Certainly less heart wrenching than the human toll – 22 injured, four critically, and two killed – were other aspects of last Thursday's East Village disaster. Smoke hung in the air for days as Second Avenue remained closed to traffic. Hundreds were displaced from their homes as a pile of smoldering rubble spilled across the street. Many long-standing businesses were shuttered, both as a result of the explosion but also due to the complete cessation of foot traffic through the area. Even curiosity seekers stayed away. The entire economic impact on the area won't be known for a while, but when it is finally analyzed, the result will be accounted a financial disaster of the first magnitude.
The impact on restaurants, which thickly populate the neighborhood, was particularly severe. Three were quite literally destroyed by the explosion and subsequent fire (one was already vacant), and at least 10 more remained closed on both sides of the avenue and on 7th Street days later. These included such prominent historical and cheap-eats institutions as B & H Dairy, Moishe's Bake Shop (both important Jewish landmarks), Jimmy's No. 43 (a foodie shrine), and Paul's Da Burger Joint, which our own Nick Solares once described as "an honest-to-goodness bargain." Most of these will doubtlessly reopen, but can they survive in the long run?
Perhaps saddest was the complete destruction of Pommes Frites, a certifiably excellent eatery. Luckily no one who was working or dining there was hurt. (The premises wasn't destroyed by the explosion next door, but engulfed in flames so that the building eventually collapsed.) Pommes Frites rode into the city in 1997 on a wave of french fry adulation, at a time when its double-frying technique was part of a Belgian food fad. At one time it boasted three branches, then dwindled to one. And now none. This original branch miraculously persisted through the low-fat and low-carb crazes, when eating a meal of french fries was considered a crime against nutrition.
Those french fries – the only thing the restaurant served – were a particular favorite of late-night diners, who crowded into its narrow, strangely Tudor premises long after midnight and formed long lines out the door, even in bad weather. Picturesquely served in absorbent paper cones, the fries were fat fingers of potato glistening with grease, absolutely delectable when eaten seasoned only with salt, or sluiced with any of 50 or so sauces, of which my favorite was called Especial: an artery clogging combination of mayo, ketchup, and raw onions. Get a batch of Pommes Frites' fries and your hair would smell like grease for days. On the cheap-eats dining scene, there was nothing quite like it, nothing that would fill you up so completely and deliciously at such a low price.
And the location was perfect. Here's hoping Pommes Frites reopens soon (it has tweeted that intention), in an equivalently excellent spot. Until then, we'll miss you Pommes Frites.