Back in June, George Abou-Daoud (Bowery, Delancey, Mission Cantina, Tamarind Ave. Deli) previewed The Mercantile, the Hollywood market and wine bar he named for Olsen’s Mercantile on “Little House on the Prairie.” His multifaceted concept debuts on November 16 in a 1924 building that previously housed a massage parlor, photo lab and beauty shop.
Abou-Daoud led a drastic redesign of the space in an effort to make The Mercantile look “urban country.” With that in mind, you’ll find brick walls, an L-shaped black steel wine bar, floor-to-ceiling windows and Tetris-like bar seating near the entrance, and enticing overhead signs touting Pastries, Market Ingredients, Butcher and Ice Cream. There’s even a bird’s eye view mezzanine.
Chef Kris Morningstar, who already revamped the menus at The Bowery and Delancey, described The Mercantile’s menu as “Franco American classic” with nods to “Mediterranean peasant food.” The core menu revolves around sandwiches and salads.
13 sandwich options include The Great Pumpkin Patch – salty pumpkin seed butter with blackberry preserves and grape jam on country white; Quixote – chorizo Bilbao, Idiazabal cheese, white bean puree, piquillo pepper and green olive vinaigrette; and My Little Friend – roasted spiced pork loin, sliced coppa, Gruyere, hot mustard and spicy pickle pepper relish on pressed ciabatta. When it comes to sandwiches, consider the Frisee au Lardon or Endive salad with warm goat cheese, persimmon, candied pistachios, wild arugula and sherry vinaigrette.
The menu will change seasonally, but you’ll always find cheese-driven staples, including one of Morningstar’s childhood favorites: fondue made using Gruyere and Emmentaler. Possible dippables include bread, roasted cipollii onions, marinated mushrooms, apples and ham.
Twin blackboard menus hang above the display case. One board lists Nightly Specials. Sunday features Roast Beef with roasted carrots, creamed spinach, mashed potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. Tuesday is Soup in a Bread Bowl, either clam chowder or broccoli cheese. Wednesday is Chicken Pot Pie. Thursday is Cassoulet with duck confit, sausage Touluse and bread crumbes. Friday is all about Tuna Noodle Casserole and Saturday brings Housemade Sausage with stewed onions and German potato salad. The wild card is Monday’s three-course Staff Meal. Yesterday, Chef Morningstar said, “When you’re coming up as a cook, it’s one of the only chances you can get to express yourself.” Given that, staff meal will change weekly depending on who’s cooking.
Housemade pastries are both savory and sweet. Think goat cheese, fig and speck gallettes, zucchini bread with cream cheese frosting and apricot financiers with hazelnuts. The Mercantile is even churning ice cream in-house, filling fresh cones with Buttermilk Ice Cream with peach, nectarine and a baked streusel topping, Kumquat Sherbet with Thai chilies and basil seeds, and Old School Ice Cream with rock salt, vanilla bean and Booker’s bourbon.
If you’re looking to come down from your sugar high, The Mercantile houses a Brasilia Excelsior espresso machine and imports coffee beans roasted in Italy via Rosito Bisani.
The other blackboard touts wine. Over 50 wines are available by the half-glass, glass, carafe or bottle. You can also taste any wine at the bar before you have to commit to a full bottle. You should also know that every Wednesday, Mercantile is featuring wine and cheese pairings.
Morningstar’s sous chef Kevin Napier ran me through The Mercantile’s 70 cheeses, which exhibit a “balance of textures, animal, raw and pasteurized.” He broke down the offerings into 3 buffalo, 35 cow, 15 sheep and 15 goat, with 40% of the cheeses being raw. They also stock a variety of salumi, primarily American, with more on the way from companies like Boccalone.
If you’re looking for home cooking inspiration, takeaway ingredients include lemon aioli, tapenade, Romesco, pumpkin seed butter, buttermilk blue cheese dressing, bacon vinaigrette and brown butter-balsamic-beet puree.
Looking to January 2010, Abou-Daoud plans to open his first reservation restaurant next door, called District, with Morningstar heading the kitchen.