One of the biggest restaurant losses of 2018 was The Great Jones Cafe, closed suddenly last summer when owner Jim Moffett died. The restaurant had been a staple for over three decades, and troubles seemed apparent in 2017 when it temporarily shut down. The Jones, as it was known, was a quintessential downtown gathering spot, serving large drinks and decent, unfussy food. Even if you didn't live near here, you always wound up at the Jones more than a few times a year.
A beloved local institution is one of the toughest of all NYC acts to follow, but if anyone can pull it off it's Gabriel Stulman, who has proven to be something of a wizard when it comes to resurrecting closed-down favorites into, well... now-open favorites. Joseph Leonard, Fedora, and Fairfax have all followed this trajectory. They're not the same as what came before, but they're familiar, and pay their respects to the past, even while offering something new and exciting.
The Jones, which Stulman and the rest of the Happy Cooking Hospitality crew opened this week in the old beloved space, is perhaps the most fully realized version of this strategy. It's the old spot you enjoyed, or at least frequented, except that it's not. Elvis is still here, for example, though he's now peering out of a different window, and so is the blue EAT neon sign, and that pleasantly jarring orange exterior. The interior layout is much the same as well, with the bar on your right, a big table in the middle, and a row of tables before an L-shaped banquette to the left. If you had been away for a few years and walked by this week, you might not even realize that anything's changed. Ah, but it most certainly has.
This new Jones is brighter, and features an expensive-looking leather couch against the back, a magazine rack, and flowers and plant life adding to the homey atmosphere. Have you been to Fairfax? There's a little of that here. The old plain banquette has been replaced with a new fancy banquette, which they are calling "Moroccan," and a huge space-enhancing mirror replaces the hand-painted menu on the main wall. It's pretty and comfortable. It'll be interesting to see what the place feels like at night, once they start serving dinner in late September.
Spaghetti with sardines, $20. (Scott Lynch / Gothamist)
The biggest difference here, however, is the food. Chef and partner Jack Harris is only cooking breakfast and lunch for now (with dinner coming in September), but the menus are ample and the direction is clear: lots of seafood and vegetables, with a nod here and there to the kitchen's cajun predecessors. I gleefully made my way through a few dishes this week and can say that there's going to be a lot of things here that will make you happy.
The Spaghetti is an instant classic, a sizeable bowl of perfectly cooked pasta thick with oily sardines and chewy breadcrumbs, a bit of lemon brightening things up. As soon as I finished the cravings for another round began. There's no way I'm not getting this every time I'm here. There's a Chopped Steak available, and a Muffaletta that I'm also eager to try, but I went with Harris's Filet o' Fish, an item you don't come across often in these parts. This is a terrific little sandwich, the white fish crisp and flaky, the tartar sauce lively, the American cheese slightly melted, the whole thing packaged in a soft potato bun.
There's a lot more seafood here, including raw oysters and clams, Tuna Carpaccio and Scallop Tartare, and a pair of lovely Poached Prawns served with just-made mayonnaise for dipping. The warm and salty Potato Chips, littered with herbs, make for a fine accompaniment to pretty much anything here, including a cool glass of Salty Celery Lemonade (wine, sherry, and low ABV cocktails coming soon). And if you want a plate of produce with some zing to it, get the steamed Pole Beans, which arrive on a bed of yogurt, bread crumbs on top, and a generous dousing of chili oil.
Breakfast includes a bunch of egg-based dishes, a couple of seafood items, and some good-looking pastries. I ate a plate of freshly-fried Beignets for my lunch dessert, but they'd also be great with some coffee to start your day. As you would expect if you've ever been a Stulman restaurant, the service is friendly, sharp, and professional. In fact, the only real concern about The Jones is that it will be so popular that you won't be able to pop in for brunch, or dinner, or a late-night drink and a snack. That it'll become more of a destination hang than a true neighborhood spot. So maybe try going sooner rather than later to check it out.
(Scott Lynch / Gothamist)
The Jones is located at 54 Great Jones Street, between Bowery and Lafayette, and for now is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., with weekends and dinner coming sometime in September (thejones.nyc)