“You’ve come a long way, baby.” While the often quoted 1968 ad for Virginia Slims cigarettes was adopted by women’s liberation groups, the same sentiment can apply to Shelly Fireman.
Fireman recently re-opened the Redeye Grill, a mainstay in midtown Manhattan which fell victim to fire in April 2018. Just over a year later, he’s back and, like the Dire Straights song, “The future’s so bright, we’ve got to wear shades.”
Fireman, a New York native, has grown his business significantly since first opening the Hip Bagel in 1964s Greenwich Village. From there, he’d go on to open Cafe Fiorello, located across from Lincoln Center. He still owns and operates Fiorello, plus Trattoria Del Arte, Bond 45, two midtown locations of the Brooklyn Diner, and Fiorella, an Italian joint in Washington, DC
Redeye Grill, which served the community for 25 years is located at 888 Seventh Avenue, directly across from Carnegie Hall. After the fire, Fireman decided to not only re-open, but to give the place an overhaul. The result is a brighter, livelier establishment with new art and sculpture pieces. In addition to being a restauranteur, Fireman is an avid art collector and sculptor whose own work is displayed in his businesses.
An evening here may not include falling chandeliers (Phantom of the Opera), free cornbread and chili (Oklahoma!), or windmills and can-cans (Moulin Rouge), but there is a distinct theatrical flair that is ever-present from the moment you walk in until the minute you leave. This is not to suggest an artifice from the well-trained staff. Quite the contrary. On a busy Saturday night, I noticed the care, warmth, and attention that was showered upon each guest.
The meal began with freshly baked soft pretzel breadsticks. Many carb-heavy items would follow but the bread — and nearly every item thereafter — was worth the yield to temptation.
Redeye Grill’s catchphrase is “home of the dancing shrimp,” so it seemed right to order them. Why are they dancing? Because these enormous, coconut-crusted prawns are served vertically on skewers in a beautiful oak ball alongside fresh pineapple squares. With the slightest movement, each shrimp jiggles. A pineapple-mango glaze accompanies the scenic and sinful seafood.
Scott, our friendly and engaging waiter, suggested the Chilean sea bass. This generous cut of fish was seared to perfection and delicately floated above a light, ginger curry sauce. If ever two greater ocean-based dishes exist, Poseidon holds the secret.
Seafood is king at Redeye Grill and other options include salmon and wild mushrooms, a miso-glazed black cod, Dover sole, scallops, lobster, and crab cakes. Sushi options are also available.
In the mood for turf over surf? Redeye’s got a solid selection of steak to please the hungriest carnivore. Yet it also has lighter choices of salads, pasta, and vegetables to satisfy vegetarians. It’s also equipped with a comprehensive wine and cocktails menu, listed in a Winebill, a clever nod to the Broadway Playbill
Lobster Mac N’ Cheese was the only strike in an otherwise outstanding meal. Corkscrew pasta bathed in a rich combination of cheddar and gruyere with breadcrumbs. Generous chunks of lobster adorned the top. The sodium level, however, might have blown the umbrella from the hands of the Morton salt girl.
What the mac n’ cheese lacked, the brussels sprout found, which was a completely novel take on this popular side. Far too often, these dynamic, tiny cabbage-like gems are prepared with bacon. There is nothing inherently wrong about that, but it’s common. Fireman has put an Asian spin on them, roasting them in a creamy Thai peanut sauce and adding crushed cashews. The char of the sprouts intertwined in a perfect tastebud marriage of smoke and sweetness. Both my dinner guest and I agreed that we had never eaten better brussels sprouts.
Speaking of the best things we’ve ever eaten, we closed the dinner with a dessert suggestion from Scott: Banana cream pie. Chunks of banana nestled themselves between layers of heavy whipped cream atop a sweet graham cracker crust. I’ve been in New York for eighteen years and count this among the top three restaurant desserts I’ve ordered. This is the type of dessert that you’ll think about for years to come and might be one of the many reasons to return.
Assistant manager, Alton, agreed. The gregarious gent approached our table and listened as we sang an ode of joy to the banana prince of pastry. Later this year, Alton and his colleagues will open a neighboring steakhouse directly beside Redeye. It will be called The Steak Joint.
A dash of whimsy also appeared at our table: freshly spun cotton candy and complimentary chocolate chip cookies. It’s one of the many personal gifts that abound in all of his establishments. In a 2017 interview with Forbes magazine, he shared the following:
The Fireman touches are everywhere in my restaurants. The hospitality came from my grandmother’s house, to my parents’ house, to my house, to the restaurants. I created a sculpture of my parents which hangs on the wall of each of my restaurants whose inscription reads, ‘To my parents, Frances and Sam, who taught me the blessings of hospitality.’
His hospitality style is not old school. There are no snooty maitre’d’s or high brow sommeliers treating you as though you were a witless rube. It’s not that the approach isn’t taken seriously, but he’s managed to imbue it with so much fun, that one leaves feeling nourished and entertained.
In a town with fierce competition and endless options, Redeye Grill is a shining beacon. With Fireman and his impeccable staff in the cockpit, you’re in for one joyous flight.
Redeye Grill 888 Seventh Avenue NY, NY. For more information, visit https://www.redeyegrill.com/
Ryan Leeds is a freelance journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. He also loves cooking and good food. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.