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The Contest Day 3 Dinner: Pizza Topped With Hope; Dumplings Filled With Regret

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Vital updates on the greatest cheap eats competition of summer 2015.

[Cake from Fortunato Brothers Bakery]
[Cake from Fortunato Brothers Bakery]
Daniela Galarza

Welcome to day four of the budget dining spectacle known as The Contest. One member of Team Eater tapped out last night, so there were only six editors playing in competition at the end of day three. Here's a report on what everyone ate last night, plus a note from the player who tapped out.

If you're playing along at home, please share your day four meals in the forums, and don't forget to tag any photos on Instagram or Twitter with #thecontest.

Player: Sonia Chopra

Order: One personal cheese pizza ($0) and pistachio kulfi ($2). Remainder: $.26

Order/Strategy: I left the office and walked to Crocodile Lounge to meet two participants for drinks and pizza. One thing I'm loving about this competition so far is the camaraderie — everyone is rooting for each other and it's so fun to get together and talk about how #thecontest has gone so far. I did not have high hopes for Crocodile Lounge, a bar that offers a free personal cheese pizza with every drink purchased, but I will admit that the pizza was perfectly fine, especially when peppered with parmesan, crushed red pepper, and oregano. One among us who was feeling flush with cash added jalapenos to his plain pizza for a $2 charge (incidentally, you can watch how the meal went down on Eater's snapchat account, eaterdotcom, until just after 7pm on Thursday 3/16). My compatriots got beer, and I got the ever-elegant combination of whiskey and ginger ale. We ate on the back patio, which was quite lovely and green for a place that is supposedly a rundown dive. Moral of the story: Don't believe everything you hear, especially when free pizza is involved.

We parted ways after that. My original plan was to head to 100 Montaditos, a place on Bleecker that offers small, Spanish-style sandwiches for $1 each on Wednesdays, and pick up two for dinner. But the pizza was larger than I expected (I'm regretting eating the crusts) and although I started heading west in search of sandwiches, soon all I could think about was ice cream. $2.26 is not a ton of money, but I had hopes that someplace I'd never been to in my saturated neighborhood would offer a tiny kid-size scoop. As is thematic in this contest, never assume anything: I went to three ice cream shops, found out a fourth that now sells vaporizers instead of gelato, and called a fifth to no avail. Sundaes & Cones, the first place I tried, had banana ice cream and I could almost taste the smug entry I'd file later: While my colleagues subsisted on bananas, I was feasting on banana ice cream (sorry y'all). Alas, my ego was checked when the server refuses my request for something smaller than the $3+ single scoop.

But now I have a challenge, and I will not return home until I have ice cream. I plan to walk up Avenue A, get distracted by the new St. Mark's Bookshop and end up buying two hardcovers on sale, and then reroute to Sikh-run Punjabi Deli (as opposed to the halal Al-Araf the day before), which I'm hoping will at least sell me some kulfi. And they do! It comes in three flavors: mango, pistachio, and malai. I opt for pista. At the time of writing (10:19) I still haven't tried it because I'm full from the Crocodile pizza, but it clocked in at $2 so I'm sure it will taste pretty damn sweet.

Crocodile Lounge.325 E 14th Street. (212) 477-7747.
Punjabi Deli. 114 E 1st Street. (212) 533-3356.

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Player: Jarret Meskin

Purchase: Boiled cabbage and pork dumplings (8), roast pork sesame pancake sandwich: $6.98

Strategy: Managing to make it through today on only $3, I was rather excited about the prospects of a $7 dinner. So much so, that I actually built up quite a bit of hype for this dinner around the office, as well as in my own head. With this kind of money, I could eat at practically any restaurant my heart desired.

Unfortunately, I'm weak. Faced with so many possibilities, I cracked and went to my safety restaurant — Vanessa's Dumpling House. A restaurant I can see from my apartment window, which I had planned on using as a Plan Z should I run out of options. Maybe I was just being lazy, maybe I was simply too overwhelmed with choices, or maybe all of this dollar pizza (Slice Count™: 7) has seeped into my brain and is now messing with my decision making. I'm not sure, but I spent $6.98 at Vanessa's Dumplings and brought home a hefty bag of food.

Am I pleased with my decision? Not exactly. Am I better than this? I'm not quite sure. Did it satisfy my hunger? You betcha.

