A few months ago, my sister and I sat down for a meal at Jeepney, the brand new "Filipino gastropub" in the East Village from the folks at the Maharlika group. I'd been introduced to the restaurant via one of my best friends, a young Filipina who's super active in the community and will probably change the world one day (if you're interested in the issues facing the Fil-Am community, attend UniPro's 2013 Summit on June 1, which she's organizing).
The same friend also introduced me to the Philippines in general. After college graduation in 2011, we traveled to the beautiful Asian nation and explored Manila and Bohol (a smaller island with gorgeous beaches and wildlife). So, I was excited to taste the food at Jeepney and see how this restaurant was making Filipino food relevant to New Yorkers. Plus, in case you missed the memo, Filipino food is having a moment, and I can't say that I wasn't excited about the cool factor.
The food was great. Authentic, and yet, nothing like I had in any restaurant in the Philippines. In fact, it more closely resembled the food cooked inside the home. Sour, tangy flavors contrast with fatty pork, deep fried something, reliable tinned goods (Spam's a fave) and salty fishes. Leafy green veggies are rare, but you get bright, natural crunch from tropical fruits and cabbage, often julienned and used as a salad on top of heavier dishes.
While there are plenty of authentic dishes and ingredients, what's so great about Jeepney is that the food's often wrapped up in familiar packages, making the cuisine lightyears more accessible for those who might feel queasy about eating balut (fertilized duck eggs) or jeprox (a crispy, fried and dried fish). Instead, you can start with a chori burger. It's a burger, after all, and it tastes like a burger, but there's an obvious, tasty twist. The patty is a combo of beef and longganisa sausage, a sweet, (usually) pork sausage laden with spices and garlic. Most often served with fried eggs and rice for breakfast, it's the perfect first foray into Filipino flavors. The burger also comes with banana ketchup, a wildly popular condiment in the Philippines.
The cocktails might have been the highlight for me. Without a liquor license, the restaurant builds the cocktails upon beers, wines and apertifs. The drinks tell stories and bring you straight to the laid-back islands with guava puree, kalamansi juice, Tang and coconut milk, but are definitely unlike drinks I found in the Philippines, where SanMiguel beer and Tanduay Ice were the norm.
Besides the food, you'll be thoroughly impressed by the staff at Jeepney. Candice and I have both worked in restaurants as servers and were put to SHAME by the wait staff here. Not only were they incredibly well-versed in explaining unfamiliar dishes and food items to a pair of Filipino food newbies, but they cultivated an atmosphere of Pinoy hospitality, perhaps the most genuinely Filipino part of the night.
Photo credit: Candice Reeves