Southern NYC Lunch Tour

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Day 9
Blarney Stone Restaurant
121 Fulton St
Oct. 31, 2006

balmy all hallows eve drifting down fulton street look its an irish pub two guys on the left as you walk in frying various meats on a flame grill right before your eyes give them your order turkey burger swiss cheese deluxe please toast the roll on your left on the right a long bar center of room sits two 10 foot long oblong octagonal tables chairs a few square tables along the side opposite the bar pool tables in back and it smells like flamegrill there's another room mini function hall 10 or 15 long function hall tables with square chairs back to main room burgers ready 5.25 no tax give the guy a five and a quarter done out the door down to the pier burgers great fries though soggy from the trip still hot and excellent as balmy halloween afternoon melts into ketchup

Monday, October 30, 2006

Day 8
Benny's Thai Cafe
88 Fulton St
Oct. 27, 2006

It took me awhile to find Benny's Thai Cafe. It's part of a dingy 3-level mini-complex called 88 Fulton that has several inexpensive fast-food places and other similar businesses. It finally appeared to me, below street level. I rarely look down while trying to find a NY restaurant.

Inside it was crowded but surprisingly efficient. In the absence of an actual view (the windows face the wall extending up to street level) the owners had carefully chalked a parisian streetscape mural; nice touch.

I ordered the Red Curry Chicken lunch special. Quite alot of food for $5.50. Alas, it was only OK. The chicken was a bit gnarly - a cut below what I have come to expect from the likes of Lemongrass Grill. However, it was acceptable; no dire consequences ensued.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Day 7
Au Mandarin
2 World Financial Center (200 Vesey St.)
Oct. 20, 2006

I was unprepared for the fact that Au Mandarin is an actual restaurant. The kind you sit down and tip the waiter in. I realized that the Homestyle Bean Curd I had been fantasizing about all morning would, with waiter-tip, exceed my $10 lunch tour limit, and this didn't seem to be the sort of restaurant one would want to eat at alone, anyways. Perfect place for a lunch date, though. It was extremely well-decorated and elegant, at least from the outside. And the fact that it was set in the majestic World Financial Center building certainly added to it's sense of gleaming opulence.

The take-out room resembled an extremely elegant and well-decorated...laundry room? Something about it's windowless cubbyhole existence made me think of an exquisite china-themed laundry room in the super posh basement of a building I could never afford to live in. Although I did wait 10 minutes for my order, it was completely understandable considering that the restaurant was slammed, and most people were smart enough to phone in their orders.

Because it was raining, this ended up being one of two lunch-tour lunches so far where the actual consumption took place back at my desk rather than in a park or on a pier. The homestyle bean curd, at a total of $9.70 including tax, was superb and plentiful. The topper: inside the take-out bag was an industrial sized hot/cold moist towel. Not a measly towellete or wash'n'dry in a 1 1/2 inch square packet, but rather a generously sized, elegantly branded, utterly handy, hot/cold, moist to perfection, disposable hand-towel.

Now that's class.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Day 6
Anytime Cafe
142 Fulton St.
Oct. 19, 2006

Anytime Cafe is a Big Box deli, a species that flourishes in places like Manhattan. Three main distinguishing characteristics - 1. it's big. 2. The interior is an uninterrupted 3-dimensional rectangle (can't remember the word for that shape! Anyone?) 3. At least 5 very different culinary modalities are represented (and sometimes there's a common uber-taste "holding them all together").

Anytime's prices are quite good. Their 24-selection hot food bar and 28-selection cold food/salad bar both go for $5.29/lb, a dollar less than Mangia, and nothing looked scary. At 12:20 it was decently populated without being annoyingly crowded. They also had a pizza bar, sandwich area, sushi bar, and Udon soup station, very well organized within the confines of the large box.

I decided to try their $5.50 Turkey Brie and Sundried Tomato with Honey Mustard hero. I didn't have to wait long - 3 minutes later, there it was. No free chips or coleslaw or pickle were offered, no complimentary soda, just the sandwich in the smiley face bag. I did not mind this, though; there is someething refreshing about a completely direct experience. No bribery, no nonsense, just a sandwich in a sack.

There was alot of this sandwich, too - quite generous with everything. I detected what may be the Anytime taste - a sort of distinctive garlic and hot sauce overtone that I didn't expect. This will have to be experimentally verified at some future date, after the tour.

I recommend the Anytime Cafe; what it lacks in "character" and other forms of branding/manipulation is more than made up for in its reasonable prices and straightforward approach. It seats about 20 at the far end of the box; once again, very simple black tables and chairs.

