Getting to Northern Spy Food Co. in Alphabet City is a bit of a trek, but it's one that pays off. The place had popped up on my dining companion's list of suggestions for dinner several times and I had continually bypassed it in favor of other, closer spots.
Around 7 p.m. on a Sunday evening, the place was just lightly filled and it was easy to get a table, but by 8:30 p.m. it was packed. The casual setting, with white wood-paneled walls and exposed brick, was something you might expect by the shore.
The drink list includes an interesting list of seltzers. My dining companion ordered a watermelon-basil seltzer while I opted for the sparkling sangria made with blueberry juice. Both were refreshing, though my dining companion wished the watermelon flavor hadn't been so diluted. And when our check arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to find that we'd made it in time for happy hour and got a $2 discount on the sangria.
Freekeh was new to me — a popular Arab and North African dish made from roasted green wheat. When a dish of grains is made well, it's a sign that they're doing something right in the kitchen because grains stereotypically seem bland and healthy-tasting. Unfortunately this risotto wasn't impressive. It had that sense of something you eat it because it's good for you. It was under-seasoned; my dining companion wished it had been more robust. The beans and corn and leafy greens mixed in were a good touch, but it could have used more flavor.
If you believe that good cooking and friendly service can overcome tight quarters and out-of-the-way location, then make your way to Northern Spy Food Co.