Gothamist stopped into 24 Prince recently for an evening dinner, to see what all the hype was about – not to mention the promise of fried chicken. True, Gothamist already lamented the buzz heaped upon new restaurants with secret spaces. Plus, Eater confirmed that there nothing secret at all about any part of 24 Prince – there will be a private space downstairs for parties (when construction is complete), but otherwise the main dining room and bar is fairly obvious and open to all. All that said, Gothamist still had a hunger for comfort food, and we were looking for a hearty meal at reasonable prices.

2005_11_food_meatloaf.jpgWe stopped in at 9pm on a Saturday night and waited approximately 30 minutes for a table; 24 Prince does not take reservations, as they offer walk-in seating only. We spent the waiting time sitting with cocktails at the bar tables near the front of the restaurant. The evening was mild, so the front doors were open to the street; the atmosphere was pleasant and the time passed quickly. (Depending on crowds and the weather, extended waits may not always be as pleasant) Once seated, the setting was energetic; our background was a plethora of young couples and lively groups enjoying meals and conversations. It looks to be a great place for groups of friends or co-workers, but not particularly suitable for privacy and soft conversation.

On to the food: Gothamist started out appetizers with the pigs-in-a-blanket in a honey mustard sauce, which tasted so decadent that it required a call to the waiter to ask exactly how they were prepared. It turns out that there’s nothing special done to these pigs; they’re just really good! Our enthusiasm was dashed, however, by the flatbread grilled chicken pizza, which was drowned in barbecue sauce, tough to chew, and seemed to be prepared in a microwave.

2005_11_food_mac.jpgThe rest of the meal would continue the cycle of hits and misses. We were served two baskets of bread, but the second one was noticeably fresher than the first. (Considering the proximity to Little Italy, both could have been better) Our vegetarian guest ordered a very satisfying downtown chopped salad, but our carnivorous companion ordered the fish and chips, which was not very appetizing and was mostly left for the busboy. The mac & cheese sat somewhere in the middle – somewhat tasty, but lacking pizzazz or a sense of indulgence. The fried chicken was, unfortunately, not what we were hoping for; although the meat was very moist and delicious, the breaded skin was rather thin and unimpressive. It resembled baked chicken more than it did fried chicken. It wasn't bad (it was eaten rather quickly), but it wasn't what we expected of fried chicken either. However, it came with a side of mashed potatoes that was simply divine. And all our guests were amazed by the meatloaf – it was the star of the evening. It had just the right consistency and flavor, and was coated with a truly delicious barbecue sauce-like gravy. It is worth a trip to 24 Prince for this entree alone.

There are other standard items on the menu, such as some fish selections, a New York strip, and some plainer salads, that we skipped on this visit. Based on the preparation of the food that we were served, we have no reason to think that these items would be prepared in any manner other than straightforward and first-rate. The prices on fish and steak entrees ranged in the upper teens, while the entrees we tried priced from $12-$14. Overall, the menu is quite budget-friendly.

24 Prince has just opened recently and Gothamist would like to think of this as more of a preview than a review. We think that some menu items need a little work - crispier skin on the fried chicken would be an excellent start. Also, we noticed some opening-week kinks in the service - it was occasionally lopsided and inconsistent, but respectably apologetic and accomodating - that we hope will disappear once the staff is settled-in. Despite our few concerns, 24 Prince looks to be an excellent destination for affordable comfort food in Nolita. Gothamist would have no problem suggesting this restaurant to others. We certainly look forward to stopping in again for the atmosphere, appetizers, and meatloaf with mashed potatoes.

24 Prince between Elizabeth and Mott, (212) 226-8624

Guest columnist Brian Van.