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Being from a Jewish family, I’m a big fan of the smoked salmon. Lox or nova… doesn’t matter which one, just slap it on a bagel with some white fish, cream cheese, onion (and sometimes tomato) and you’ve got one of the greatest meals of all time. Thank you to the Eastern European Jews who brought this delicious food over at the beginning of the last century…
Flash forward to the 80s, and Jews all around the country (actually it was probably just in New York and Miami) were trading in their parents’ smoke fish for raw fish. Sushi was the new “it” food, and Jewish kids everywhere must have been thinking the same thing I was thinking the first time my Dad took me for sushi (“This is the weirdest chinese food I’ve ever had”).
Now, I don’t know what genius came up with this one, but I’m guessing at some point one of these Japanese chefs said “Hey… Jews seem to love this bagel with cream cheese and salmon thing… let’s add cream cheese to our salmon maki!” And thus, the “Bagel Roll” was born… also known as the Philadelphia Roll or sometimes the JB Roll (the Philadelphia I understand- because of the cream cheese, but I’m scared to know what JB stands for. Could it possibly be Jew Boy??? That would be insanity…)
Anyway, flash forward another 20 years and it looks like Au Bon Pain has decided to take this marriage one step farther… reclaiming the salmon & cream cheese bagel- but keeping the Wasabi. What the hell kind of craziness is this? I don’t normally eat at chain sandwich places like ABP, but I could only manage walking by the sign 3 times before finally breaking down and trying this “Salmon & Wasabi Cream Cheese Sandwich” at Au Bon Pain.
What the actual thing looked like (nothing like the sign of course…), and the +/- after the jump…
I think I’ve said this before, but I’m going to say it again. I love food courts. What’s there not to like? It’s like 20 cheap restaurants, all under the same roof. Sure I always get the Chinese food, or the Chinese food knock off (bourbon chicken I’m looking at you)… but having the options (whether you use them or not) is great- because if you go with other people, everyone can get what they want. So when I want Chinese food (which I always do), my wife and I can go to a food court even if she doesn’t want Chinese food, because there’s other things for her to get! It’s a fool proof scheme…
There aren’t many food courts in Manhattan (you’ve gotta go to a mall in the suburbs for that), but there are a few. And one, that seems like it should be amazing, is the Grand Central Terminal Food Court. One walk through this place, and you’ll think you’ve died and gone to food court heaven. No wasted space on generic fast food joints like McDonalds or BK, and they have all the requisite food options (Chinese, Sushi, Indian, Cajun, Caribbean, BBQ, Pizza, and more.)
And yet, for a food court- with a ton of options- right in the middle of Midtown, it’s not nearly as crowded as you would think. None of the places have lines, and we didn’t have too much trouble finding a place to sit. To top it off, I get emails all the time recommending places to eat in Midtown. Very few “good” (a relative term of course) or popular places have gone unrecommended. And yet, nobody has ever recommended the food court, or singled out any of the choices in an email.
A superficial look at the options, more pictures, and a call to arms… after the jump.
If you are a regular reader of this blog then you know I’m not a huge fan of the “Midtown Deli”. You know the place I’m talking about- salad bar, pre-made sandwiches, there’s one on every block. So when my friend Joanne emailed a link to a New Yorker article about one of these very places, I was pretty surprised. The New Yorker was writing about a Midtown Lunch deli??? I expected more from you, oh high-brow’d New Yorker…
In their defense Dishes is a little more “high brow’d” then your typical Midtown Deli, but still a deli nonetheless. The article is more about some sort of staff issue then about the food- but they did slip this intuitive observation into the opening:
“A decent midtown lunch spot—not the expense-account sort but a good, clean sandwich shop, with a fresh salad bar, and maybe some seafood tom yum, if that’s your thing—can be hard to come by. Once you find one, you tend to stick with it. You learn the hourly cycles, in terms of both customer flow (twelve-forty-five equals chaos) and servers’ shifts, and you begin to time your visits accordingly.”
