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Monday, August 2, 2010

Peachy Picks Neary's!

Good morning Manhattan!  Are you drinking your coffee?  It's not as good as it could be if it's not the Irish Coffee at Neary's.  This coffee is so excellent it is what all coffee should aspire to and Peachy Deegan would have it morning, noon and night if she had no obligations...Jimmy made it for us himself!  She wishes she had it right now...and this is Jimmy Neary above and below.
We first presented Neary's in Tasty Tidbits:
Above: Gertie Hennessy, Jimmy Neary, Mary O'Connor and Margaret LeRoy
We are pleased to say it easily graduates to Peachy's Picks!  The outstanding Irish cuisine, the enthusiastic and friendly staff that feels like your family, the gorgeous decor, and the experience of chatting with legendary Jimmy Neary himself who started this iconic institution on St. Patrick's Day 1967, way before any of the panelists were even born and most likely before anyone's parents even met either, was perfect.  Whom You Know highly, highly recommends Neary's and we want to tell you why.  It is one of Peachy's most favorite places now and she can't wait to go back.  We are interested in establishments that not only have outstanding cuisine, but also aspire to be a phenomenal experience.  Neary's is a legendary experience.

And if you think we are alone in our opinion, eliminate that thought immediately because Mayor Bloomberg has been coming here since 1974 and has even made September 14th Jimmy Neary day.  Jimmy has been featured in many books by Mary Higgins Clark.  Astronaut John Glenn came to Neary's a year after his famous space flight.  Neary's is a place where things happen, and we love these kinds of places.

Ireland is not known for its food, and if you have been there you know exactly what we're talking about.  When Peachy Deegan moved to Cork, she remembers wanting a hamburger (actually wanting would be an understatement, she was on the warpath for a hamburger) the first week and when she went to a nice restaurant and ordered one, something that resembled dog food showed up on her plate.  But the service was with a smile.  Basically, Peachy was starving for 6 months compared to how she eats in this country, and remembers her aunt bringing her Oreos and Bunny Macaroni and Cheese (yes it does taste better when it is shaped like bunnies.)  And although she loves Ireland, she did not love the food.  Peachy Deegan could not wait to get home to pizza and bagels.  However, if Neary's could be found in Cork and not New York, she would have happily eaten there every day and probably would have brought the hurling team with her too. 

At Whom You Know, we have reviewed 25 restaurants.  None of them have been Irish.  Until Neary's.  Neary's is known as the Irish 21...we do love the 21 Club although they have not been formally reviewed.  Actually, 21 was founded by the grandfather of one of our Movers and Shakers, Author Sascha Rothchild, But of all of the times we've been to the 21 Club, the cheer and atmosphere and overall excellent time you experience from Jimmy Neary and his delightful staff cannot be rivaled by the 21 Club.  Nevermind just the 21 Club; Neary's has the best service in all of Manhattan.  The three waitresses there have been there longer than most of our panel has been alive-thirtysomething years EACH.  And yes Jimmy, after last night you should get each of them a lovely bauble from David Yurman.  Don't you think they deserve it?  We would have expected nothing less than top notch personable service however as Ireland IS known for its top hospitality worldwide!  Irish people are the best.  We think every day is St. Patrick's day at Whom You Know and you can see the Deegan girls celebrating, to the right.

Although the cuisine is so decadently divine and makes you think that since Jimmy is from Sligo, that Sligo must be the culinary capital of Ireland and maybe that is where Peachy should have gone for her hamburger, our strong recommendation of Neary's is based on not just how happy your stomach will be, but also how happy your heart will be after having the whole Jimmy Neary experience.  He is one of the best restaurateurs ever and his true devotion to what he does and his sincere manner contribute to why he has had a winner here since 1967.  Your head will join your stomach and heart in happiness, as his wit is so so sharp.  Jimmy Neary has kissed the Blarney stone and you can tell that after speaking to him for about 30 seconds.  (Peachy has also kissed it; how do you think we were lucky enough to review Neary's?)  You will see many pictures of dignitaries on the wall that have dined with Jimmy Neary, you'll see pictures of his beloved Eileen standing in front of the ancestral home in Sligo of course, and every person that eats at Neary's is treated like a dignitary would be.  The cuisine is excellent, and our whole take on Irish cuisine has been irreversibly altered, and your outlook on it should change too if you have yet to be enlightened.

