Many of my best dining experiences never make it to the page: If an eating establishment doesn’t merit a first look, dish of the week, point on a map, or paragraph in a feature story, it often disappears. Those fleeting encounters with restaurants are often the most enjoyable. Accordingly, I resolved to keep an informal diary reflecting my unvarnished daily experiences. Here’s the seventh installment and here’s last week’s edition.
Can a sandwich ever have too many ingredients? I set out to answer the question after working in my East Village community garden on Earth Day, digging weeds and planting new flower sets from the farmers market. Feeling hungry, I went across the street to Sunny and Annie’s, the long-running deli that is the neighborhood’s most famous purveyor of sandwiches. The sandwich makers work unseen behind a high counter plastered with dozens of sandwich selections, some inscrutably named (P.H.O. Real, Mona Lisa, East Side Ink). On a whim I decided to pick the one with the most ingredients and see if it worked.
It’s a mistake to visit this deli on the weekends, because the wait for sandwiches often runs well over 20 minutes. I placed my order at the register for #23, the Fak-Tin, and then went outside to wait among the swelling knot of patrons for my name to be called over the PA system. The card for the sandwich listed an astonishing 11 ingredients, all crammed on a croissant: bacon, sausage, egg salad with potato, romaine, arugula, cranberry, sundried tomato, fresh mozzarella, apple, and balsamic glaze.
Once I got the sandwich, I took it to a table in the garden, unwrapping it from layers of reddish brown butcher paper and aluminum foil. First I noted that the croissant had been pressed into the thickness of sliced bread — I had wondered how the ingredients might be piled in a croissant, fearing that the thing might be physically impossible to eat due to limitations of the human jaw.
I next tried to parse the ingredients. The mayo-oozing egg salad was foremost, making for a gloppy sandwich, and I definitely could pick out the bacon, cheese, sausage, and avocado. Eventually, I found cranberry, and once I took a bite, I could feel the crunch of the apple. But where was the sundried tomato? I can’t say whether it was there. Nevertheless, the sandwich was so good, with the ingredients magically melding. I’d intended to give the second half to any fellow gardener who would take it, but ended up wolfing it down, too. 94 Avenue B, at West 6th Street, East Village
Burgers in unexpected places
There are plenty of much-touted and easily accessible burgers in town in the $7 range — Shake Shack, Five Guys, and 7th Street Burgers come to mind — but I know exactly what each will taste like, and frankly, I’m a little bored. One of the perverse qualifications of being a restaurant critic is wanting to always try something new. So when I as passing one of my favorite hot dog places recently, the 24-hour Chelsea Papaya on 23rd Street, I noticed they offered a burger which I’d never seen anyone order, and said, Why not order a burger from a hot dog place?
So I dived into the bright yellow storefront, which has a giant griddle behind a glass counter with perhaps 100 wieners at time side by side in rows that represent almost raw, cooked enough, and well done, the last a category the one that a surprising number of customers demand. But there was another unused griddle beside that, and when I ordered the burger, an outsize patty was pulled from a cold case and plopped on that, where it started to sizzle.
The burger ($7, cheese $1 extra) seemed a bit expensive till I noted the size of the patty, which looked to be more than a third of a pound, and care with which it was cooked. I wanted onions, too, and thought they might use the hot dog stewed onions as an expedient. But the guy took out a tub of raw onions and lightly sauteed them in the fat oozing from the patty. Anyway, the cheeseburger tasted great, and distinctly different from the fast-food burgers I’d been eating. 171 West 23rd Street, at 7th Avenue, Chelsea
What’s a shawafel?
Rainbow Falafel was founded in 1992 by Mohammad Jamal just off the northwest corner of Union Square, dispensing a surprisingly large menu of Syrian and other Middle Eastern specialties from the smallest and cutest stall imaginable — in an ornate doorway that was once the entrance to an office building.
Sandwiches, salads, and platters are its principal offerings, including falafel fried to order and spice-dusted chicken shawarma that is justly celebrated for its flavor and moistness. Shawafel puts the two together in a sandwich ($10) or a platter ($18.25), the latter also including tahini, pickled cucumbers and other vegetables, pepperoncini, and salad that doesn’t get soggy due to a careful selection of baby spinach and lettuces. Raw onions and hot sauce added free of charge and I recommend both. 26 West 17th Street, near Union Square West