By Michelle del Rio
Need a respite from the buzz of the city? These downtown Manhattan rustic restaurants try to fool you into thinking you’ve just scaled a peak, picked a bushel of blueberries or splashed in a country lake.
80 University Place
This cozy downtown hangout is especially popular for brunch. The no-frills décor features country yellows and greens, and the menu includes eggs Benedict, omelets and sugary sweet lemon-ricotta pancakes.
“The greatest thing about Jack, compared to other restaurants in the neighborhood, is how quaint it is,” said patron Christine Hooper.
There are nightly specials, like wine discovery Wednesdays and mussel Mondays. On Saturday night there’s live jazz — and a two-drink per table minimum.
“It really is a comfortable place to meet someone,” said Hooper.
Not everyone is impressed. “Yes, it’s casual,” said patron Dorota Sawicz. “But the atmosphere is boring.” She wasn’t a fan of the décor, either, but did like the aura of unpretentious ease.
Aspen Restaurant and Lounge
30 W. 22nd St.
OK, you didn’t ski – but that’s no reason to miss out on the après-ski meal.
Aspen, a posh wonderland of snow-covered birch in the Flatiron district, attracts locals and tourists alike. Owner Greg Brier, designer Steve Lewis and chef Roberto Betanzos aimed to create an informal, relaxing retro atmosphere reminiscent of Colorado. A fireplace burns in the winter, and an indoor brook trickles in summer.
The dining room is meant to feel like a Colorado ski lodge – so the décor features lots of deer heads and antler chandeliers.
“I came here because I was feeling a little homesick,” said Ben Barnes, who was visiting from Denver. “The chunky wood tables and fireplace really make me feel like I left the city.”
The menu focuses on tapas-sized plates of Western-inspired continental food, ideal for sharing. Aspen brings lodge dishes like bison sliders, brook trout tacos, wild boar sausage and homemade applekraut to the table.
It also brings the ski party. A DJ spins all night, and the cocktails are strong.
“I ordered the hot chocolate spiked with mint-infused tequila,” said Marica Antointelli, who lives in the East Village. “The warmth of the fire and the birch really feels like a 1970s ski lodge. It’s a nice little retreat on a Friday night.”
210 W. 10th St.
This big-city version of a small-town café has been embraced by neighbors for its few tables, paper napkins and pastoral feel. It’s like that café you go to in a summer vacation town, with low prices and a big crowd. The smells of turkey burger on Portuguese muffin and Niman Ranch hot dogs drift into the street, to the small groups waiting outside for a table.
“Anytime I’m in need of some comfort food I come to Westville,” said Ashley Rule, who recently moved to New York. “It reminds me of my mom’s cooking.” Westville market sides are beets with toasted walnuts or asparagus with parmesan cheese, served as appetizers or side dishes.
A chalkboard outside advertises the Niman Ranch organic hot dogs and charred corn with “finger-licking cumin-lime-cotija cheese” on top. Patrons also like the grilled salmon on mixed greens, tossed with mint-lemon-dill dressing, and the crab-only crab cakes. For dessert there’s homemade cobbler, homemade Oreos and brownie sundaes.
“People enjoy the down-to-earth food here, and don’t mind the tiny space, because it’s so cozy and home-like,” said local Katy Olsen. “It’s as if you stepped out of the city for a bit.”
With draws like $5 French toast and $6 eggs and turkey hash, the line for a seat can wrap around the corner. For a quieter atmosphere and a shorter wait, try brunch.