Vanessa's Dumpling House | 220 East 14th Street, New York, NY 10003 (multiple locations)

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Player: Robert Sietsema

Order/Strat: Having spent $4.74 on breakfast and lunch, I had $5.26 available for dinner. Sonia and I decided to throw our lot in together, and also to exercise the free-food-if-you-buy-booze-which-doesn't-count loophole, and beat a path to the Crocodile Lounge in the East Village. She did the sensible thing and got a free pie with her drink, but I went crazy and decided I needed a topping for the sake of my culinary equilibrium, so I paid a surtax of $2 for a strew of jalapeno peppers, figuring the excitement value was worth it.

Unfortunately, having now spent $6.74, I sabotaged my plan to break my dessert fast by having two scoops of the excellent gelato at Laboratorio del Gelato, which would cost $4.26, if memory serves. Instead, I went to Veniero's and had a sad little pair of miniature pastries, which were nonetheless delicious -- a cannoli and a raspberry-custard tart ($3.11)

Daily Total: $9.85

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Player: Vince Dixon

Order/Strat: Not only is Subway dirt-cheap, but when you're in a contest where your diet is limited to affordable meals, it's a great chance to load up on all the essentials nutrients you miss--protein, veggies, wheat/fiber, etc.

I ended my fast food spree with a 6-inch spicy Italian sub with cucumbers, green peppers, banana peppers, pepper jack cheese and pickles, on toasted honey wheat bread. It was $3.75. I also had the remainder of my banana and the 2 munchkins I bought from Dunkin' Donuts yesterday.

My mood is fine. So far I've managed to get fruit, vegetables and greens in the meals. On to the next day!

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Player: Daniela Galarza

Daniela's cake

Order/Strat: Cake from Fortunato Brothers Bakery in Brooklyn, $1.30, plus .70 worth of cookies by the pound.

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Player: Greg Morabito

The one gloomy side effect of The Contest is being cranky because of hunger. And last night, around 6:45 p.m., I was in an extremely irritable mood while riding the F-Train downtown. I didn't want to listen to the new podcasts on my iPhone 4. I didn't want to read the Channing Tatum Vanity Fair cover story. I just wanted to get to Chinatown to eat some food.

Prosperity Dumpling is always annoying, no matter what headspace you're in. While waiting inside that steamy box, I eavesdropped on the preppy couple behind me. I guessed that they were old college cronies reunited on a quasi-date in the big city. She knew all the rules about the place, but he was a total noob, perhaps playing dumb. I thought: They don't want these dumpling as much as I do.

Right after I placed my order, the guy at the counter left the front of the restaurant to check up on the dumpling-making operation and the dunking station, and the line backed up. When he returned a few minutes later, he kept ignoring the line and started bagging some take-out order placed over the phone. Whoever placed that order is a genius, I thought. Why wait in inside this crazy-making restaurant when you can just waltz in, get your cheap-o food, and go?

After about five minutes of waiting, I got my bag of goodies and gobbled them down in the concrete entryway to the elementary school across the street. Four fried dumplings ($1) and one peking duck scallion pancake ($2.50). This was a really messy street meal — consumed standing up — but it was so damn good. Really filled that hunger void.

The one bummer part of this meal was that two minutes after I ripped apart that bag of fried delicacies, my face and hands were covered in grease and juice, and there were no napkins in sight. I eventually ended up wiping myself down with a Penguin Classics tote bag that I found crumpled up in the bottom of my backpack. Not the most elegant form of grooming on Eldridge Street. But The Contest ain't always pretty.

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And a special message from the one player that tapped out:

Player: Amanda Kludt

Before you read on, It's important that I first say a) I'm not proud of myself and b) I'm very sorry.

Last night, I tapped out of the contest. Not because I was hungry and needed an out of budget grilled cheese, not because the peaches on the counter beckoned, not because I accidentally ate a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store.

I tapped out because I had a lady date at Polo Bar with someone moving out of town soon and I just couldn't find the strength or desire to cancel. I ate Dover sole. I ate tiny, perfect corned beef sandwiches. I ate fried olives and a wedge salad and steak (with three sauces!) and french fries. I ate a giant brownie covered in hot fudge and vanilla ice cream for the love of God. I saw Ivanka Trump, I saw Susan Lucci, I saw David Lauren and the guy who runs Michael's and so many navy dinner jackets and philanthropists with great plastic surgery. I met some guys who confused me for someone they had met at the Plaza years ago. It was disgusting and glorious and I'm weak and I'm sorry.

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