The most casual restaurant in the Union Square Hospitality Group made its public debut on Friday — a distilled, to-go version of many of the ideals of Danny Meyer’s flagship restaurant Union Square Cafe. The new cafe Daily Provisions, located at 103 East 19th St., is far smaller than its sister restaurant, with a few bar seats and some tables for standing, but its purpose is similar. Daily Provisions is trying to be a place for people who live and work in the neighborhood.
Many of the items — pastries, sandwiches, in-house breads — were created with the idea that they could be eaten every day. And for those who can’t take the time to sit down for a full meal at Union Square Cafe, the cafe provides the antidote of a quick, to-go meal, either while on the go or to take home. Chef Carmen Quagliata, who oversees the savory items, says their goal is to make better versions of dishes that people already know.
While the cafe provides breads and more for the restaurant, many of its menu items are unique to Daily Provisions. Below, Eater talked to the biggest players in the kitchen about the food that makes Daily Provisions what it is — from a take on a doughnut to a bread that tastes like its color.
Pastry chef Daniel Alvarez collaborated with Danny Meyer on these twisted siblings of the doughnut. Neither one had eaten a version that they really loved. After trying versions from Dunkin Doughnuts and Greenpoint bakery Peter Pan, Alvarez decided that he would try his hand at one.
He experimented for two or three months and created about six versions before settling on this one. Alvarez starts with pâte à choux, a light pastry dough that’s also the base of beignets and eclairs. He then adds butter, eggs, and a meringue, which helps make the insides almost creamy like a custard. Honey also goes into the base, making the cruller darker than most due to caramelization during the frying process. Each one is hand-piped for the classic cruller shape.
The end result: a fried dough that is crispy on the outside and moist and light on the inside, topped with either cinnamon sugar, a classic sugar glaze, or a maple glaze. They cost $3.50 each. “Everybody has doughnuts,” he says. “It’s how we wanted to set ourselves apart. It’s something so simple and so delicious.”
It’s not an easy pastry to learn. So far, he and the pastry team have had to make the batter twice every day before they nail a version good enough to sell. “Everything has to be timed perfectly, or it won’t work out,” Alvarez says. “It’s tricky and finicky.”
Gougères, essentially a savory version of a cream puff, are not new to Union Square Cafe. Quagliata put a breakfast version of the pastry on a brunch menu in five years ago. They didn’t stay on the menu for long. He decided to bring them back for Daily Provisions, a place where locals are more likely to pick up food to go. “They’re not really messy, they’re warm, and you can eat it on the way to work,” Quagliata says.
He starts with a pâte à choux mixed by Alvarez, which creates a hollow pastry. For the filling, Quagliata makes soft scrambled eggs, which are cooked at a low temperature with pepperjack cheese until they are creamy, French-style scrambled eggs. They then go into a piping bag and are put in a double boiler to maintain the perfect temperature until a diner orders one. One version has just eggs and cheese and costs $5, while the other adds spinach and ham, for 50 cents more.
“It’s definitely an indulgent bite,” Quagliata says. “That light, flaky, slighty cheesy gourgère — you crush through that very easy and get to the creamy soft scrambled eggs. They allow each other to texturally coexist.”
This whole wheat sourdough bread is made entirely with “heritage grains,” the artisanal alternatives of wheat in the bread world. A company in Skowhegan, Maine called Maine Grains mills their flour from wheat grown in New England, and for baker Justin Rosengarten, the freshness is what helps make the bread delicious. “It makes me feel like I’m eating the real deal, you know?” he says. “Like I’m eating bread like it was intended, when wheat was first grown.”
It’s created with three kinds of whole wheat. The first is a turkey red, which on its own tastes “distinctly auburn red flavor to it,” Rosengarten says. (He realizes this sounds ridiculous, but does not have an alternative description. “It tastes red,” he says.) The second is a Danish wheat called Oland, grown more locally. “On its own, it is overtly one of the sweeter wheats that we work with,” he says. “Grassy in a way that’s not bland or dirty. It’s interesting.” The last part is a blend of sifted Glenn and Warthog, added primarily to make the texture of the bread lighter.
It’s fermented slightly to extend the shelf life and add some nutritional benefits, but overall, it’s less acidic than most sourdoughs. It’s baked quickly at a high heat for dark, caramelized thin crust and a “very wet” inside, Rosengarten says.
They come available as whole loaf for $12 or in slices as toast for $4. He doesn’t expect you to taste all the different parts of the whole, though. “I really am just tasting wheat, which I’m fine with,” he says. “I don’t really ask more than tasting really amazing wheat.”
As a to-go cafe, Daily Provisions hopes that lots of locals will opt to pick up a rotisserie chicken for dinner at home. They cost $18.50 each for a whole bird and on a sandwich with bacon, avocado, green tomato, and dijonnaise for $10.
They buy an Amish chicken from Pennsylvania that has been air chilled, a method that’s supposed to keep more of the chicken’s blood intact before cooking. They then cover it with a salt and herb rub and let it rest overnight. Eventually, Quagliata and his team add ingredients like paprika, sumac, and balsamic vinegar to add “spikes of savoryness to the flavor,” he says.
Ultimately, it’s a very simple dish, though, he says. “We didn’t try to make it anything more than what it is — just a really delicious rotisserie chicken,” he says.
Chicken Milanese Sandwich
This sandwich is also a spinoff of a classic Union Square Cafe dish. Like the rotisserie chicken, Quagliata aimed for simplicity here. A chicken breast gets pounded thin and fried, and it’s topped with spinach, arugula, fried peppers, parmigiano cheese, and an eggless Caesar dressing. It’s slid onto a spongey herbed focaccia bread with a melted mozzarella and provolone cheese blend. “It grabs me texturally,” Quagliata says. “The crispy chicken, the melty cheese — I love the exciting contrast. ...Once you do it right, all those flavors make an addictive bite of food.”