Three Great Cheap is a weekly series from critic Robert Sietsema that seeks to find and popularize New York City’s most interesting and inexpensive food in the five boroughs and beyond. Also consult the compact guide and map 60 Cheap Eats Destinations You Should Know About in NYC.
Newly arrived in New York City is the panzerotto, a fried turnover that originated in Apulia, the heel of the Italian boot. It resembles the Neapolitan calzone, which has been here for a century, though usually in larger form. It also looks a lot like an empanada, and the two may be related. Who knows?
Greenwich Village now has a walk-up storefront panzerotteria on the Macdougal Street cheap dining strip: Mr. Panzerotto. On my visit, the panzerotti were formed from dough, pressed in a hand mold, and then deep fried to order, selected from a list that offers nine savory and three sweet at prices that range from $6 to $9. The spinach and ricotta is the best, and it’s also the best deal at the lower end of the price spectrum. A vegan version using non dairy cream cheese is also available. First runner-up was the sausage panzerotto, which also contains broccoli rabe but doesn’t let it eclipse the sausage. Made with fine organic flour, the well browned crust is exceedingly fine textured, like cake. 124 MacDougal St., between Bleecker and West 3rd streets, Greenwich Village
With the invasion of ramen parlors, chain bakeries, hot pots, Korean restaurants, yuppified restaurants, and Taiwanese bubble tea parlors, the old Cantonese Chinatown is rapidly disappearing. Mee Sum is a vestige of it, a narrow (but recently remodeled) place in the tea parlor genre of long ago. There sit tables of old men and shoppers nursing their pots of tea as they eat dim sum that, while not the best in Chinatown, is rib-sticking and inexpensive. The wonton soup alone is worth a visit, but there are also over-rice meals in a Cantonese and a Hong Kong vein. 26 Pell St., between Mott Street and Bowery, Chinatown
This blast from the past is an Italian lunchroom and neighborhood convenience store in southern Carroll Gardens, and one look in the glass display case lets you know how great the Italian food — with a Sicilian bent — is. Two cooks bustle around behind the L-shaped counter, producing conventional cheese pizzas, trays of bubbling lasagna, softball size rice balls, potato croquettes, and fried flounder filets. The heros are fab, but even better is an absolutely wonderful salami and cheese calzone, exploding with flavor. You better sit down to eat it, because sausage juices will flood the white plastic plate. This place totally rocks! 365 Smith St., between 2nd and 3rd streets, Carroll Gardens