First Impressions: Parm

Parm Brookfield Place doorYears ago, when I first went to the original Parm on Mulberry Street, expectations were high: Pete Wells, who I think is a very good reviewer, gave it a two-star rave. While I admired the concept—who wouldn’t want thoughtfully made Italian-American classics?—the experience was underwhelming. An unmemorable eggplant parm sandwich, a side of cold broccoli rabe, and service that toggled between aloof and brusque…. Fuhgeddaboudit.

But I know many people who love Parm, so expectations crept back upward as we neared the opening of the new location in Battery Park City. You enter the L-shaped space on Vesey (or through 250 Vesey), and it’s divided into two rooms. The first has a few high tables—with more jammed in at dinner—a curved bar that seats around 30, a couple of TVs, and a large takeout area; the rear room, only a small part of which was open last week, is all tables and booths. (Update: More of the dining room is open.) The decor is Italian-American kitsch, with more red than at a Target store, Formica, tin ceilings, vintage-y wallpaper, stacks of canned tomatoes, and oldies on the stereo. The style works better in a Little Italy tenement than in a 1980s office complex: What should feel adoring and/or ironic, like an homage and/or an interpretation, comes off as a bit perfunctory.

Then again, no one goes to Parm for the decor. The bro-heaven menu emphasizes sandwiches (available as bread-less platters), but there are also starters, salads, pastas, and even entrées (dine-in only). My first meal was lunch, and in an effort to try as much as possible, I ordered fried zucchini, an eggplant parm sandwich, and a side of garlic broccoli—and if that wasn’t enough, Parm has been giving out a fried mozzarella stick as an amuse bouche. The zucchini was sliced into matchsticks and perfectly cooked, with a welcome scattering of fried herbs. The eggplant parm was marvelous, much better than that one years ago, but I wish it would be served on a plate instead of a paper-lined plastic basket. The second half of the sloppy sandwich had to be eaten with knife and fork, and whenever I tried cutting, I inadvertently cut the paper, too, and I probably ending up eating it. Only the broccoli failed. I took two photos of it, both of which are below. The second shows how it was 90 percent stems.

The good news is that what the service lacks in polish it makes up for in enthusiasm.

Bartender: May I interest you in dessert?
Me: No way! I ate so much!
Bartender: Well for future reference we have our ice cream cakes—
Me: Oh, God, please stop.
Bartender: Well, you can read the menu for yourself.

That night, Adam had a work dinner, so I went back to Parm, this time with the goal of a healthy meal. I asked to sit at a table, but I was offered one of the counter-high two-tops in the front room, which was pressed far too close to a couple having dinner, so I landed back at the bar. The music had moved forward a few decades, to the era of Michael Jackson and Robert Palmer. I ordered the beet Negroni, a salad of arugula and figs, and penne with shrimp and pesto. While I think the menu should specify that the figs are dried, everything was delicious. Far from standard-issue, the penne were thick like cavatelli and possibly handmade; the impeccably cooked shrimp actually tasted like shrimp; and the dish (the food, not the plate) was temperature-hot! When was the last time you got really hot pasta in a restaurant?

Bartender: And our third ice cream cake flavor tonight is the Firecracker, with cherry, lemon, and blue raspberry.
Me: What the hell is a blue raspberry?
Bartender: Good question.
Me: It’s an Icee flavor.

Bartender #2: I understand you have a question about our Firecracker cake.
Me: I do! What the hell is a blue raspberry?
Bartender #2: The Firecracker is fruitier than the other desserts. It’s meant to be like the Firecracker Popsicle.

Mozzarella sticks, “Addicted to Love,” kitschy cocktails, cakes inspired by Popsicles and Carvel…. I’ve now done a total 180 from my first visit years ago: The concept at Parm is starting to creak, but the food is a keeper. It’s more sophisticated and better executed than the setting, or even the menu, lets on. As the company grows—it has big expansion plans for the brand—I sincerely hope that the food doesn’t get value engineered or otherwise dumbed down.

P.S. The menu says “Calamari: Check the sign,” but there’s no sign. When I asked, the bartender laughed and gave me a non sequitur answer about peppers being part of the dish but some people don’t like peppers.

P.P.S. The takeout counter has an intriguing build-your-own sandwich option. If pickles show up on that menu, I’ll be a regular. Update: I bought a hero with cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, avocado, mayo, and mustard, along with a single-serving bottle of Pellegrino, and the total was $21.78. (No prices are posted.) Worse, the cheese and tomato were meagerly portioned and sliced extra-thin to look more substantial than they were. You’ve been warned.

P.P.P.S. The restaurant sort of takes reservations: “Parm Battery Park City accepts limited reservations and is mostly available on a first come first serve basis. You can make reservations by emailing or through OpenTable using the reservations link.”

P.P.P.P.S. I fully expect Parm to be popular with kids at night and on weekends, if it isn’t already. There’s not a children’s menu per se, but I’m not sure there needs to be one.

UPDATE 7/16: A few days later, I went back for dinner with Adam, and we received garlic bread (with no explanation) instead of a mozzarella stick.

Parm is at 250 Vesey St. (between West St. and North End Ave.), 212-776-4927;

Parm Brookfield Place bar2Parm Brookfield Place eggplant parmParm Brookfield Place broccoli Parm Brookfield Place broccoli2Parm Brookfield Place barParm Battery Park City beet negroniParm Brookfield Place DIY sandwichParm Battery Park City back roomRecent New Kid on the Block / First Impressions articles:
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  1. Since I’ve been a big fan of their fresh turkey hero I looked forward to not having to go over to Mulberry Street. I went last weekend to the BPC and sat at the bar which I prefer. To shake things up I had the orecchiette, sausage and broccoli rabe which didn’t disappoint.

  2. Had dinner there on Friday. Has the potential to be a home run for families in BPC, but I’d give it a couple months to find it’s legs. Food was fine, ice cream cakes were awesome! Our service also lacked polish, but also pleasantness – waitress kind of barked at us throughout the meal, she was contending with loud music, but in return you’d hope she would get our orders right. Solicitous but sloppy, presumably it’ll get better with time. Willing to give it another shot in a few months.

  3. It will be good to have a nice Italian in BPC. It should be successful. Standard Italian is always welcome with families and good prices as well.