Back in 2008, an Australian-American restaurant/bar opened on Bedford with its primary claim to fame being that Heath Ledger (RIP) had been involved in its conception. Now, Five Leaves is closing in on nine years in the neighborhood and is still one of the most popular spots around. It’s burger and pancakes are institutions on the New York dining scene and that weekend brunch wait hasn’t gotten any shorter. This doesn’t mean that they want to rest on their laurels though. If you’ve stopped by this year, you may have noticed both the food and cocktail menus changing ever so slightly towards a little more seasonality. They’re definitely giving the locals a good reason to stop by for dinner.
Five Leaves did always have a seasonal and organic angle to their menu, but when Chef Warren Baird took the helm in the kitchen towards the end of 2015, he knew it was time to step up their game a little bit. The local and sustainable movement has grown a lot in the past few years. Now, producers and consumers are more aware of our food systems’ environmental impact. But, luckily, consumers are also more willing to trust a chef when presented with unique dishes, like blue catfish done up Szechuan-style.
A Johnson & Wales alum and former sous at Esca, Five Leaves’ menu was in his very capable hands and he knows better than to mess with their key dishes unless it’s to make it better. For instance, they changed their ground beef to a supplier from Pennsylvania who raises his cattle in a low-stress and open pasture environment. Baird is always interested in making his supply chain a little shorter and a little more transparent.
His time at Esca also means Baird can deal with pretty much anything that comes out of the ocean. He’s using purveyors like Pierless and Sea to Table who focus on supplying sustainable fish that still have healthy populations. That blue catfish dish was a popular special during the spring and was an interesting way to serve the Chesapeake Bay invaders. There was also a dish where meaty, fatty ribs were brined, smoked, fried and topped with Buffalo sauce. But they weren’t pork, they were from a buffalo fish.
The late summer menu has been out for a few weeks and a few dishes capture that August bounty. The sweet corn flan is almost like eating dessert first, except its savory and has a wonderful crunch from the jicama-lime salsa. Or you can try the Tasmanian Sea Trout, which tastes much better than your average farmed salmon. Watermelon salad is found at both breakfast/lunch and dinner, and the daytime also has a super-healthy grain bowl with faro, barley, watermelon radishes, charred baby squash, and crispy kale.
For those who just want to stop by for a late afternoon cocktail and a nibble, they’ve got you covered. There are the (very on trend) Turmeric Bees Knees (gin, lemon, turmeric-infused honey, spices, lavender, orange bitters); Holy Mountain is for those refreshing cucumber margarita-lovers (blanco tequila, velvet falernum, yellow chartreuse, lime, cucumber verdito); Dark n’ Stormy fans should try the Ship of Fools (rye, velvet falernum, pomegranate, lime, angostura bitters, ginger beer); and bourbon geeks can go for the Miss Wardance (bourbon, pear eau de vie, lemon, maple syrup). With the drink of summer being the Aperol Spritz, we love their version, the Lickedy Spritz, but you should try the Casa Malaparte (gran classico, bianco vermouth, Pamplemousse, lime juice, club soda). It, too, has that bittersweet with a tart bite. But you have to get in there before everything changes up again with the first fallen leaves.
Five Leaves is located at 18 Bedford Avenue. They are open daily, 8am – 1am.