cheese and shredded, tangy green apples and buttermilk dressing blanketed spinach, red and green lettuces, whole walnuts and halved red grapes. That this salad is not too much to handle is a well-thought out feat. The soft cheddar and crystalline apples combined for an interesting texture, and the sugary grapes matched the buttery and slightly bitter walnuts. At first I thought the sweetish dressing would do the salad in, but it was a nice complement, adding wholesomeness instead of heaviness because it was thin and mild, with no apparent ingredients other than buttermilk.

I followed this up with a cup of the Corn Chowder Soup special along with a half a Veggie Reuben for $10. The beige soup combined roasted kernels and chilies for excellent spice and flavor, and the Reuben used soft, smooth and fatty avocado slices in place of briny, stringy brisket. Also squeezed inside two slices of griddle-marked, cornmeal-rimmed bread were vinegary sauerkraut, gooey Gruyère and a snappy Russian dressing. I left believing that a “real” Reuben could not possibly be better.
At night the owners shift to a more lounge-like atmosphere, and along with lower lighting and louder music
(sometimes live), the menu expands. The Beer and Cheddar Cheese Fondue ($8) was cooked with Wolaver’s Organic, but the ale’s hops and flavor were hardly noticeable. Green apple slices and toasted cubes of wheaty, puffy rosemary bread worked well as accompaniment.

When a waitress asked me, “Isn’t fondue the most fun you’ve ever had?” I decided that any of the blue responses in my head wouldn’t stick so long as I was dredging my tiny fork through molten cheddar.
“Yes,” I said quietly.

Arranged in a cross shape that could add meaning to a Mel Gibson movie, were the rows of cut grill-pressed focaccia that came with the Hummus & Vegetable Ratatouille ($7). At the crux was a scoop of cumin-inflected hummus. Its cool, moist-earth texture was caulkier than the Atlantic Avenue stuff, which is usually creamier and dressed with olive oil. At the cross’ base sat a pile of ratatouille that was surprisingly dry and without much, if any, presence of tomato. There were pieces of zucchini, squash, red pepper, red onion and green and black olives. The olives seized the flavor and made it more of a salty, chunky caponata.

The Asparagus & Roasted Potato Quiche ($10) had abundant tender green shoots and hunks of skin-on red potatoes, and relatively little egg. It was topped with darkly baked cheese. The crust was floury, burnt around the edges and not sweet.
For those who like curries farang-style (not spicy a bit) the Vegetable Curry ($10) surprised me with its unusual elements: similar in texture to Thai varieties, but closer in spices to a very mild Indian one. The soupy, slightly limey, coconut-base was full of crunchy carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, asparagus and fresh basil. A tower of nutty long-grained rice rose from the center adorned with slices of green apple (a favorite item here).

The cook added welcome notes to the Mac & Cheese ($10) by stirring the elbow noodles with pleasantly dank bleu cheese and no noticeable cream, and then broiling them beneath a salty layer of simmering cheddar and Gruyère. The dish was hot enough to scar a finger for life, so watch out. Otherwise, Perch is safe for kids and vegetarians alike.

*Whorebivore is a weekly column about vegetarian options at meat-lover locales. Post your own reviews at Whorebivore.com.

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