Lobster mac 'n cheese. Enough said

On an island 21.6 km in length and 3.7 km in width, how many roads do you think there'd be on Manhattan? 250? 300? Would you believe there's just one? With an island full of numbered and named streets and avenues, somehow this island ended up with just one road.

Several months prior to setting off on our trip I stumbled upon this café online whilst researching places I wanted to try. I can't remember how I found it but the description sounded interesting enough and the fact that not much had been said about it as well as being way off the tourist trail, it was immediately on my list. Not many out-of-towners seem to make their way this far up the island and I'm sure many locals haven't even heard of Indian Road Café but when you can sit in a café overlooking Manhattans largest remaining and mostly natural forest by the Hudson River, it's a literal breath of fresh air in an area that feels like it's a million miles from the Big Apple.

Jump off the #1 Red subway at 215th St, hang a left at the Twin Donut joint on the corner and walk over the hill. The urban terrain around 215th St station felt, to me, like stepping into a movie set complete with decaying overhead railway viaduct, grafittied warehouses and repair garages. It's hard to imagine that a short walk over the West 218th St hill from Broadway drops you at an expanse of parkland and natural forest, marshes alive with water birds and people fishing from the river.

Indian Road Café is tucked beneath the corner of unglamourous low-rise brick apartments but once inside it immediately feels cosy. Split level, decked out with tables and chairs from The Sopranos Vesuvio restaurant set (co-owner Jason Minter produced the series), colourful chalk boards and artwork up on the walls and a seasonal menu driven by the local markets. Ok, now I remember what it was that made me want to come here. Not the Sopranos reference, a show I never watched, but instead what I spotted on the online menu - a great-sounding selection of cheeses and cured meats ($13). Three choices for $13 including a house-made Calimyrna fig jam and slices of baguette. Loved it. Especially the sharp Maytag blue, made even better with a German wheat beer (weihenstephaner virus $10). Ja, das ist gut!

An eclectic collection of dishes covers things like pot pies, confit duck and vegan biscuits with sausage gravy. Mexican favourites such as huevos rancheros and enchiladas are offerings that may be closer to chef Miguel Lopez' heart. The Cuban panino ($11) seems well-received by the other half and is filled with juicy, sweet and spiced Berkshire pork shoulder, ham, Swiss cheese & mustard toasted in ciabatta. Lightly pickled cucumber and red onion sit on the side for that fresh crunch.

Mac & cheese is something I'd never order from a menu let alone make it at home but when it's lobster macaroni & cheese ($18) that glistens with three cheeses - asiago, pecorino Romano and parmesan reggiano - huge chunks of lobster and just enough truffle oil, I'm drooling like an absolute fool. The tongue was doing some serious back flips.

A post lunch wander through the park and into the serene forest of Inwood Hill Park is highly recommended not only to help digest that food but to get a feel of this part of New York City. The Henry Hudson Bridge is damn impressive when you're beneath it!

Indian Road Café
600 W 218th Street, cnr Indian Rd
New York 10034
212 942 7451
Mon-Thurs 7am-10.30pm
Fri-Sat 7am-11pm Sun 8am-9.30pm
Brunch from 9.30am-4pm Sat-Sun - kitchen closes 4-5pm
indianroadcafe.com 
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