The Menus of Madison County: Freemans



I broke my geographic boundaries for this week’s review, venturing approximately 200 miles southeast to New York City and downtown to Freemans Restaurant (end of Freeman Alley, off Rivington between the Bowery and Chrystie). I admit I did this partly out of convenience – I visited this restaurant over Thanksgiving break and, during these hellish weeks before exams, it is nearly impossible to find the time (or company) to leave the “hip zip” to eat. However, with its hunting-chic décor and lively bar, Freemans also seemed like the perfect place for a Colgate student to visit during the fast-approaching (but not fast enough) winter break.

Though I couldn’t find any current statistics, I would venture to say that at least one-third of the Colgate student body calls the tri-state area home (that would be New York, New Jersey and Connecticut for those out of the loop) and many more will no doubt visit the City in the coming months. This review, then, is for you.

Freemans is located on the lower East Side literally down an alley; the only clue that anything more than a collection of trash cans is located at the end were the welcoming string lights adorning the front of the restaurant and the boys in skinny jeans smoking cigarettes by their glow. We arrived around 8:00 p.m. on the Friday after Thanksgiving and were told that the wait would be about an hour and a half for the two of us to be seated (we had braced for this as Freemans does not take reservations for parties less than six).

Luckily, we were able to snag cozy corner seats at one of the two bars in the restaurant and began to warm up. According to its website, Freemans is “a rugged, clandestine, colonial American tavern.” With candlelight-like lighting and walls done in the taxidermy theme (boars, moose, deer, deer antlers, duck…), Freemans very well could have been the trophy room of one of  those central New York hunting enthusiasts. Its clientele, however, was a mixture of Colgate prep and City hipster, with plaid flannels uniting the two cliques.    

Freemans boasts a unique signature cocktail menu (as well as a very helpful bartender to guide you through it). Tempted by the real spiced quinine syrup (what is supposed to be in tonic water) I chose a Tom’s Tonic with gin and soda. Essentially a spicier gin and tonic, the drink complemented the colder weather. With delicious aromas emanating from the open kitchen, we submitted to our hunger and ordered the artichoke dip to hold ourselves over. We were impressed, to say the least. This pizzeria classic was smooth, tangy and freshly baked with a crispy top, served to us with a generous portion of crispy baguette slices. The dip was a purist’s rendition: simply artichokes, Parmesan cheese and a bit of mayo. For the two-thirds of the Colgate population not residing in the tri-state area, you should make this at home, either to impress someone or treat yourself after exams. For the rest of you, just leave it to the professionals and go to Freemans.

After about an hour of people watching at the bar, our table was ready. Having already studied the sumptuous menu at the bar, we were ready to order immediately. My dining companion chose the filet mignon, which came with a whole roasted onion, mashed potatoes and horseradish cream; I went with steamed mussels in a Hefeweizen broth with garlic aioli and toasted bread and a side order of roasted cauliflower.

The wait was worth it. The mussels were flavorful and tangy thanks to the beer based broth, and the steak was tender and beautifully complemented by the sweet onion and horseradish cream sauce. I have to say the cauliflower was a little too buttery for my taste, but the fact that this item (one of my favorites but not exactly typical restaurant fare) was even on the menu was impressive to me.

In the likely chance you find yourself in New York City over break, venture downtown to Freemans. The intoxicating mix of mounted game, hipsters and prep school alums will remind you of your alma mater.