Honorary Bard alum Phil Hartman, owner of the legendary Two Boots, returns to his old stomping grounds. With the gift of grub.
Meat. Cheese. Crust. Beer.
Righteous pizza attracts most guys—and a lot of girls. Hartman and Doris Kornish know this firsthand. As two indie filmmakers who bonded over pizza, beer and everything New Orleans, they partnered together in 1987 to open their first Two Boots in New York City’s East Village. The Cajun-Italian eatery’s name refers to the geographic boot-like shapes of Italy and Louisiana.
Now, celebrating its 25th anniversary, Two Boots has expanded to 15 locations—eight are in New York City, others in Los Angeles, Baltimore and Nashville. A new locale, housed across from Bard in the former Cappuccino restaurant on Route 9G, opened this spring.
My husband, Christopher, and I popped in for dinner on a recent Friday night.
A tile mosaic of Bette Midler graces the front entrance. The foyer, which feels like a hipster lounge, sets the décor tone: a funky vintage spin on Italian retro. In the main dining room, the Italian flag color scheme isn’t lost on us: white walls, green wainscoting and lots of red—from the handsome red chairs and the red-and-black diamond tiled flooring to the tables, a mix of bare red Formica and some covered with red-and-white checkered tablecloths. It’s a surprisingly bright—almost glaringly so—space, considering the light sources (sconces and hanging pendant lamps). The long brick-walled bar, complete with a flat-screen television, is perfect for chilling and hoisting a few brews.
“Nice beer selection,” Christopher noted, debating out loud whether to get the Purple Haze from Louisiana-based Abita, or Keegan Ales’ Hurricane Kitty IPA from Kingston (he opted for the latter). From Porkslap Pale Ale (New York) and Harpoon IPA (Vermont) to Stella Artois (Belgium), you can stick with closer-to-home brews or drink further afield. A limited wine selection is also on offer.
On weekends, especially, the dining room serves as an intimate setting for live performances. As we perused the menu, a crowd of young dudes—Bard M.F.A. students, we guessed—rolled in just as New Paltz musician Jake Harms took the stage. In addition to live music, Two Boots plans to host music, comedy, poetry slams and readings.
The vibe is mellow and kick-back. The servers, too, are easy-going, but amiable and quick to accommodate. An abbreviated menu features a hit list of dude chow, including spicy wings ($6.95 for six; $9.95 for 12), meatball sliders ($7.95), jambalaya ($11.95), baked ziti ($10.95), rosemary chicken po’ boy ($8.50) and a meatball Parmigiana hero ($8.95). With easy-on-the-wallet prices, it’s a spot that could easily become Bard’s default canteen.
Two Boots describes itself as a NYC pizza pioneer—and it is. What makes them a standout from the ubiquitous cheesy, doughy New York City slice is their thin cornmeal crust paired with sassy Cajun-inspired toppings.
You can choose from one of 13 spoofy “celebrity pies.” These range from “The St. Tula” (available only at the Bard location), with Fleisher’s sausage du jour, roasted garlic and peppers, sweet red pepper pesto, ricotta and mozzarella, to “Earth Mother” (a.k.a. Bette Midler) with five vegetable toppings on whole wheat Sicilian crust (or regular). You can also build your own pizza: a small 10” cheese only pizza starts at $7.50; medium (14”), $12.95; and large (18”), $16.95. Depending on the size of pizza, add $1.50 (small) to $2 (large) for each additional topping.
We started with house salads—mesclun greens, shredded carrot, sliced red onion and chickpeas in a balsamic vinaigrette—which were tasty and well-executed, something we hadn’t expected at a chain pizza joint.
Christopher, a born-and-bred Southerner, went all in for the “Bayou Beast” ($10.95, small pie), which promised to deliver spice by way of shrimp, crawfish, Andouille sausage, jalapenos and mozzarella. He got no argument from me: I like it hot! Even before the pie hit our table, I was tugging at a first slice. We liked the distinct (and dominant) shrimp and crawfish-infused flavors of our pie and the judicious sprinkle of Andouille sausage. And while we appreciate a good cornmeal crust, ours was unevenly browned, tasting singed in some spots.
My blackened catfish platter ($13.95)—a carb and protein fest—arrived with a generous portion of jambalaya, Louisiana-style remoulade and two garlic knots. We enjoyed the lively bite of “blackened” flavoring, a traditional blend of Cajun spices, with a hot pepper seasoning base, scallions, paprika, salt and pepper. The catfish itself, however, was too dry for our taste. If you’re famished, the jambalaya, rife with Andouille sausage, chicken and tasso (a spicy cured pork), will hit the spot. Guaranteed.
All that spice prompted a craving for a little something sweet. Luckily the shortlist of dessert offerings had just what I wanted: a chocolate chip cookie (75 cents each). Turns out these cakey, not-too-sweet treats (a good thing!) are from Deising’s Bakery in Kingston.
All in all, a dude meal that even this girl can dig.
Two Boots Bard
4606 Route 9G
*Free delivery available within the Red Hook / Tivoli delivery zone.