Even in a foodscape dotted with pudding parlors and mac-and-cheeseries, one doesn’t expect to come across a venue as thoroughly and obsessively devoted to a single substance as OatMeals. (There is a precedent, though: The Stoats Porridge Bar, a Scottish oatmeal-mobile of sorts, first rolled into Edinburgh farmers’ markets seven years ago.) This past summer, with the unfortunate timing of a gelateria that launches during a blizzard, OatMeals owner Samantha Stephens unleashed her playful paean to the famously healthy grain in a small shop on West 3rd Street, where she tops a hearty blend of steel-cut and stone-ground oats with add-ons like bacon, pumpkin, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and extra-virgin olive oil, as if her métier were salad, not cereal. This is not as outlandish as it sounds. Recently, there’s been a growing interest in oatmeal’s savory side (think congee), coupled with the notion that combining the super-grain with fat and protein renders it healthier still. Another welcome development: chefs’ desire to source locally grown, high-quality groats, or whole hulled oats, and to treat the cooked cereal as a blank canvas for bold and sumptuous flavors rather than spa food. Oatmeal might not have an official season, but it has a psychic one, and now that our heat wave of a summer is over and a chill is in the air, breakfasters’ thoughts turn to the pot on the stove or the bowl on the menu. Click through our slideshow to see some of New York’s best.
Know Your Oats: Groats or hulled whole oats: most nutritious, but need to be soaked and cooked for a long time. Steel-cut, a.k.a. Scottish, a.k.a. Irish: groats cut into pieces; they make for a chewy, more flavorful oatmeal than rolled oats. Rolled or Old-fashioned: groats that are flattened by a giant roller to allow for a short cooking time. Quick-cooking: groats that have been sliced into pieces before being rolled for an even faster cooking time. Instant: precooked, dried, cut, then rolled.
*This article originally appeared in the October 8, 2012 issue of New York Magazine.
The Canadian at OatMeals
Bacon, sharp Cheddar, roasted apples, maple syrup, and sea salt. This is the marijuana of savory oatmeals, a gateway gruel that leads to wild experimentation with the shop’s other untraditional combos—“croque monsieur” and fig-and-Gorgonzola among them.
$4.25 to $6.25; 120 W. 3rd St., nr. Macdougal St.; 646-360-3570.
Stone-Cut Oats With Stewed Prunes and Orgeat at Minetta Tavern
A sleeper on the brunch menu, this is the most elegant porridge in town: oats from South Carolina heirloom-grain grower Anson Mills topped with the same Cognac-steeped Agen prunes the kitchen uses to garnish the pâté, and a cloud of steamed-milk foam spiked with orgeat syrup.
$10; 113 Macdougal St., at Minetta Ln.; 212-475-3850.
Savory Oatmeal Skillet at Sweet Revenge
Cheesy grits have nothing on this rib-sticking mélange of quick oats, corn, black beans, roasted potatoes, tomato, and Cheddar. Top the thing off with an optional crumble of bacon and you have a dish that may simultaneously reduce and increase the risk of a heart attack.
$11.95; 62 Carmine St., nr. Bedford St.; 212-242-2240.
Stone-Cut Oatmeal and Farro at Maialino
Charged with the task of imbuing American classics with Italian accents, chef Nick Anderer sources oats from Anson Mills and farro from Cayuga Pure Organics. There’s milk for creaminess, Umbrian honey for sweetness, and flash-fried candied walnuts for crunch.
$12; 2 Lexington Ave., at 21st St.; 212-777-2410.
Nineteenth-Century-Style Savory Oats at the Farm on Adderley
“Chefs look at ingredients in terms of possibilities,” says Adderley’s Tom Kearney. That kind of thinking explains how his supply of Anson Mills oats ended up in a pot with butternut squash, hot chiles, and some house-cured guanciale. Finished with a knob of butter, these oats are rich and creamy yet perfectly chewy. Even Italian risotto aficionados wonder how they do it.
$7; weekdays only; 1108 Cortelyou Rd., nr. Stratford Rd., Ditmas Park; 718-287-3101.
Steel-Cut Oatmeal With Coconut Milk and Dried Currants at the Smile
In an experimental mood one day, the kitchen cooked the steel-cut oats in the coconut milk reserved for the mussels. The result: a subtly sweet and floral porridge enhanced by vanilla bean, cinnamon sticks, ground nutmeg, and brown sugar.
$7.50; 26 Bond St., nr. Lafayette St.; 646-329-5836.
Steel-Cut Oats With Spiced Mascarpone, Raisins, and Brown Sugar at Northern Spy Food Co.
You might not think to top your morning bowl with a melting dollop of cinnamon-dusted mascarpone and cream, but once you try it, you’ll find it extremely difficult to go without.
$7; 511 E. 12th St., nr. Ave. A; 212-228-5100.
Steel-Cut Oatmeal, Apples, Raisins, and Pecans at Untitled
The groats come from Cayuga Pure Organics upstate and get pulsed a few times in the Robot Coupe. Then—and this is key—they’re cooked in apple cider and water for sweetness sans sugar. Of course, that doesn’t stop chef Chris Bradley from adding butter-sautéed maple-glazed apples, a splash of milk, and a pat of butter.
$9; 945 Madison Ave., nr. 75th St.; 212-570-3670.