I was also struck by the fact that their font of choice is in the Futura family. Plain, simple, with an understated elegance that does not interfere with the information being presented. The only drawback to dining here is the location, since it is necessary to walk along Fulton St for more than 10 feet, which is at least as frustrating as Broadway, especially at lunch hour.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Day 5
Andrew's Coffeeshop
116 John St.
Oct. 18, 2006

andrew's coffeeshop
not in amsterdam, too bad...
hey cool - a diner!

soothing wood-toned booths
elliptical spheroid lights
two widescreen tv's

acrylic paintings
of muffins and coffeecups
along top of wall

i place my order
a veggie burger deluxe
comes with free soda?!?

it is included
with anything you order
over five dollars

burger is decent
complimentary coleslaw
also pretty good

did not wait too long
they are pretty mellow here
overall nice vibe

perfect autumn day
boats creaking in the sunshine,
i write on this bag

Monday, October 16, 2006

Day 4
Amish Market
17 Battery Place
Oct. 16, 2006

An Amish Market - a real Amish Market - in New York City?

I had stopped in briefly several times before - they have the only selection I've found so far around here of Twinings Teas by the box - but soon tired of the point-at-the-box-and-win-the-right-to-buy-it game. I was already on to the fact that the name of the Amish Market was whimsical rather than descriptive.

This time I walked right by it - took two steps back - double take. A blue awning advertising... Zaytuna... The awning didn't cover the Amish Market painted on the window, though; they coexisted in weird and extreme counterpoint: Zaytuna's Amish Market.

Very confusing inside. A small 3-register checkout area in the front, and immediately shelves and shelves of gourmet-ish groceries; suddenly a giant oblong cold salad bar on the left with maybe 16 selections, followed by a hot-food bar in the round with 9 selections flanked by more shelves of groceries. A chaotic labrynth. A pizza counter farther back on the left. At the very back, more hot food deli style with a giant faux-antique sign advertising various sandwiches. I was curious to compare their Cuban Hero with the All-American Deli's (see Day 3), so I asked the guy directly below the sign for a Cuban Hero sandwich. "Yes!" he nodded eagerly. And then my order seemed to disappear into the heart of an unseen mechanism, or maybe an ocean of quantum probability. I observed no sandwich action (and thus had no influence over it). I did, however, notice my order repeated to the guy standing next to him and his puzzled expression. A third person kept asking me what I wanted and nodded eagerly each time I told him my order was being taken care of.

Sure enough, as I suspected, my order had not disappeared into the heart of an unseen mechanism but instead into an ocean of quantum probability and as sometimes happens, it made it's way through a time space wormhole. 5 minutes later the guy I had asked about the sandwich pointed across the room. "Talk to that guy over there".

A new unseen world opened up behind a grocery shelf, next to the live Sushi chef - a sandwich station! How silly of me - I had ordered the sandwich under the sign where it was listed. There was no Cuban Hero listed here, though. Instead there were two identically named Honey Turkey sandwiches with entirely different ingredients. I remembered this phenomena, too, from junior year Quantum Mechanics - something to do with identical particles being not only indistinguishable but also interchangeable to the point where there was a special energy level associated with the probablility of their identities being reversed. A minute later, someone comes up to me: "Cuban Hero?" "Yes, that's me." pause. "Next time you come to me for sandwich". "But the sandwich I wanted is on the sign across the room, not here!" "Yes!" he nodded eagerly. I was starting to feel dizzy.

I paid at a special cash register hidden in back next to the Cuban Hero wormhole entrance, where I had initially spotted it's existence and made my way upstairs to the dining area. Concrete false stucco walls and ceiling; iron antiquey berry-bearing vine thru which one could view the vortex below. On the wall, an old wooden 6-foot long Amish-like gardening utensil that resembled a spork. A 3-prong earth-digging implement that looked wavy and uneven enough to have been made out of driftwood. A four-foot spork. A pinecone clock with an owl, a kitten, another owl, another kitten. A 42" plasma screen playing CNN. Much like I'd imagine matter and history from all different eras swirling around the perimeter of a black hole; a time-space anomaly. Below, causality itself seemed suspended. I realized that everything about this place had appeared from a different dimension, and thus the usual logic of actions and their subsequent repercussions did not apply. That is how Zaytuna's Amish Deli with Pizza Bar, groceries, cleaning supplies, a live Sushi Chef, and a sea of quantum Sandwich probability could all exist in the same place, at the same time, with an upstairs dining area that resembled a black hole's accretion disk, complete with an ATM.

My Cuban Hero was a bit more Cuban than that of the All-American Deli. It was pressed, for one thing, was a bit more buttery, and actually had garlic in it to go along with the ham and provolone. It was halfway on its way to being authentic. This was not surprising, considering that there was a finite probability of a certain percentage of anything in there being authentic, according to the insights of modern physics. And at $7.00, its price was comparible with that of the 100% authentic Cuban sandwiches one can find at Sophie's.

