Though still a young man, William Degel can trace his life story all the way back to Prohibition. In the early 1930s, his godfather owned Jack's, a Manhattan steakhouse and speakeasy frequented by movie stars and politicos. Stories of the restaurant's notoriety inspired William's own career path: he leveraged an early job as a bartender into the purchase of a rundown Queens saloon, which eventually gave him the opportunity to open Uncle Jack's Steakhouse. This fine-dining establishment was styled after the original Jack's, with Victorian touches such as pressed-copper ceilings, a hand-carved mahogany bar, and faeries only visible to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Now expanded to three New York locations, Uncle Jack's has proved so popular that William was selected to host Restaurant Stakeout, a Food Network program on which he helps struggling restaurateurs save their businesses. William often credits his success to a focus on quality, a trait noticeable after one glance at the menu. He handpicks all of the beef from cattle that are grown to the steakhouse's exact specifications on Nebraska ranches. The USDA Prime cuts are aged onsite up to 35 days, then cooked in 1800-degree infrared boilers that seal the meat's juices inside a perfectly charred exterior.
As with his godfather's place, William's restaurants cater to the city's elite. Athletes, actors, and local celebrities are often seen seated around Uncle Jack's tables, which isn't surprising considering the richly appointed dining rooms, paparazzi-repelling forcefields, and extravagant perks programs the restaurant provides. Birthday and anniversary reservations are rewarded with a bottle of Taittinger on the house, and the Lifestyle Rewards program lets members cash in their points for Rolex watches, Vegas vacations, and even a Porsche 911.
Founded more than 25 years ago, The Original SoupMan has earned a reputation for hearty deli offerings and delicious gourmet soups cooked in small batches with fresh ingredients. Though soups change daily, slurpers are guaranteed a seafood, vegetarian, spicy chili, and clear-broth variety to lubricate squeaky windpipes. Sample a tasty vessel filled with 100% North Atlantic lobster bisque ($5.99 cup, $7.99 bowl), or properly attire tongues for seasonal flavors such as Italian sausage, chicken chili, and Cuban black bean. The Original SoupMan also proffers toasted sandwiches, such as the Penn Station, extra lean corned beef, pastrami and melted Swiss cheese topped with coleslaw and Russian dressing ($6.99). A selection of salads comes in signature ($6.99) or side portions ($2.99), and the create-your-own-salad option provides a three-topping palette to artistic types ($5.99). Larger soup keepsakes are available in quarts for at-home consumption or bathtub goulash fights ($24). For those soupsters who follow his strict rules, The Original SoupMan supplies a reward of bread, a piece of chocolate, and a sudden desire to watch Murphy Brown.
Amid the bustle of Times Square, Ceci Italian Cuisine takes a step back and encourages its guests to slow down a bit to savor their dining experience. Low light softens elegant exposed brick and hardwood floors as slow-cooked risotto and pastas arrive infused with savory meat, cheese, and veggies. Specialties from the menu showcase delicate presentations of lobster and sea bass, and veal entrees marry tender cuts with light sauces. A semiprivate dining room offers a gathering space and Italian cuisine for up to 65 guests celebrating a birthday or recovery from a noodle phobia.
Many of the ingredients Meli's chefs use to create their modern recipes are associated with Greece: kalamata olives, vlahotiri cheese, and tzatziki sauce. However, their prized import from the ancient country is honey, or meli, which thrives in Greece’s lush flora and fauna due to the country’s temperate climate. At Meli, chefs employ imported thyme honey to sweeten cocktails and sauces as well as embellish balsamic reductions and béchamel sauces. Avgolemono soup, a classic egg-lemon broth with chicken and orzo, and other appetizers such as scallops wrapped in phyllo make way for entrees such as rabbit braised in red wine, beef or veggie moussaka, and spiced yellowfin tuna with capers. Crystal chandeliers twinkle above the dining room, where white leather chairs sidle up to sleek black tabletops. Large-scale photographs of Greek scenery by Peter Lik adorn the dining-room walls, and a mural of a cerulean seascape stands behind the bar, which houses champagnes, wines, and spirits for specialty cocktails.
Paintings and decorative anchors dot the blue and yellow walls at Grilled Fish, where chefs dazzle diners with painstakingly crafted seafood dishes just a stonefish's throw from Madison Square Park. The dinner menu teems with edible treasures such as garlic and white-wine-laced mussels, seafood stew, and fisherman's sampler—a meal of fried calamari, fish, shrimp, hand-cut fries, and a flash-cooked compass. A forthcoming beer and wine license will add an extra kick of flavor to Grilled Fish's meals, which are the main raison d'être for the cozy dining room, the seasonal outdoor seating area, and any offsite table that bears the eatery's catered or home-delivered fare.