Just for the record, I am not telling you to go out today and eat rabbit. (Though, FWIW, rabbit does taste surprisingly good, like the dark meat on a chicken leg.) “Welsh Rarebit” sounds like it’s a recipe for rabbit done in the Welsh style, but it’s actually the early British version of a grilled cheese sandwich. Back in the day, the Welsh were regarded by the English as a poor, inferior people, who were too destitute to afford actual meats for their cuisine. And while the Englishman’s cheapest meat was considered to be rabbit, the Welshman’s cheapest meat wasn’t meat at all–it was cheese. So “Welsh rabbit” became a derogatory term for a meal consisting only of bread and baked cheese. Over the years the term–since it doesn’t actually include rabbit–has transformed to be Welsh Rarebit, and has lost some of the mean bite to its original meaning (as far as I know–I haven’t met any Welsh people who take offense to the meal yet). So, technically, the Welsh Rarebit contains no rabbit and did not originate from Wales. What a misnomer!
The actual recipe for Welsh Rarebit is essentially a messy, runny, gooey open-faced cheese sandwich. Hot, melted cheese (or a cheese-based sauce) is either poured over toasted bread, or left in a heated bowl so you can dip the toasted bread into the cheese. It’s like the Scandinavian tradition of cheese fondue, but unlike fondue, which can use any variety of cheese from Gruyère to Swiss, Welsh Rarebit is exclusively made with cheddar. The way rarebit can be personalized comes in the other additives in cheese sauce: various recipes for rarebit include ale, mustard, pepper, or even Worchestershire sauce mixed into the cheddar. I mean, with a recipe as simple as “melted cheese poured over bread,” you’ve got to get a little variety in there somewhere!
There’s really no place better in New York City to get a dish with such English history and panache than Tea and Sympathy. They serve it the traditional way–with the melted cheese poured on top of a piece of toasted bread–but add a few personal touches to it to make it their own. The cheese sauce is traditionally cheddar, and they add a bit of mustard to the mix to give the meal a little kick; “kick” isn’t a word you’d ever use to describe British cooking but it’s something that New Yorkers routinely crave. You can also add tomato and bacon to the dish, making it a super-messy, deconstructed British version of a happy waitress. It’s amazingly simple, but Tea & Sympathy makes sure to give you a few surprises in their food, even with something like a cheese sandwich. Have it with a cup of English Breakfast (with sugar & milk, the way British tea was meant to be drunk!) and a side of beans to complete your foray into British cuisine. But if you meet any Welsh people along the way, make sure to ask them if you’re being culturally sensitive.
Tea & Sympathy
108 Greenwich Ave (between 12th St & Jane St)
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“I ordered the Blackcurrant pot of tea and the mushroom toast on 7 grain bread. My tea pot came in the shape of a porcelain cottage and a cute china cup/saucer set. The mushroom toast was very filling..a bit on the heavier side but tasty. My friend ordered the Welsh Rarebit (cheddar, mustard and tomato). Added bacon as recommended by the waitress. She was right! The bacon is so different from what I’m used to as I only had Canadian and American bacon. It was so-o thick, minimal fat and tasty!”–Jody S.
“I ordered grilled tomatoes with hot buttered toast and my Dad ordered Welsh Rarebit with bacon and tomatoes. Our food came quite quickly and I admit that when the food was first set before me I was disappointed, but as soon as crushed the tomatoes on top of the buttery toast my whole opinion changed. The food seemed so simple, but it was so tasty. I would’ve never thought to have made something like that. I sampled the Welsh Rarebit, which is basically a toasted cheese sandwich. It had a nice mustardy zing to it. The thick cut bacon was delicious, so much better than American bacon.”–Melanie T.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!