Nine Things About Nook
...Which Is a New Place on the Ave That You Will Really Like
1. Do you like delicious sandwiches and soups and biscuits and sandwiches-on-biscuits that are uncommonly inexpensive? You should know about Nook. It opened last month. It's on the Ave near 50th, it's order-at-the-counter, and it has peculiar hours, which are Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from 8 to 2, and Sunday from 10 to 3. (Pretty soon, sometime in June, Nook will take a late-afternoon siesta, then reopen for dinnertime; Nook is also getting a liquor license.) If you are reading this during those hours, you may feel free to skip the rest of this rigmarole and go directly to Nook.
2. Nook is nearly unbearably cute. Nook's mascot is a drawing of an owl who lives inside the first o in the Nook logo (which is all lowercase, because: cute). This owl's friend, another owl who is made of metal, holds Nook's door open in nice weather. Nook's tiny space is all freshly painted, but the paint job is of the slightly-wavy-around-the-edges ilk, like you did it yourself. One of Nook's funny little booths puts you and your friend at a 90-degree angle, which I once read somewhere is the optimal angle for people who want to talk to each other, but it also puts either you or your friend facing the wall, which is suboptimal but, in context, cute. The slipcovers on the back of Nook's booths are windowpane-checked and have the telltale hanging threads of things sewn at home (cuter still). Some of Nook's light fixtures, the ones in the front, are made out of Kerr canning jars and are in fact little terrariums with tiny plants in them (head-explodingly cute). Somehow, Nook is never cutesy.
3. The people who run Nook are really nice but not creepily nice, and they also know what the hell they're doing, which is the nicest thing of all. One of them is called Alex Green; he started cooking in his hometown of Atlanta under Top Chef All-Stars winner Richard Blais, and here has done time at Re:Public and Earth & Ocean (which bode very well on a chef's résumé, in different but complementary ways—say, have you been to Re:Public lately? It is as good as, or possibly better than, ever). The other is called Aki Woodward; she is an escapee from the world of advertising and a self-taught baker. They met through friends about a year ago. "We both really like biscuits," Alex explained.
4. Nook has excellent biscuits, baked fresh every day, available until they run out. Alex did a lot of experimenting with the recipe, arriving at a biscuit that is more dense and filling than flaky and light, yet not heavy; you can get it with jam, or Nutella, or bacon/egg/cheddar/tomato jam, or egg/tomato jam/goat cheese spread (see #8), or beef brisket with barbecue sauce. These cost from $2 to $6 each. On weekends, there's biscuit brunch, with biscuits and gravy and all kinds of other greatness. As Stranger reader-reviewer giantladysquirrels put it, "The biscuit with pork rillettes and blue cheese was amazing, and the roasted tomato soup had a nice spicy kick and came with adorable little cheddar biscuits to dunk. Decor is cute without being overly precious [see?]. A great spot for brunch after the farmers' market."
5. Nook's sandwiches are on Grand Central Bakery bread, and they are great. Options might include a meat loaf patty melt (with house-made chipotle ketchup), white bean/preserved lemon/parsley/tomato, pork rillettes (with bacon, blue cheese, tomato, and house-pickled vegetables), and chicken salad (orange aioli, fresh herbs, and more). These are $6 ($5.50 for the white bean one). Then there's customizable grilled cheese—$3 for basic Tillamook cheddar on potato bread, with 11 add-ons from 50 cents up to $2 each (bacon, pickled peppers, sliced apples, the goat cheese spread [see #8] for cheese-on-cheese madness, et cetera). You can and should add fresh herbs at no charge.
6. You should also get soup, which changes daily; my favorite so far is the spicy roasted tomato (see giantladysquirrels, #4). It's also wonderfully smoky. Paprika? I asked Alex. He confirmed this, adding modestly, "It has lots of ingredients."
7. Nook's bathrooms are the opposite of nearly unbearably cute. They seem left over from whatever was here before Nook, which must have closed down because it was a front for the shooting gallery/murdering place/scary-mop preserve of its bathrooms. I trust that the owls just haven't gotten around to sprucing up the bathrooms at Nook yet. (OWLS, SPRUCE—get it?! Nook has this effect on you.) Meanwhile: Don't. Go. In. There.
8. Nook's goat cheese spread is made of goat cheese plus magic. The biscuit sandwich with it is, improbably, better than the one made with bacon.
9. If Nook were on Capitol Hill, it would be overrun. The times that I've been there, it's been quiet, functioning as a haven from the travails of the Ave, including, in one case, a bunch of street toughs hanging out in front of the nearby convenience store who cursed as if they were being paid by the loud obscenity, and, in another case, the U-District street fair, which is best experienced from inside a quiet place with excellent biscuits. People at the street fair look at and touch, say, a display of handbags as if they've never seen merchandise before, ever—like a handbag is a singular fascination newly arrived from outer space. But wait! Here's ANOTHER one!
See you and the owls at Nook.