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The Cannibal

It was the kind of afternoon that makes you crave a beer...
The Cannibal Beer and Butcher

...overcast with a chilling wind foreshadowing the approach of winter. I wanted something warming, something beguiling. An escapist drink. As I walked through Murray Hill on Manhattan’s East Side, a Belgian brown ale sounded good. 

Consulting the crumpled piece of paper I’d hastily scribbled an address on that morning, I stopped on a leafy residential block. Above my head, four words were printed in black on a brick red awning: The Cannibal Beer & Butcher.

Once inside, I met Christian Pappanicholas,  the owner.  “I knew the guy who lived here,” he said as we took seats at a picnic table in the quiet backyard patio. “He used to let us roast pigs out here.”

Dressed casually in blue jeans, a gray cashmere sweater, and a wool flat cap, Pappanicholas is a nose-to-tail evangelist when it comes to his charcuterie. He speaks assuredly, more like a man confident that success would come than someone simply hoping to find it eventually. Which made perfect sense. We were only two doors down from Resto, a Belgian-themed dining establishment that marked his transition from manager to restauranteur. When it opened in 2007, Resto received rave reviews from New York Magazine, the London Times, Food & Wine, and The New York Times. He had won over critics on his first try.

So when he launched The Cannibal—named after the legendary Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx—he was granted the degree of gastronomic freedom that tends to follow accomplishment.

“Challenging the palate is something I wanna do,” he said as we sat in the crisp autumn air. “But at the end of the day you eat what you like and drink what you like. I could easily write a menu twice as long, but my chef (Bobby Hellen) would put me through the band saw.”

Without a doubt, his newest venture, which welcomed its first foodies and beer connoisseurs in August, does offer its challenges. It isn’t every day you come across a hot dog made with beef heart ragu. Or a Norwegian saison. And yet for adventurous eaters and drinkers, the protein-heavy menu and exhaustive beer list seem to serve as a summons rather than a test.

                    

Unlike Resto, which features Belgian beers, the lengthy, packed list at The Cannibal runs the gamut in terms of styles and countries of origin. There may be a lot of Belgian beers and styles, but German exemplars and American craft beers abound as well. The selection in terms of price is reasonable, but the numerous listings of hard to get special editions often come with a steep price tag.

Those who follow the beer scene in New York like the combination offered by The Cannibal. “I think it’s the right concept, I think it’s great—local meat is the way to go,” said Jimmy Carbone, host of Beer Sessions Radio and owner of Jimmy’s No. 43, a popular East Village rathskeller.

“The whole concept of The Cannibal seems like it should be an old men’s club, but executed, it’s very warm and welcoming,” remarked Chris O’Leary, editor of the website Brew York, New York. “That’s what makes it so unique. Oh, and the Pigs Head Cuban? Amazing.”

Wondering if The Cannibal could possibly have something for everyone, I venture into the narrow dining area-cum-larder and find an empty stool at the bar. During the day, seating is limited to the front of the house, and in the evening a level of intimacy is maintained when the butcher case in the back unfolds into a small communal table. Despite cold cases crowded with craft bottles that flank the entryway, and shelves stocked with durables like beer mustard and pickled carrots, the room has an inviting, almost homey atmosphere. While shoppers drift in and out with heady provisions, the bartender talks to a handful of late lunchers. David Bowie serenades the assembled few from corner speakers.

 Personally, I have difficulty limiting myself to a single item from the numerous starters, salads, sandwiches, and charcuteries, and as a result, go a bit overboard with my order. While I’m waiting, Pappanicholas tells me about his fondness for Flemish reds and sour beers, pouring me a goblet of Orval in the process. I learn that somewhere in the bowels of his restaurant several cases of this tart Trappist ale brewed at the Orval Abbey await consumption, one or possibly two years down the road.

 “I’m a lover of all things liquid,” he continues, explaining his evolving vision for The Cannibal. “But my Belgian friend Matt, his father was like, ‘You’ve got to have Rodenbach Grand Cru for these sausages.’ So we do. And we’ve got this experimental cassis that’s insanely funky.”

Funky is fine with me, and when my food begins to arrive, I’m doubly happy to have a complex, dry hopped beer in hand. Although the orange-hued Orval is only a semi-wild ale, it does hold up well against my flavorful selections. A small basket of crispy spiced pork rinds appear first, followed soon thereafter by a pink dome of steak tartare, glistening with olive oil. Intensely lemony and exceptionally tender, I had to resist devouring the entire portion before my remaining dishes turned up.

 Lamb neck terrine, garnished with fresh celery leaves, vinegary shredded carrot and Szechuan pepper arrived next, accompanied by two small house-made merguez sausages in a square cast iron pan. Served warm, the spicy North African links were irresistible, especially in their savory tomato and chick pea sauce. I was starting to run out of room by the time my server delivered the final item, a plump boudin noir, but I couldn’t back down from such a delicious obstacle—challenge accepted.

To cleanse my palate before slicing into the blood sausage, I speared a forkful of the ripe apple and sweet onion that shared a plate with my meat. They crunched satisfyingly and washed down nicely with a swig of Orval. Now for the boudin noir. Delicately spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and star anise, it was, quite simply, a winner. 

 

The Cannibal

113 East 29th St. (between Park & Lexington)

New York, NY 10016

(212) 686-5480

http://thecannibalnyc.com

Photos Courtesy of cannibalnyc.com