Earlier this year in August, Exchange Alley opened up in the East Village neighbourhood of Manhattan on a beautiful tree-lined 9th Street between 1st Ave and Avenue A. I’d heard about this restaurant from someone that I was supposed to rent an apartment for my 5 week stay in NYC (it never worked out in the end), but I’m grateful that I learned about this gem as a part of the process.
After heading there for dinner twice in a matter of two weeks, I know that I’ll continue to frequent this local favourite whenever I’m back in the area. Almost hidden amongst the trees and down a few small steps, Exchange Alley serves fare created by New York Native Chef and Co-Owner Paul Gerard and influenced by New Orleans (as he spent around a decade in kitchens there before coming back to his hometown). Chef and Co-Owner Paul Harris, a James Beard finalist, also spent time in New Orleans.
There is a bar near the entrance of the small, darkly lit room, that is always filled with people coming in with friends for great cocktails. The staff are super welcoming, and the atmosphere has a friendly vibe, filled with laughter and people who likely return often, for brunch, dinner, or even just a few drinks.
And ohhh, the drinks. They’re delicious.
Le Cocinero was my first love. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out when I first read that it’s made up of fortified rice wine. All I could think about was cooking and how one of these cocktails would likely give me a nasty hangover. However, when I saw that it also consisted of cilantro and jalapeno, I decided to order one just in case. With lime juice and agave, this was simply amazing, and I didn’t dare have just one.
Another fantastic cocktail was the Negroni Gone Wrong. Although it doesn’t seem to be on the current online menu, I believe that this had the ingredients of a classic negroni, with the addition of pear juice. I only had a few sips myself, but the ratios all seemed bang on, and again, my girlfriend couldn’t say no to a second.
The Lemongrass Mimosa was quite light and refreshing, with Prosecco, lillet blanc, and lemongrass. It wasn’t as delicious as the other two drinks, but I was still content to have it as a starter to my meal.
Now on to the food. All fairly simple, yet delicious, there wasn’t anything I ate that I wouldn’t have again. My favourite so far is the Cod with deep fried lemon rings (yes, including the rinds) and cauliflower puree.
I also had the Spiced Halibut on another occasion, served with lentils, pork belly (yes!) and chilis. Another winner (although I preferred the cod slightly over this).
There is also the option to order vegetarian sides for $7 each, or as a full meal with a choice of 3 for $18. Although the restaurant was out of a few of the options on the Sunday night when we dined there for the second time, we pulled together really well with what was remaining.
The Brussel Sprouts were made with butter and garlic, and slightly roasted as well, giving them a little extra crisp. These were some of the most simple, yet delicious brussel sprouts I’ve ever had!
The Blackened Beets with goat cheese, walnuts and chives were also fantastic. Quite rich, these were definitely cooked in butter as well. My only complaint here is that they could’ve used slightly more goat cheese so there was enough for every bite.
And finally, I had the Oyster Mushrooms in the mix. This was the least likeable dish for me, but I think to me it was more the oysters mushrooms and the texture, versus the more interesting flavours of beets and brussel sprouts.
Note that the regular bar staff / mixologist likely doesn’t work during off-peak service Sundays and presumably Mondays, so the cocktails may not have quite the same punch as the rest of the days of the week. However, the food was spot on no matter which day of the week, and I absolutely loved the service, unpretentious energy and warm comfort of this definite East Village neighbourhood gem.