2007_08_carrotcake.jpgInwood’s La Estufa (“the stove”) is a reliable restaurant destination in a neighborhood largely bereft of good food. The restaurant’s website bills its menu as “a delicious fusion of American-Italian dishes,” but it’s really more simple than that: menu items are prepared from scratch in an open kitchen, and they’re not fancy. Standing in for the traditional breadbasket are a few slices of house-made whole wheat bread, served with a shallow dish of cold, spicy tomato sauce. That same sauce comes with the small dish of perfectly fried calamari ($5.95). Airy, smooth, and well-seasoned butternut squash soup ($6.95) is delivered in a huge bowl, and a large portion of arugula salad ($7.95) with two types of apples and creamy gorgonzola dressing is a good deal. For what it’s worth, a few of La Estufa’s desserts and wine list choices are labeled “organic,” and non-alcoholic beverages include GuS Sodas, which is nice to see in a restaurant not located below 14th Street. In short, there’s a lot to love here, and that’s not even mentioning the uptempo, guitar heavy, Spanish language version Total Eclipse of The Heart that boomed through the dining room speakers at La Estufa one recent night.

The restaurant’s "bestselling" burger ($9.95) is served on a homemade bun arrives on the plate sliced in half, which is otherwise a bad sign in any restaurant that doesn’t feature a hot wings blowout menu and waiter nametags. The patty was mixed with various unknown seasonings, and even flecked with parsley. Despite all of these oddities, La Estufa’s burger is a lean, respectable one. The accompanying yucca fries were jumbo crayon-sized, crunchy, but a little bit dry- still a welcome alternative to soggy matchstick fries swirled around the periphery of burger platters all over the city.

We had dessert at a bakery just down the block. The strong coffee and large pieces of Tiramisu ($3.50) were winners, but Carrot Top’s specialty product was a little dry. Like Lloyd’s in nearby Riverdale, carrot cake is meant to be the weapon of choice here- even the front door is etched with the profile of the vegetable. A few takeout slices ($3.50 each), held together with super sweet icing and warmed over for ten seconds each in a microwave, turned into crumb piles with the slightest touch of the fork. Giant pieces of walnut were the slice’s saving grace- that, and the giant, retro carrot sign (pictured here) hanging over Broadway like a beacon for wayward city rabbits.

Carrot Top Bakery
5023 Broadway
(212) 569-1532

La Estufa
5035 Broadway
(212) 567-6640