True enough. Well, against my better judgement, I decided to head over to Dishes at 12:45pm yesterday and check out the chaos. I’ve walked by this place a million times (usually on my way to Oms/b) and thought it looked like an above average deli. It’s been recommended to me by a few readers- but it wasn’t until the New Yorker described it as a “a sleek, vaguely Asian-themed cafeteria”, I decided it was time for a visit… after all, I love the Asian food. Of course, I saw only “Asian”, and missed the “vaguely” part. Very important distinction.
Pictures, what I ate, and the +/- after the jump…
If you read this blog every day, I’m sure you get the general idea of my taste. I’m not really into those delis that litter midtown with their “choice”. Choice to me is
“Do I get my combo with the pork fried rice, or lo mein?”. I consider most sandwiches kind of boring, and I never imagined I could eat a salad for lunch. That is, until I met the Variety Cafe… and I let my guard down. I allowed myself to fall in love with this Variety Cafe place, and their wonderful salad bar for fat people… only to have my heart ripped in half by their disregard for serving said salad without rodent droppings.
“I’ll never eat at a deli/salad bar place again” I said to myself (I use slashes when I talk- that’s pronounced “deli slash salad bar”), that is, until I found Cafe Duke. From the outside it looks like your typical Manhattan lunch place. The name, the decor, the salad bar, buffet by the pound, rotisserie bar, sandwiches and paninis, wraps and of course the sushi bar. But, hidden in the back left hand corner is the real gem of the place… The Korean Food station!
That’s right, Bi Bim Bap, Bulgogi and Korean soup, being served in the back of a Midtown deli. Bastards! I can feel myself falling in love all over again…
The food porn, and +/- after the jump… Continue to the rest of the post…
Riding down the elevator yesterday on my way to lunch, I heard a very funny and ironic (considering where I was headed) conversation. One guy asked another guy where he was going to lunch… and when he responded “Downstairs for a salad”, the question asker was like “Nice, another one of those $11.00 salads”.
I asked the guy where he was talking about. “Metro”, he responded. “You start adding all the good stuff, and by the time you’re done- it ends up being 11 bucks.” Well, my friend- your days of spending $11 on a salad are over. Solved by 1 trip to the Variety Cafe.
Now, let me first say I’m not a big fan of all the one-stop-shop delis/salad bars (i.e. Metro, Europa Cafe) that litter Midtown. Usually, pre-made sandwiches are a bad idea, and I’m definetely not a big salad eater. And while I like the idea of a buffet, one that charges by the pound is never a good thing for a fat guy like me.
Which is why the salad bar at Variety Cafe is so great. For $6.45 ($6.99 with tax) you get a bowl of lettuce, and get to add any 6 items you want from their gigantic selection of toppings. Sounds like other places you’ve been to, maybe? Well here’s the best part… they have good, fat guy toppings… what I like to call “big money items”. The things you always want to get more of, but are afraid it will lead to a 17 pound salad that costs $436. 10 different kinds of chicken (including my personal favorites Thai Grilled Chicken, Cajun Chicken and Fried Chicken Cutlet), salmon, cubes of ham, avocado, mini fresh mozarella balls, blue cheese… everything. And of course all the fruits, vegetables and beans you find at every other salad bar in the city. And to top it off, your choice of 20 different kinds of salad dressings.
And the best part for a fat guy like me is, you get *whatever* you want. Want letuce with 4 kinds of chicken and two kinds of cheese, they’ll do it. They look at you like you weigh 700 pounds, but they’ll do it.
My perfect salad, and the +/- after the break…
So we're only a few weeks away from McBurrito (I mean Chipotle) opening it's doors on the bottom floor of my building… but to hold me over, I discovered a burrito in the most unlikely of places. Europa Cafe. And you know what? It's not that bad.
After knocking Chipotle for it's lack of authenticity, I feel bad endorsing a burrito that a) comes from a place with Europa in the title, and b) specializes in salads and sandwiches. Clearly the "burrito bar" (another embarassing detail), would be a mere afterthought. If you have never been to Europa Cafe, it is another one of those chain deli type places that litter the city where you can make your own sandwiches, wraps, and salads, or choose from a ton of pre-made options. With the exception of Variety Cafe, I tend to steer clear of these places- but I was intrigued by the Burrito Bar.
What I got after the jump… Read the rest of this entry »