Tompkins Square, known for its burgers, also makes a very fine steak
By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)
When I walked into Tompkins Square, it wasn’t with the expectation that the restaurant was actually square — it’s obvious from the curving exterior that this bar and grill was shoehorned into part of a building with a distinct shortage of right angles. When I asked a server about the reason for the name, she told me that the place is owned by brothers named Tompkins and named after a
park in New York.
I looked up the history of the East Coast Tompkins Square and discovered the place is most famous for multiple historic riots, which is not something that seems to be likely to happen here. It’s a cozy, old-fashioned place where the highlight of the night seemed destined to be the trivia contest that was scheduled for later that evening. This is at least nominally a sports bar and there were TVs all over the place, but everybody was ignoring them, and the pleasant soundtrack of ‘70s eclectica at moderate volume encouraged conversation.
The menu is heavy on burgers, and we saw some intimidatingly large ones go by, but we had other ideas that particular evening. A reader had tipped me that they make a very good ribeye, so we were on the hunt for steak.
First, however, we had to whet the appetite with a few starters, plus a little something from the long, old-fashioned bar that stretches from one end of the room to the other. They serve cocktails here, but the attraction is obviously their extensive beer selection, which includes many microbrews and Belgian Chimay ales on tap. It’s a great list, but with no prices — a practice puzzling to customers, irritating to servers and for which there is no excuse. We decided to order a fresh, fruity Chimay Trappist and a St. Bernardus, a dark, spicy ale that’s worth savoring.
For our starters we had a bowl of “Ultimate mac and cheese” and a “T2” salad of spinach, sliced pear, candied pecans, caramelized onions and goat cheese. Both were ambitious for a bar and grill setting and generally successful. The salad had fresh ingredients well combined — I might have liked a crumbled feta or other harder cheese instead of the ball of soft goat cheese just to make it easier to spread the flavor around, but that’s a minor point. The mac was served with three kinds of cheese in a buttery sauce with blue crab, bacon, tomatoes and scallions, and though it was listed on the appetizer menu it was rich enough for a full meal — and at only $11, a moderately priced one. A dusting of panko crumbs gave it a crisp top, and though the crab was only a very minor flavor that was OK because there was plenty else going on here.
For dinner we ordered the ribeye steak and a dish of grilled chicken topped with goat cheese and mustard sauce. The steak was very good — they used Niman Ranch California beef and, though it was cooked a bit past the medium-rare we requested, the flavor was excellent. They know when to leave a good thing alone — all that happened to that steak was salt, pepper and fire. The grilled vegetable kebab on the side was a nice touch, and though the ribeye is usually served with mashed potatoes we had crisp skinny fries instead.
The chicken unfortunately wasn’t as successful — the thin slice of pounded breast meat
had been left on the fire for far too long and was very dry. Despite the good house-made honey mustard sauce and topping of cheese and mushrooms it was unappetizing; when we told our server she offered to replace it with something else or to remove it from the bill. We considered getting one of the burgers, but were in a bit of a hurry and decided to save that for another day. The bone-in steak had been a full pound, so we already had plenty of meat.
Desserts were offered — a velvet cake, warm cookie with ice cream, or homemade moon pie — but we decided to enjoy another craft beer and call it an evening. It had been a modestly priced night out: at $26 that steak was by far the most expensive item, and even if the chicken had stayed on the bill we would have spent only $63 for dinner. Since we took some salad and most of the pasta home, we had another meal for the next day. Overall, Tompkins Square is an everyday enjoyment, a locals’ joint that has ambition and more often than not gets things right.
Tompkins Square is open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily. Park on the street or in the small rear lot. Full bar; few vegetarian options. Menu online.
Tompkins Square , 8522 Lincoln Blvd., Westchester (310) 670-1212 t2barandgrill.com