The dinner for Peachy began with a lovely fresh green salad that was perfect for a hot night in July to begin with:
The vegetables were fresh, crisp and beautifully arranged.  And of course it was delivered with a smile by star waitress Mary O'Connor from Youghal, Cork.  The waitressing team also includes Gertie Hennessy from Clare and Margaret LeRoy from County Cavan.  You know Peachy has been eating a lot of fish lately from the Legal Seafood reviews, so she decided to go for something carnivorous.  The Filet Mignon was absolutely exquisite and ordered and perfectly served medium, and was nicely accompanied by mixed vegetables:
Ireland is not known for its wine, so we had to defer to France briefly.  If there are any Irish wines we want to know about them.  Everyone on the Whom You Know panel is a connoisseur of alcohol, and we decided on the Louis Jadot Beaujolais Village which had supple crushed strawberry flavors, gentle tannins and a clean acidity with a refreshing finish. The rice puddling floated in its dish and looked like it had been made by angels but was so decadent it must have been made by the devils.  

Peachy brought her illustrious panel with her, including her Irish dance teacher who is a world champion, and they say:

"I'm in my own little cubbyhole here on the East Side," said Jimmy Neary, and a truer word was never spoken.  Stepping into Neary's Restaurant, tucked away on East 57th Street near the corner of 1st Avenue, is like stepping into a different world and a different time.  From the mahogany bar and paneling to the red leather seats to the no-nonsense paper place mats, Neary's is a throwback to an older, classier New York.  Proper dress is required.  Shorts are not allowed, and while we were there, a diner who wandered in wearing the casual bottoms was asked to change into chef's pants so that he could be seated!  Lest one get the wrong impression, though, let me be very clear: Neary's is by no means stuffy!  It is as warm and welcoming as a restaurant can possibly be.  However, standards are standards, and owner Jimmy Neary and his staff stick to them -  a refreshing change in this day and age!  Neary's opened its doors on St. Patrick's Day, 1967, and has become a destination for Irish folk and non-Irish alike.  Jimmy and the rest of the staff provide a welcoming atmosphere, excellent food, and an unparalleled classiness to East 57th Street, and over the years have hosted scores of politicians, writers, actors, and other notables - and it's easy to see why!

From the time we sat down, we were treated like family.  Jimmy personally greeted us as soon as we were seated, and the three waitresses on duty that night all dropped by the table throughout the evening - sometimes to check on our food, but often, just to chat!  In fine Irish tradition, we were offered drinks before we'd even had a chance to look at the menu, and, of course we couldn't refuse!  My Irish instincts told me to order a Guinness, but, having run to the restaurant in the heat and humidity, I decided to go a slightly more refreshing route and opted for a glass of Pinot Grigio!  We sipped our drinks and nibbled on the tasty bread as we perused the menu...and although there were many tempting options, I simply had to go for the fish & chips as soon as I saw it on the specials board!  For a starter, I opted for the olives and celery dish - not an appetizer I'd tried anywhere before, but it did sound, well, appetizing - and it was!  What I wasn't counting on was the big gravy boat filled with homemade blue cheese dressing that was served on the side!  I was trying to be "good," but once the blue cheese appeared, all thoughts of that were out the window.  I tucked in with vigor and was quite pleased with my selection!  The olives were perfectly tangy, the celery (served on a bed of ice) was crisp and refreshing, and the blue cheese dressing was out of this world! 
Dinner arrived immediately after the appetizer plates were removed, and I was on cloud 9!  Having spent a semester in college studying in London, I became quite a connoisseur of fish and chips, and I can, without hesitation, say that these were the best I've ever had!  The fish was cod, and the batter was a simple beer batter, but the fish was cooked to absolute perfection.  The batter was crispy and slightly sweet, and the fish was light and airy.  The chips were nothing like the anemic fries that we so often receive in American restaurants, but big, hearty, perfectly fried slices of potato.  Ketchup was offered, but I opted for the vinegar - I'm not sure that there is anything more satisfying than expertly cooked chips drowned in vinegar!

I wasn't too sure that I'd have room for dessert, but Jimmy convinced me to try the Peach Melba Sundae, which was absolutely delightful.  Cool, refreshing, sweet...and accompanied by the best Irish coffee I've ever had!  Jimmy insisted on making the Irish coffees for our table himself, and boy, am I happy he did!  He starts out by putting brown sugar in the glass, then adds the whiskey, then the coffee, and then freshly whipped heavy cream on top -  delicious!  While we were sipping our Irish coffees and digging into our desserts, Jimmy sat down with us and regaled us with some terrific anecdotes about his life and his history with the restaurant!  He truly has some of the best stories I've ever heard.  However, he is very protective of his customers' privacy, and is very firm in saying "What happens here, I keep here."  So, if you're interested in hearing the stories, you'll just have to stop into Neary's and chat with Jimmy yourself!  I know that I, for one, will be back very soon!
As I walked through the doors of Neary’s Restaurant on East 57th Street, I felt like I was walking through a portal to old world New York.  Beautiful mahogany wood panels and sconces grace the walls and red leather banquettes whispered of years of quiet conversation over a Manhattan at the bar by men in suits, or dinner being savored by a couple elegantly dressed for a night on the town.  What I didn’t expect to discover is that Neary’s is a treasure trove of history and quintessential New York that is hard to come by in any other establishment.  I was warmly welcomed by Jimmy Neary himself and his staff as if we had been long time friends back home for a friendly Irish meal. This Irish steak house has a simple but tasteful menu.  Quality meat dishes and fresh fish are all one needs for a satisfying meal here.  I started with the Clams Casino, shown above.  They were gently baked with crispy bacon and a savory breadcrumb topping.  Delicious! My main course was the broiled lamb chops with homemade mashed potatoes.  This was a personal recommendation from Jimmy himself – and when the owner recommends a dish, you of course pay very close attention! The lamb chops were succulent, perfectly cooked and delightfully crisp.  I have eaten at many famous restaurants, but the lamb chops at Neary’s are an experience not to be missed.   The mashed potatoes were creamy, but had substance, bits of potato through out – very comforting and just like mom makes.  I chose the Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages as my wine of the night.  It bursts with perfumed berries but stood up perfectly to the delicate meat of my lamb chops without over powering them.  Throughout the meal, our waitress Mary chatted with us and attended to our needs warmly.  Mary recommended that I try the Butterscotch Sundae for dessert and the house specialty – Irish coffee – of course!  Jimmy came to our table and personally prepared our coffees – Irish whiskey, coffee and a creamy frothy topping of milk.  What a heavenly drink! Jimmy sat with us, telling us about his daughters, all of whom he proudly told us have gone on to successful careers, his beloved wife Eileen, and of stories, which he compared to confessionals, that begin and end at Neary’s.   I felt honored to have chatted with this delightful man and share in his magic, even if just for a moment.  It was like I was catching up with an old friend.  Photographic memorabilia on the walls illustrated some of Jimmy’s unique encounters with famous individuals.  Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg for example is a good friend of Jimmy’s.  Jimmy kindly pointed out the proclamation declaring Jimmy’s birthday, September 14th, as Jimmy Neary Day in New York, given to him by Mr. Bloomberg.   Neary’s opened its doors on St. Patrick’s Day, 1967 and has been a favorite of Manhattanites ever since.  The restaurant is open every day, except of course Christmas Day, but probably the most famous day for Neary’s is St. Patrick’s Day.  Every year the parade dignitaries meet at Neary’s after the parade to continue celebrating with Jimmy and his family. As we left, Jimmy accompanied us to the door, and then told us one last thing – he as been featured in several of Mary Higgins Clark’s books.  This larger than life man can certainly fill up a room with his smile.  Thank you Jimmy for such a wonderful experience!! I can’t wait to come back and hopefully be able to join him on St. Patrick’s Day and for a little luck of the Irish!
Neary’s is a fascinating place: located along a residential stretch of affluent 57th Street, one of Manhattan’s most desirable locations, it is announced by an unassuming green canopy, flanked by two sizable trees. Upon entering, one is immediately struck by the timelessness of the d├ęcor: patterned red carpet, mahogany bar, plush red banquette seating, and the staff even wearing red to complete a very cozy picture: it is effectively like a big dining room, and if you go there on any given night you are likely to be greeted by the ebullient Jimmy Neary himself, a diminutive but at the same time larger-than-life character who is the owner since the place opened on Ireland’s national feast day way back in 1967. He is a man of endless stories who is clearly loving his job: he works there literally every day of the year. If he doesn’t come up to you when you arrive he is probably in the restroom, although one of his stories involved a man who drank seven pints and didn’t visit the restroom even once all evening: Jimmy Neary has never touched a drop of alcohol, so you should totally expect to meet him!

The walls are lined with pictures of famous people from the political and entertainment worlds whom he personally knows, many are regulars: these act as cue cards for many of the stories, all told in an unassuming and humorous style: Jimmy Neary is from Tubbercurry, County Sligo, an area steeped in musical tradition, although Sligo, being in the northwest of the island, is considered one of the most economically disadvantaged areas of Ireland. One of Sinead O’Connor’s ex’s, the journalist one, famously once suggested a bullet train from Dublin to Sligo to revitalize the local economy, but this will never happen!

Jimmy Neary, like many young Irish men at the time, left Ireland in the fifties to find work, and now at the age of almost eighty, he owns one of the friendliest and most successful Irish restaurants in New York City. The place has a very discerning clientele: the atmosphere is enhanced by soft, soul-soothing background music: no need to shout across the table here!

There are many Irish-themed and even more Irish-owned restaurants in Manhattan that serve great food, and Neary’s is right up there with the best of them. The starter I ordered, ‘wild “IRISH” smoked salmon’ (this is exactly how it is listed on the menu!) was very tasty and there was plenty of it as well. For main course, I chose the liver, which was listed as one of the specials on a hand-written billboard above the kitchen door: it said ‘with onions or bacon’, but I asked to change ‘or’ to ‘and’. It tasted wonderful: very flavorsome and filling. All the wait staff here are Irish-born: One of them came over to our table to tell me that she and I had a mutual acquaintance. We had a great discussion with the other waitresses about the fact that Irish people tend to ask for everything well done: I went for medium-well and it turned out to be a good choice. I only try liver in places where I get a sense that it is going to be great and I was not disappointed. I was delighted when one of my fellow panelists offered me some of the fried cod to try: it was delicious and very authentically Irish in flavor.

I tried 2 wines, cabernet and bougelais and both were excellent. The Chocolate Moose cake was exquisite, although I would have liked a little whipped cream with it, but then Jimmy Neary made us fabulous Irish Coffees himself, so my need for whipped cream was fulfilled! He continued to entertain us with his stories: the only one I don’t believe is the comment he made that all Irish whiskeys taste the same, that it’s just the label on the bottle that’s different: That’s a bit like a lifelong atheist saying that all religions are the same!

Neary’s is the kind of place where you don’t notice the time passing because you are having such a good time: if you have multiple appointments to fulfill on a given evening, make sure your phone is charged if you are planning to go to Neary’s because you will have to be sending multiple texts under the table! Otherwise, I thoroughly recommend it as a haven of great food and brilliant conversation!  

358 E. 57th Street
New York City, NY

Tel: (212) 751-1434

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