Not bad for a pressed ham-garlic-provolone delicacy.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Day 3
All American Deli
42 Water St.
Oct. 12, 2006

Due to an extremely late night with very loud music, Day 3 will be revealed as a bulleted list of marginally connected impressions, appearing in the order in which they were remembered:

  • I couldn't figure out whether the chalkboard was really a chalkboard or not; the artwork was too good. No one spends time on such things these days. (Closer examination revealed that it is only a real chalkboard in the prices section).

  • 8 hotfood/salad bar items, 2 soups

  • no beer

  • atm

  • right by the water - it's at the end of Coenties Slip, which is like a miniature version of Fulton St. as it leads into the harbour

  • many of the sandwiches have names of famous american figures: the harry truman, the franklin roosevelt, the great american hero. I ordered the cuban sandwich, a special of the day. That's what makes the all-american deli so all-american - it's willing to acknowledge the existence of cultures that originated outside of it's geographical borders.

  • the cuban sandwich was not very cuban; not enough butter, salt and garlic, i.e. all-american.

  • I had company today - felix, a co-worker who noted that although the signage inside was poor, customers immediately fell into the deli's unusually efficient service system.

  • there were 4 lines for ordering and even though there was only one register, the fact that ordering and paying were completely decoupled allowed for the only wait being food preparation time, which was minimal.

  • Felix also noted that the register guy's name was Guy as advertised by a sign above him complete with the Guy's photograph; the photograph of Guy portrayed Guy holding a baby - the caption read "a baby for Guy".

  • The d├ęcor was dominated by 3 giant but separately framed mirrors; perhaps an attempt to make the place look bigger that was negated by the frames.

  • $7.25 - an average deal on an all-american cuban hero (sandwich). They have better deals on the standard non-special selections.

  • 20 people present around 12:25, yet practically no wait time which makes this an ideal deli for time-sensitive foraging trips.

Day 2
8 Maiden Lane
Oct 11, 2006

Picturesque, but not too cluttered. A hookah on one wall, a giant sandal-shaped thing with turquoise beads on the other. Gentle amber upsidedown wineglass-type lights; soothing earth toned walls. The Alfanoose folks manage to pull off minimalist yet effective middle eastern decor.
At 12:05 there was already a 10 person line that turned out to be a 10 minute line as well; a bit on the slow side, but not freakout-i'm-leaving-and-never-coming-back slow. That's because there's only one cash register. I got the impression that they couldn't decide whether to be a restaurant with waiters or an order-and-sit-down deli, so they sort of did both in that it is far more atmospheric than a deli but doesn't have the timesaving factor of a 2nd or 3rd register.

I was originally going to order the falafel for the purpose of baselining this project but was swayed at the last minute by the idea of the foul mudammas sandwich and a spinach pie. How could that not be wonderful?

It turned out to be ok...not fantastic, just ok. Foul Mudammas has infinite potential; in this case, they opted for standard. Maybe a little too salty. The hot sauce was a bit too supermarket tabasco. The spinach pie was similarly ok. Decent, but so much more could have happened...
This could be a fun place to take a group (get there a little before 12), and if anyone gets a chance to compare their falafel sandwich with one of the falafel carts at Liberty Square, let me know how it goes; Alfanoose is unique in that it claims to have the very best falafel in all of manhattan.


94 Deli
94 Fulton St.
Oct 10, 2006

It's a beautiful cloudless 70 degree October day in the financial district, crowds everywhere. On such days, people are like a gas, evenly distributed, with no natural vacuums present. A famous philosopher once said that nature abhors a vacuum: not the case inside of 94 Deli, as it turns out. I was the only one there at 12:30pm. That and the 1990 prices (a sandwich for $2.75!!!) made me uneasy; something could go terribly wrong.

I took a quick look at the hot food/salad bar. Everything was covered with the congealed film of disuse that only happens to these items in the late afternoon, when they've had a chance to kick back for a few hours. I decided my safest option would be a sandwich all of whose contents had been intentionally preserved; I opted for the pastrami reuben. The guy, looking a little puzzled, asked "you wan pastrami?" and then said something into an intercom. Although this made me uneasy, I decided to forge ahead with day 1 of Lunch Tour. Fortunately, this was the only actual low point of the experience.

Everything else went smoothly; the sandwich was prepared in a reasonable amount of time, the cook offered to toast the rye bread for me and put it through twice which was excellent, asked me if I wanted mustard, and $5.50 later I was the proud owner of an unusually inexpensive pastrami reuben, so far no repercussions.

They are a couple of blocks away from the piers, which is a plus for those days when informal outdoor dining is an option; they have an ATM, a sole public internet access terminal, a large selection of beers and sodas, a seating area, and a nostalgically pale green tile decor. And the pastrami reuben probably won't kill you.