Street Seens: Good Enough to Eat – Where Skill and Heart Make a Great Menu Unique
This is not a restaurant review. More like an alert that a restaurant can be addictive; how to recognize the signs that it is becoming so; and why that can be a good thing.
I discovered Good Enough to Eat when on “safari” in the early 1990s when Michele Weber had joined the GETE team. I suspect that is a key reason that in all the intervening years I have never been disappointed as I moved from breakfast to brunch to dinner, at succeeding locations (most recently on the downtown route to Lincoln Center via Columbus Avenue and 85th Street).
The safari in question was not an upper west side wildlife adventure, but a tour of what one website named “The 10 Best Breakfasts in New York City.” Next came the effort to entice friends to join me in visiting all ten, located from one end of Manhattan Island to the other. In the course of this “safari” in pursuit of the Holy Grail of breakfasts I found, only one crosstown and one uptown transfer away, the one that holds a unique place in my imagination.
In all that time, I never actually met Michele. When I did, early this past February, I understood what accounts for the unique ambience of GETE. Beyond the mostly irresistible menu offerings and the creative imagination of today’s reigning mixologists, there is a spirit and a spark that defines this as the “go to” place for nourishment, on every level, that has kept me coming back for as many years as Michele Weber has been the genius at the heart of Good Enough to Eat.
The country homestead décor, the examples of bovine art, the handcrafted piggy bank, the patchwork quilt and children’s art sharing space on the brick walls nearly all came as gifts from delighted visitors. The peaceful spirit of the crowds waiting congenially to be seated on weekend mornings, the contents of the antique glass fronted cabinet as a showcase of “calories-be damned” homemade goodies define the space.
But as I review the years and the progression from breakfast through brunch and dinner I can recall the singular moments of various friendships that were spent over a GETE table. The Gramercy Park omelet as prelude to a son’s revelation about his relationship to a hyper-achieving Father who finally recognized that dyslexia need not be a limitation; the bacon waffles that fueled the young students’ concerns about the man she would leave behind as she pursued her choice to study medicine; the arrival at peace in the face of a husband’s early onset Alzheimer’s toasted with a Bourbon cocktail that perfectly set the stage for a dinner entrée that lent new sophistication to the term “homemade comfort food.” If all this sounds like what can happen at the table of a culinarily gifted hostess that may be no accident.
When I finally met Michele I learned that there is a seamless connection between the woman who abandoned the world of publishing to follow her heart into a role she likens to preparing a dinner party for dear friends every day of her life. You could say she went from Z to GETE when she secured passes to the Fancy Food Show, got a job as a business development specialist with a retail bakery where she visited Eli Zabar’s EAT, asked to speak with the person whose name was on the door and (to his credit) was recognized as one for whom a restaurant qualifies as “what one does for love.”
GETE came next and now the role of chef carries her into a new era preserving the old values. I think it’s safe to say smart people recognize that this is a singular love song to great food garnished with utter personalism and style. So the young man whose birthday cakes Michele has baked from his first to the 18th this Spring can hope for more. The wedding cake adorned with fresh flowers and the 20 sheet cake creations providing enough for every guest to consume and more to dream on will continue as long as Michel is inspiring a staff that shares her values. The diner who calls and says, “Please tell me you will do my favorite shepherd’s pie tonight will if at all possible get a hearing (and a favorite entrée.) The NYPD and FDNY regulars will know that they can count on finding a traditional Saint Patrick’s Day dinner at the end of a long March.
Eggs may come as “whites only” and tofu and vegetarian and vegan offerings appear on today’s menu choices in company with comfort food and its creative variations, but those who need gluten free will be encouraged to find other options on the menu of a chef who treats wheat as “sacred.” The mixologists behind the ample bar will create surprises based on the best of brands and instincts for combining that see the ceremony as equal in value to the quaff.
When I met Michele she was wearing a simple chef’s cap, not an iconic toque. But then she is known for a collection of hats for street wear that demonstrates her highly personal taste (at least one that fans of the Ramones will recognize) One of the “hats” she wears most proudly is that of mother of a 10-year old budding chef who said when she was first able to speak, “Mimi, I want to help you.” One day at GETE when she spied a table of diners who had finished their meal, she announced “that four top needs a check.” Get ready for the reign of Adriana! She is sure to prove that Manhattan is every bit as able as Michele’s native St. Cloud, Minnesota to produce a truly distinctive chef.
Annette Cunningham’s Street Seens appears every Sunday.