40, 60, 100, 111 – the numbers of the Centre Street courthouses roll off the tongues of jury duty veterans, who have served in every building. These old-timers will tell you that the most exciting aspect of their service is not the rare patch of lurid testimony, or the moment when the verdict is read – but lunch! And where to go for lunch is the most frequent topic of conversation among those called to jury duty.
The amount of time you're given is wildly variable. Sometimes there's only 45 minutes, and you need to dash out and get something fast. Other times – and this is more common when you're finally impaneled – you have as long as two hours or even more, giving the judge and attorneys time to relax over a leisurely meal in the manner their social status dictates. But whether you have lots of time or little, you probably don't want to walk more than three or four blocks, particularly in warm weather. With that limit in mind, here are my lunch suggestions for those who serve in Manhattan.
First, the dash-and-grab joints. No place in town serves a better banh mi in a more picturesque setting than New Sau Voi Corp. (101-105 Lafayette Street, 212-226-8184), a corner shop that specializes in lottery tickets and Vietnamese CDs. At a counter on one side of the tiny premises, you'll find a pair of ladies throwing their wonderful sandwiches together on demi-baguettes warmed in a toaster oven. There are all sorts of cool-on-the-tongue snacks, too, some made out of green jelly. But no seating.
Manhattan's first northern Chinese dollar-dumpling stall was located on the Lower East Side at 99 Allen Street and closed several years ago, but its satellite location is still going strong in Chinatown. Fried Dumpling (106 Mosco Street, 212-693-1060) maintains the original bare-bones menu, centered on potstickers bulging with pork and chives. Wedge-shaped sandwiches featuring things like thin-sliced aromatic roast beef, pickled veggies, and the house-made sesame bread, plus a selection of soups, are also available. An expanded menu in the same vein occurs around the corner at Tasty Dumpling (54 Mulberry Street, 212-349-0070), where pork-o-phobes can find dumplings stuffed with chicken, mushrooms, and various other sorts of vegetable matter, either fried or steamed. Note that both these places are dirt cheap, with a full tuck-in costing less than $5. Seating is limited.
Between these dumpling stalls is a very strange place called Sam's (30 Mulberry Street, 212-964-6418), which might be called an evolved deli. Not only does it serve the usual sandwiches and mayo-drenched salads, it also has a number of sidelines, including Hong Kong-style, over-rice meals cooked in bamboo steamers cradled in lotus leaves, featuring such diverse toppings as black-pepper spare ribs, salted fish with minced pork, braised eel, and frog: dishes the place describes as "Finger Lichin Good," a sensation that must be halfway between licking and itching. Sam's might be the perfect place for a pair of jurors going out to lunch together, one of whom just wants a deli sandwich.
Now for the sit-down places. With a view of the police lock-up known as The Tombs, the Thai restaurant Pongsri (106 Bayard Street, 212-349-3132) at the corner of Baxter and Bayard has been a popular jury lunch spot since its opening in 1972. There's a great under-$10 lunch special, of which the things to get are the coconut-laced curries, which can pack quite a spicy wallop at your request. Baxter Street itself is lined with Vietnamese spots, of which Pho Pasteur (85 Baxter Street, 212-608-3656), named after a street in Ho Chi Minh City rather than the famous hygienist, is the most venerable. Go for the budget over-rice combinations, especially the ones featuring grilled pork chops.
Just north lies Forlini's (98 Baxter Street, 212-349-6779), like a very big fish out of water, with valet parking, too! This refugee from Little Italy has been sunk deep in Chinatown since 1956, and the red-sauced splendor of its pastas is unsurpassed – in the immediate neighborhood, at least. This is the place you're most likely to see judges and lawyers dining sumptuously, if that is a pleasing prospect. If you simply want to drink your lunch, Whiskey Tavern (79 Baxter Street, 212-374-9119) is a good bet, also furnishing a lunch menu that now includes tacos.
At the limit of our walkable area, around the corner of Reade and Church, three blocks from the courts on Foley Square, are three splendid eateries. Oldest is Pakistan Tea House (176 Church Avenue, 212-240-9800), offering curries, tandoori-cooked poultry, and flatbreads pulled from the vertical clay oven as you watch (my favorite: garlic naan). In between, age-wise, is a sleeper of a modern Italian restaurant with reasonable prices, Sole di Capri (165 Church Street, 212-513-1333), serving up food of Italy's Campania region. It's a very relaxing spot in case a murder trial is making you nervous.
Finally, the area is home to a newcomer with the squishy name of Nish Nush (88 Reade Street, 212-964-1318). I heartily recommend this Israeli spot – related to the wonderful Chick P near Barclays Center in Brooklyn – for its scintillatingly fresh salads, fried-to-order falafels, multiple hummus variations, and such home-style Middle Eastern delicacies as shakshuka and masabacha. And you can return to the jury room feeling both sated and somewhat healthier.
All photos by Robert Sietsema unless otherwise noted: