Down Home and Dollar-Friendly
Tomatillo’s David Starkey goes locavore-American with Tarrytown’s Sweet Grass Grill.
It was an inauspicious beginning. On the Wednesday evening following Mother’s Day—limping into Sweet Grass after a long day—we pined ages before we got our hands around a single well-deserved brewski. South Hampton? (No dice.) Ithaca? (Lemme check—sorry!) Then, score! All crankiness disappeared when, along with $6 pints of Captain Lawrence, down dropped squares of golden, oil-crisped foccacia, whose fennel-y goodness evoked the spiced charms of breakfast sausage. It arrived with a luscious white-bean purée and lasted a whole three seconds on the table.
David Starkey’s Sweet Grass Grill is the long awaited follow-up to Tomatillo, his cheap, wildly popular Dobbs Ferry Mexican, whose locavorian menu is often sourced from Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. This is Starkey’s first expansion, with Sweet Grass’s GM Theresa McCarthy taking a stake; the pair hired chef, Tommy Lasley, who is responsible for the restaurant’s menu. Sweet Grass takes its space from Tarrytown’s Main Street Café. Its L-shaped dining room wraps around Starkey’s construction discovery, the ornate facade of a back-lot Second Empire house. Diners enjoy an inside-outside view that spans rustic and refined, with Victorian moldings offset by a bark-clad wood bar salvaged from the Rockefeller Preserve.
Though stick-to-your-ribs mains await, only the foolish skip Sweet Grass’s starters. A deep bowl of grassy, chilled spring-pea soup with edamame ($5) arrives energetically minty, and very bright. The soup is a perfect palate-tickler and, at only a fivespot, it’s a treasure. A bowl of inky Blue Hill Bay Maine mussels ($9) also sported those popping peas, and was so clean and ocean-smelling and that we felt spoiled for other versions. Sadly, the juicy mussels were studded with broth-absorbing croutons, marking the second appearance of that distinctive house-made foccacia. Its intense fennel flavor permeated the dish, and—while not a problem on its own—that bread was overstaying its welcome.
Stone Barns pork is put to good use in Starkey’s pig-in-a-blanket ($8), in which primo pig is finely house-ground into mild sausage, then rolled in crumbling, buttery pastry. A scatter of sharp house-made pickled onions, usually tart relief in a fatty dish, might have been better left on the side. Stone Barns pork also pops up in house-ground hot dogs, while all Sweet Grass’s seafood is sustainably harvested, and, if possible, produce is locally sourced.
Though pricey for our budget, rolled-and-cut gnocchi ($16) were silken and pillow-soft, tossed with a celebration of spring veggies that included asparagus, peas, edamame, and wild mushrooms. The big news for burger mavens is that Sweetgrass’s Creekstone Farms natural beef burger ($11) is absolutely wonderful. This is the boutique grain-fed Black Angus beef growing to fame at Terrence McNally’s Minetta Tavern. At Sweet Grass, the Creekstone beef is treated to an aggressive char that yields to a juicy, intensely beefy-tasting interior that far surpasses the merely wet version at Purdy’s Blazer Pub. House-pickled green tomatoes make a considered switch from ketchup, though (rather than deferential buns), that chewy fennel foccacia re-appeared like a wringing curtain call. According to Starkey, it’s now gone from the burgers, as house-made buns offer less competition. Sweet Grass barely was open a month when we visited, and Chef Tommy Lasley was still ironing out kinks—yet even in its infancy, Sweet Grass’s quality (and value) is plain.
On value, Sweet Grass’s timely charm is that none of its entrées exceed $20, while burgers run $11 to $12, and great starters like that spring pea soup are a steal at $5. At Sweet Grass, a meal can be had for only a little—with the added appeal of (mostly) low food miles. It feels like icing on the cake that its food is delicious.
And did we mention the warm donuts ($8)? These freshly fried and golden little rings are dunked in a creamy glaze and given a wink of powdered sugar. Two accompanying dips—stewed apricot and chocolate sauce—felt like gilding the lily, but warm, deep-fried lilies they were, gracing the front yard of this new-old treasure.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
24 Main St, Tarrytown
Hours: Lunch Tues to Sat 11:30 am–3:30 pm; dinner Tues to Sat 5–10 pm; brunch Sun 11 am–4 pm; Appetizers: $7-$9; entrées: $16- $20; desserts: $8.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦—Outstanding ♦ ♦ ♦ —Very Good
♦ ♦ —Good ♦ —Fair