Some things grow better with age: a fine wine, most men, and the cozy and unpretentious restaurant on the corner of 12th Street and First Avenue called Hearth. In fact, the restaurant has matured gracefully there since the days of the wonderfully seedy Lit Lounge a few blocks south, long before the East Village got Fuku’d. But like its environs, the restaurant has evolved consistently, without losing its sense of self. Evolution and grit can co-exists (just look at the farmers’ market on Thompson Square Park only a hocked loogie away from the junkies and their German Shepherds). And chef Marco Canora, who’s owned Hearth for the last 12 years, exudes both: evolution and grit, that is.
I won’t pretend to have been familiar with the Marco of yore, though by his own admission, his former self had a propensity for excess in the form of coffee, deli sandwiches, booze and cigarettes. I never knew this guy. The Marco I met a couple of years back had grown up, had started a family…had gotten gout. Amid the maelstrom of running a successful restaurant in the most competitive city in the world, hard work had become his excuse to ignore his health (a theme common to my father as well).
And so the man did what all men do–just when you think there’s more likelihood that hell will freeze over, when no woman is around to harangue them–they change (sorry, Marco, I am projecting my dad again here). Of their own volition they read a self-help book, they go for a run, they stop snacking. Actually, Marco admits, that his wife, Amanda, “was hugely influential in that transition: she knew how to infuse just the right amount of information – slowly and methodically over time…she knew I wouldn’t respond well to being hit over the head.” But, he says, the real motivation came from his own sense feeling miserable: “fat and bloated, anxious and depressed, tired as hell.”
Marco began to read about wheat and the sorry excuse for it that we farm and feed our families in this country. Marco began to consider the cause and effect of what he was consuming, and, as a chef, realized he had a particular opportunity to sustain others as he did so. Marco’s approach to fostering change in our food system is to put his restaurant’s dollars toward purchasing from the farmers and purveyors who do things right, who embrace a slower growth model and eschew quantity for the sake of quality. By eating at Hearth, you are supporting that same system, and reaping its generous rewards.
Here’s the pleasurable paradox: To eat Hearth’s new menu is by no means an exercise in restraint. In fact, it’s the blissful opposite: it’s a practice in letting go, or as the degustation menu implores, putting yourself in their careful and capable hands. Imagine if you didn’t have to decipher ingredients on the sides of squeeze bottles, count calories, or worry that the gluten in your rigatoni would make your insides swell in allergic exhausted defiance. Imagine if you could eat whatever you wanted, because someone else had been considering all of this for you…for years!…writing books on it (A Good Food Day); making bone broths to nourish you and let your organs relax as it did so (Brodo).
Hearth is no health food place; it’s a place for great food where the man in charge has an eye to good health…the kind of good health that comes from eating good fat–bone marrow, butter from grass fed cows, verdant extra virgin olive oil. The kind of wellness that comes from eating good, hand-milled whole grains. Rustic, wine-soaked, rosemary-spiked rabbit with briny castelvetrano olives comes with butter-enriched polenta. A salad of rainbow radishes is a winter delight: bright and herbaceous, buttermilk creamy and crunchy all at once.
Since Marco believes in getting milk from happy cows, he also believes in doing something worthy with all of their myriad parts. Hence the Hearth Variety Burger, a medley of calves’ heart, liver, brisket and chuck, which is so balanced and beguiling, you’ll never miss the bun.
And then at the end of the meal, as we sip an amaro, we pillage the chocolate board–Marco’s answer to dessert (very much a man after my own heart, he no longer offers dessert at Hearth.) It’s a butcher block with an array of some of the best chocolate made in the U.S. from cocoa sourced from all over the world. As it turns out, a sliver or two are all your senses need to feel gratified at the end of the meal. And gratitude is indeed the pervasive emotion at the end of a meal at Hearth.
Hearth, 403 East 12th St at 1st Avenue, New York, NY T: (646)602-1300 E:email@example.com
Tags: A Good Food Day, Brodo, East Village, Hearth, Italian, local, Marco Canora, NYC, Seasonal