Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Miss Lily's is keeping the party going, and party is what the East Village- and dance hall-loving islanders- is all about.  Opening up a second location of Lily's (the first is on West Houston) in the hugely popular 7A location,  they conceded to keep the address as part of the name, both for locational purposes and what might probably result in a really smart maneuver to retain its predecessors' avid following.   Luckily for all, Miss Lily's food is exponentially better than was the generic cafe, and the exuberant atmosphere contributes even further to its enjoyment.

Adam Schop is the master behind the grub, recently taking responsibility for both locations  after his return to New York City, where he had been widely recognized for his Peruvian establishment, the now-shuttered Nuela.  Although the food there was good, Peruvian didn't really seem to be his thing, and Schop picked up shop and moved down to D.C. to regroup.  And maybe West African isn't his absolute forte, either, but like its website says, it's definitely enough to take you on "an island vacation in the middle of a busy city."  Technicolorfully blasted in a rainbow of stripes, multi-colored prints and brightly painted walls, the festive room designed by Serge Becker literally vaults you into party mode.  The waitresses were, unfortunately, apparently selected more for their   
appearances, too.  They are lovely and young, sweet and clueless, decked out in fetching sundresses and island coifs, but their helpfulness might end there.  Not that they're not trying, but this is no Danny Meyer-eschelon service.  But it's okay, here- hopefully you'll be enjoying yourself enough as soon as the festive cocktails arrive not to notice the lapses ('cause there might be a few).

The menu celebrates the islands, from the Bahamas to Trinidad.  I had to try celebrated juice guru Melvin's "Body Good" salad, but quite frankly, Melvin: you can do better.  The salad was simply a hash of julienned kale, celery and chard with sliced apples, a few walnut thrown in and very lightly dressed but still overly candy-sweet.  I'd say Melvin ought to stick with his juices and leave the rest of it up to Schop, because from that point on things got a lot better.  Jerk grilled corn didn't seem that grilled, but then again it didn't seem jerked, either... until a latent punch of heat sparked into action as the sweet coconut-mayo

 slather released its tether on the spice.  The ears were brilliantly yellow, juicy as grapes and indecently good.  There are certainly some stoner-food nods bumping about here (the corn being one of them) and also a jubilant bread option dubbed "festival" that are basically glorified doughnuts, although not quite as sugary, but sweet nonetheless, with a mild corny flavor and a delicately salty appeal.  The exterior has a great, toothsome crunch to it, breaking open in a waft of fragrant steam to unveil a tender, corny crumb.

There's a Grill section featuring choice proteins nuzzled with jerk seasoning.  The gentle spices allowed appreciation of the  juicy cut of pork, although I expected a bit more zing and heat from the jerk than it afforded.    Despite mention of a grilled cucumber salad, there's not much else on its plate but for some slices of raw cucumber (the menu seems to overstate the use of its grill) and a dollop chutney, so you might benefit from a side one of the classic sides such as rice & peas or sweet plantains.   Or get some greens in with the callaloo, which is pretty much your only veggie side option.  Strewn with mild peppers and cooked into submission, it's a classic preparation that basically renders it useful as a green gravy, good for moistening up your meat or pone.

I couldn't resist ordering the Buss Up Shot, even having not a clue what a buss up shot was.  Turns out the  Trini term derives from the busted up appearances of the torn roti dough that make up the starch in the dish.  Lily's is served with a soupy curry of vegetables, rich in flavor and with a enough sizzle to perk up the half-dozen skewered shrimp that make this shot a slam-dunk.  The tamarind chutney aside isn't chunky like I'd consider a typical one: it tastes more like A1 Steak Sauce.  But it can add some depth, and if you're displeased with that sauce but still want something, two bottles of jerk marinades are provided tableside to dabble with at your leisure: one regular, one spicier, although in actuality they tasted pretty similar.

Along with a lively cocktail menu (beware of the easily toppleable glasses: you lose your punch with just the suggestion of imbalance as the unwieldy glasses are even less stable full than empty), there are also an array of non-alcoholic tipples, all of which would go well with a little umbrella on top.  I'm actually not sure whether the sorrel drink was alcoholic or not.  It had a slightly boozy, herbal flavor, but it left us feeling good either way.  Or maybe that was the effects of the luscious ice cream sundae, served in a classic glass coupe, filled from the bottom up with a juicy, sweet pineapple dice, creamy  vanilla ice cream, ascending to a crumble of toasty cashews.  It was diagonally impaled with a crunchy gingersnap that imparted its spicy flavor throughout as the concoction softened.

Schop's got Lily's going strong.  The place was packed, the energy of the room living up to expectations.  Islander's warmth and hospitality, bumping dance hall vibe, East Village hip and solid food to float it.  We hit 7A where it hadn't been open but just a week or so, and I'm imagining it's the kind of joint that only improves with time.... and in just this incipient stage, it's pretty great already.

109 Avenue A at 7th Street, New York, NY 10009
For inquiries please call 212-812-1482

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