Workshop is an innovative food court, with "six rotating kitchens, where emerging and renowned chefs experiment with culinary concepts." Although said chefs will no doubt draw their own conclusions as to the viability of this idea, here I am to jump the gun and do it for them.
Location Details Workshop
For starters, counter service at all five food-driven concepts was tip-top. Everyone was friendly, patient and helpful when required. The space itself is roomy, with ample indoor and outdoor seating (not to mention parking), plus free ice water and eclectic music overhead.
That leaves the food, and as to whether or not I'd return for more — let alone at presumably increased restaurant prices — well:
- Jonathan Boncek
5. Juan Lewis Tex Mex
Ay Caramba, Jaunito. Although I would crawl across Legos for some of John Lewis' barbecue, the same cannot be said for this menu.
It started with some margaritas, which were just plain... off. Unexpectedly bitter, the culprit may have been old lime juice, as certainly the one garnishing my cup was more brown than green.
The man taking my order recommended the Trio ($9), a fairly pedestrian sampler of salsa ranchero, queso dip, and guacamole. Spicy, smoky, and robust, Juan knows his way around salsa, minus the copious pieces of rolled-up tomato skin floating around in there. The queso was above average. Spicier than usual, it's still just queso — cheese mixed with pico de gallo. Meanwhile, the guacamole was dominated by onion. So much so that my guacamole-hating dining companion loved it because it "tastes like potato salad!" Indeed. Inexplicably served upon shredded lettuce, each bite contains one or two strands of wilted iceberg. Oof.
The combination ($17) did not fare much better. The puffy taco ($12 as an entree) manifests as an oily fried flour tortilla filled with dry, spicy brisket, and topped with a boatload of shredded iceberg. I don't know if they ran out of other toppings or somehow got my order mixed up, but lettuce all day does not a taco make. The chile relleno ($13) was better, but still lacking. Coated in a flour-heavy batter, the muenster cheese filling is interesting, but I prefer the more traditional Asadero or Chihuahua. The masa of the tamale ($13) had a light, almost bready texture. The pork inside was tender and spicy, making this the highlight of the food sampled. All the same, I'll see you over on Nassau Street, John.
4. J.D. Loves Cheese
V.W. Also Loves Cheese. Deeply. Maybe not enough to get a restaurant concept named after me, but one can hope.
That stated, my issue here is that there is only so much one can do with a grilled cheese sandwich. Already gone, Chef Cynthia Wong and her husband J.D. gave it a good shot, and the Kimchee Rueben ($12) was a monument to decadence. Crispy, cheesy, and meaty, there's even cheese grilled on the outside of sprouted abruzzi rye. Alas, I could not taste the kimchee at all. BYOBib, as you're likely to be wearing a bit of this sandwich if the concept returns this winter as Workshop has suggested.
Less decadent, the Rusty Brown ($12) found lightly smoked beef brisket overwhelmed by horseradish sauce. Made on a classic levain and featuring melted English Clothbound Cheddar, it was fine, but no Kimchee Rueben.
The accompanying pickles were unique and addictive. Tangy and strong with the flavor of cloves, I hope they continue to exist in this world even if the sandwiches don't.
- Jonathan Boncek
3. Kite Noodle
I've been known to stank up my house for days making kimchi. That's love.
Chef Jonathan Ory's kimchi ($3) is not quite enough to save the olfactory systems of my guests, but overall I enjoyed the mild, approachable rendition. Also offered in cucumber form ($3), it's more pickle than heat, which is probably the safe bet for the masses. Note the full-size cabbage leaf presentation is unwieldy.
Meanwhile, I will be back for some of the Japchae ($10). Plated on sweet potato noodle and topped with carrots, red bell peppers, and mushrooms, as well as green onions and some slices of scrambled egg, I think this is about as superlative as one could hope from food court Korean. The tender bulgogi on top was truly excellent, and the bowl itself feels like a great value at this price point.
In stark contrast, the Ojingeo Bokkeum ($12) was a hot mess. The mushy, gushy rice was basically inedible, bordering on juk (Korean rice porridge). The squid itself was well-prepared, but the simplicity of the dish — seemingly just onions, green onions, and gochujang — rendered it a bit one-note. Mix in the glaring rice issue, and I'll pass.
- Jonathan Boncek
- Meatball sub
2. Slice Co. Pizza
I have a pretty bad foodie crush on Chef Todd Lucey. And why not? It's hard to fault a man making his own mozzarella in a hot 10x10 room. Show appreciation for the extra effort, and he shrugs it off, "It's easy."
Perhaps, but the food at Slice Co. is made with obvious love, and the slices themselves are reminiscent of something you would find in Rome. The thin, chewy crust of the cheese ($4) is topped with a fresh tomato sauce and the aforementioned mozzarella. There's a lot to be said for simplicity done right.
I was less fond of the white ($4.75). Also topped with an abundance of lemony ricotta, the crust is dotted with sesame seeds and there's an ample portion of sweet caramelized onions on top. I have a lot of rules around what I consider pizza, and this arguably falls outside of them. Tomato, tomahto.
On the other end of the spectrum, the meatball sandwich ($10) is a feast unto itself. Made with fresh ciabatta coated with melted mozzarella, the four meatballs are shaped and cooked to order. Topped with a light tomato sauce and the same lemony ricotta, the end result is homey, yet polished. In a just world, Slice Co. will find itself a permanent home.
- Jonathan Boncek
- Pulled pork bahn mi
1. Pink Bellies
Please don't go away, Pink Bellies.
If there's one concept that could make it as a restaurant, Chef Thai Phi's effort is it. I'd maybe think tank the name a little bit, but regardless of what it's called, I'd come calling on the pulled pork banh mi ($9).
Made on a truly exceptional baguette, the tender pork is a clever nod to the South. In all honesty, I don't understand the blueberry jelly. If you save some of your sandwich for later, it soaks in and makes the bread all soggy in that disappointing PB&J-in-your-childhood-lunchbox kind of way. Otherwise traditional, there are two kinds of jalapeño, red onion, and shredded carrot, as well as fresh cilantro. If you're still mourning the loss of Artisan Meat Share's version, now you know.
Vegetarians rejoice. The crispy tofu rice bowl ($10) is enough to sway any meat lover. My dining companion complained that she "despises" tofu — a surefire way to get me to order anything — but then would not back up off said tofu. Deep-fried and coated in a sweet soy sauce, there are also thin slices of cucumber, carrot and radish. Mix the generous bed of rice up with some of the chili paste and green onions, and you've got a truly enjoyable bowl.
With a great diversity of options and a lovely space in which to enjoy your personal preference, Workshop is a welcome addition to the Upper King offerings. Better yet, the the revolving door of concepts promises even regular diners won't soon get bored.