Squint, and you’re in Paris. Oh, not along the Champs-Elysees — rather, the Rue du Something-or-Other, off the tourist track. As you study the carte des vins, folks stroll by with dogs or toddlers, stopping to inspect the windows of eclectic storefronts across the way: antique shops, vintage wear, coffee houses and a wine shop —in this scenario, Surdyk’s. And the vin I’m sipping comes from a well curated list, available in 3-ounce and 6-ounce pours as well as full bottles (and only a $7 corkage fee if you’ve chosen a bottle from inside the store).
Sidebar, as the folks at Surdyk’s have named their petit new cafe — with a few indoor tables to supplement sidewalk seating — showcases a menu of small plates ($7-$16) plus steak frites ($28). They’re composed, as you’d suspect, from the viands in the fine deli a few feet away — an imaginative spin on familiar fare in this some- thing-for-everyone collection that ranges from a popular, pleasingly plump cheeseburger to boards of breads, cheese and salumi. You’ll find an item that would evoke an eye roll in Paris (beer-battered cheese curds) aside a sweetly tweaked Nicoise salad. A croque madame rubbing breadcrumbs with a BLT.
Well, not your ordinary diner BLT. Juicy local heirloom tomatoes, sure; crispy, husky strips of bacon, natch. But the L stands for “lobster,” not lettuce: sweet and tender hunks incorporated in a melange that includes avocado and arugula. Give it five etoiles.
The Nicoise is another winner — here, composed of a thick cut of limpid, true-flavored poached salmon instead of the customary tuna, arriving on a plate composed as if for a painter’s still life: a halved boiled egg with jammy, glowing yolk; slender, onion-dusted haricots so crisp they’re almost saluting; fans of sharp-flavored radishes nudging grape tomatoes in olive oil; midget, salt-dusted fingerling potatoes; tongues of cucumber ice-box pickles; radishes and beets, punctuated by the sharp notes of olives and capers. Each merits its own territory on the plate, allowing diners to mix and mingle at will, returning to that delicious little dipper pot of lemon-saffron aioli.
A tartine of those heirloom tomatoes is built upon an underpinning of sweet-corn elote — kernels flavored with mayo, lemon, salt and white cheese — as an edible finale to summer. It sports a toss of greens and herbs on the side. Or opt for the Sidebar salad (untasted) — a toss of arugula and herbs with those jammy eggs and freshly-made croutons in a lemon-anchovy vinaigrette. Or the steamed clams in chili-cilantro broth. Or the entree-sized schnitzel of local chicken, served with lemon-pomegranate reduction, egg, and fennel-arugula salad (not quite French, not quite Austrian, just a touch of Minnesota).
And how about the soup dish of spicy pork and shrimp wontons? The ground-meat filling in those husky noodle wrappers is well served by a spicy broth that hints of tahini, garlic, sesame and chili oil. Good for sharing.
So are the desserts ($6-$8, all housemade). Along with ice creams, sorbets and cookies, two distinct tempters — neither very French, and who cares? — may call your name. One, a fruit cobbler (peach/berries on the nights of my visits) and the other, the cognac brownie that drew a line as long as the security check at Surdyk’s former airport outpost. It’s good (of course) but not that special: a fairly moist, fairly dark, not-too-sweet rendition, made even better by the addition of the health food served at its side. (That would be whipped cream, which certainly qualifies as healthy because we’re talking mental health, aren’t we?)
Tables — upon which await dish towels-as- napkins and jars labeled Desinfectant Pour les Mains — fill fast (no reservations). Add your name to the waitlist, then wander the streets for a mini-vacation before you settle in. Here’s hoping it never snows.