Grub/Spirits Restaurant Reviews — 19 April 2012
The Cannibal: A Restaurant Review

The Cannibal
113 East 29th Street, between Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue, Murray Hill, (212) 686-5480
Getting There: 6 to 33rd Street

With a vast selection of bottled microbrews in refrigerated displays up front and a full butcher counter in back, one might mistakenly dismiss The Cannibal as a spot best suited for taking your food and drink to go. But despite its diminutive size, the typically packed L-shaped bar and accompanying picnic table seating outdoors, is a legitimate gem that’s deservedly been given an ample rub by its neighboring predecessor, Resto. In fact, the restaurants each open up to the others space- Resto (which just celebrated its five year anniversary) the more refined of the two, and The Cannibal- a casual hangout for aficionados of sipping on fine craft beers and tasting distinctively prepared red meat dishes.

We stopped in during a hectic weekday lunch to find few available seats beside an energetic, chatty bunch of patrons amongst us at the wooden countertop.  After securing our backless metal stool, we were quickly greeted by the friendly bartender who would be handling the serving duties for the entire place. Before going any further, it must be said that The Cannibal’s beer list is as exhaustive as any in recent memory- a surprise for a place of this size.  And with the weather warming up, we didn’t need our arm twisted to get in the mood for a sweet, summery beer and the Bear Republic ‘Wine Country Wheat’ seemed to satisfy our craving immediately. Prior to ordering any draught beer, you are welcomed to a taste first in order to distinguish exactly what you’re looking for- a nice touch for novices of unfamiliar brews.

Candidly, selecting a beer from the list of several hundred available wound up being far less painful than settling on what to eat. As a quasi-gastropub, the menu offers up a bevy of different small plates to be shared, but the lunch menu is ideal because of the sandwich selections, of which almost everything sounds incredible. Eschewing the salads, we perused the remainder of the menu- house made “Beef Jerky” (6), sausages like Kielbasa, Bratwurst, and Merguez (11), and a variety of different Tartares (veal, lamb, and steak- 16), each seemed to be the ideal order in their own way. With seemingly everyone around us opting for the popular “Pretzel Knodel” (7) served with sweet mustard, we took our server’s suggestion and selected the “lamb neck terrine” (11) to begin. The eclectic hardened pate like patty was placed before us, served cold with a side of freshly cut rustic bread for spreading. Having never tasted ‘lamb neck’ before, the Szechuan peppercorn seasoning was evident from the get go, and the flavor profile was reminiscent of some of our favorite fine Italian deli meats. Thicker and fuller than a pate, the terrine paired exceptionally with our next pour- a delicious, full bodied lager from Lakefront Brewery, which would be an ideal capper for the remainder of the meal.

For our main course, the ‘Plates’ portion of the menu featured all of the fantastic sandwiches that we’d seen the rest of the lunch crowd noshing on- the “Pig’s Head Cuban” (12), the “Grilled Cheese” made with cheddar and gruyere and topped with bacon and pork belly (12), and the “Cannibal Dogs,” a ‘Coney Style’ mash-up of beef heart and beef chili, served with white onions and some tangy yellow mustard. Again, we considered each of them before consulting with our bartender who steered us toward the “Prosciutto Cotto Sandwich” (10), in the absence of the sold out “Bone Marrow” (11), our first choice. Served with a delightful topping of cherry peppers and a Parmigiano Reggiano, the crunchy toasted bread mixed excellently with the fiery kick of the peppers. The meat and cheese formed the marriage of a perfect Italian style sandwich and was even served warm. The cheesy finish was the aftertaste of each bite allowing the spice of the peppery sandwich to work well with the caramelized finish of the draught beer.

The lightning quick turnaround of the food and constant attention by the bartender and bussers only made the entire lunch experience that much more enjoyable. We ducked in for a quick bite at an energetic place and left satiated, not having broken the bank, experimenting with some completely new foods. And with our afternoon meal now out of the way, it’s only a matter of time before we return to The Cannibal for dinner with some friends. That is, as long as we can secure ourselves a seat.

- Jane Van Arsdale

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