The $6 Wundersandwich (aka the “It Could Be Possible To Live Off Nha Toi’s Menu Alone” Post)

Finally. A $6 sandwich in New York City that is everything I’ve ever wanted: Badass baguette that’s so fresh it talks smack: “Oh yah, what. Bring it.” A serious veggie crunch and bold, fresh flavas that stand up to the succulent, meaty, (in this case porky) protein at its core.

There’s more, nine more banh mi on the menu — lemongrass pork cutlet or shitakke mushroom, anyone? — all priced at either $6 or $7 dollars, NSA.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Nhà Tôi.

Don’t blink as you walk past this tiny storefront on Havemeyer Street, lest you miss it (inside, it’s almost all kitchen and about a mish-mashed seats). The bi heo sandwich that I had — stuffed with shredded pork and skin with roasted rice powder — trumps any banh mi I’ve had in the city, including Baoguette’s.

This is the kind of food memory that will make the injustices of that crappy, prepackaged salad lunch in Midtown and overpriced UES bodega sandwich — with all due respect, it’s just meat, cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce, watery tomato, raw onion on a passably fresh roll — all the greater.

But Nhà Tôi’s menu doesn’t stop there. Once you get past the sandwiches, there’s a full menu of pho to explore, as well as snacks. On my visit, I was blatantly oggling the crispy spring rolls at the next table (can’t help it, close quarters warrant awkward seating and wafting smells).

… and the drinks? Well, no booze. However, the lineup of canned Southeast Asian beverages strung up on a chord will keep you perennially interested, e.g. basil seed beverage with “creme soda flavour” ($2). What’s it taste like? Says Nhà Tôi chef/owner Fred, “Well, I grew up with it. So I love it. But there’s definitely a certain texture to it.

So how does Nhà Tôi keep their prices down? I’d guess from low overhead costs. In addition to being tiny, there’s only one menu, on a sheet of 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper, full of Sharpie cross-outs and tacked-on additions.

Why not print more? Not sure … that’s between a man and his laser jet. I’ll be back to Nhà Tôi in a split second, but I’m not going there.

Nhà Tôi, 160 Havemeyer St., nr. S. 2nd St., 718-599-1820. Cash only.

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$9.99 Chicken Feast for Two (aka the “Dallas BBQ, What!” Post)

It was the vinyl tarp banner, flapping in the afternoon wind, that stopped us:

TWO FULL MEALS FOR $9.99
2 chicken vegetable soups, 2 rotisseried half chickens
served with cornbread and a choice of potatoes or yellow rice
(Avail Mon.-Thurs. until 11:30a-6p, Fri.-Sun. 11:30a-5p
)

What. The chef and I, we stood there, incredulous. Watched the banner flap some more. It’s hard enough to get a decent meal for two at counter-service or fast food restaurants in New York City, let alone at someplace with sit-down service.

Granted, we were standing in front of a Dallas BBQ, a mini-chain perhaps better known for its boobalicious ads, tacky-cheesy quotient and fishbowl-sized drinks than real Texas-style barbecue. (As a friend once pointed out, “You don’t have to point out that the barbecue’s from Texas to a Texan, we’ll know right away whether it is or not. That sign’s for the rest of y’all.”)

Really though, who am I to judge? I wouldn’t go so far to say that I’ve outright avoided Dallas BBQ in the past … but pretty damn close. That is, until today.

The verdict: The soup, pleasant enough, nice rich flavor to the broth. Big slice of carrot, a couple of tender shreds of chicken. The cornbread, a touch dry and mealy, in the just the way a basic cornbread should be. The fries, piping hot from the frier.

And the chicken? Frankly, it was superb.

Skin crisped and golden, the chicken literally falling off the bone, dribbles of juice running down my hands for the rest of the meal.

Writing this post is almost making me crave Dallas BBQ — that’s right, I said “crave” and “Dallas BBQ” in the same sentence — right now.

Maybe this time around I’ll go crazy and try one of those fishbowl drinks …

Dallas BBQ has several locations around New York City.
See www.dallasbbq.com for location information.

Wednesday: Kashmir Grill Finds Its Stride (aka the “$3.99 30th Anniversary Lunch Special” Post)

Dang. In business for 30 years in this dismal neighborhood?!

photo-5Eighth Avenue near the Port Authority has to be one of the last bastions of that gritty, grimy, seedy New York City that far too many New Yorkers wax poetic about, wearing it as some badge of pride.

Well, I’ve seen far more of it than I ever cared to having worked nearby for not even a year — so I can’t imagine the tales that Kashmir Restaurant, an open-around-the-clock Pakistani-Indian restaurant located at the nexus of it all, could tell. If only these freshly-painted walls could talk.

From when I first heard that the restaurant had reopened as a counter-service spot with a spruced-up interior, and had done away entirely with the perpetually stale, and slightly terrifying (and yes, I ate there) lunchtime food buffet, it was only a matter of time until I made a visit.

photo-7Now known as Kashmir Grill, the restaurant is offering two “30 years promotion specials”: A $2.99 kabab roll and a $3.99 rice and chicken special (regularly priced $4.99). In hindsight, I think I would have rather tried the roll, which consists of two grilled kababs wrapped up in naan bread — all the better to sample the new grill feature that I’m assuming prompted the name change.

But I might be thinking about that now because the rice and chicken plate was, well, just okay. Not that I have an issue with offal, but I like to know when I’m ordering it. And I’m fairly certain that not all of the chicken meat was simply white or dark meat pieces, there were some other bits mixed in. The rice was satisfactory, if a little burnt. And the cuts of romaine lettuce laid across the top of the rice and under the charred naan — well, they were neither salad nor anything, other than out of place.

photo-6For the price, you can’t beat it, but I still prefer the meat plate from the nearby food cart, Meal O’Bama.

That kabab roll, on the other hand ... I’m still thinking about it. I think it’s the way to go; I have high hopes. Because really, Kashmir Grill can’t have made it this far for nought.

$7 (and Under) Lunch: Meat and Potatoes, Kolache Mama Style

First impression of Kolache Mama: pink tiles, stainless steel interior, pop-y, cutesy, logo and fonts — some kind of Beard Papa’s copycat?

Then I read a blurb in Time Out NY, which describes a kolache is “a type of stuffed pastry from Central Europe.” Huh? I did not get that at all.

photo-3photo-2Truth is, Kolache Mama is all of the above — and then some. It has more sweet-style kolaches than savory — 10 of the 25 on the menu are listed under the “SweetieMama” section. But, there is a conspicuous bottle of Sriracha sauce sharing a counter with coffee sweeteners and stirs. And the whole interior is pretty, in that anime sort of way.

photo-4Which brings me to the menu: Many of the “MeatieMama” and “VeggieMama” options are even more difficult to grasp than the idea of a central European snack food gone anime rogue.

Options include everything egg-topped versions (presumably for breakfast but sold all day); a “Street Dog” version, in which the lightly-sweet buns that are used as the base for all of the kolaches — sweet or savory — are wrapped around an All Beef Hebrew National Frank; and the “Combo Nosh,” a veggie version, which is topped with hummus, tabbouleh, tzatziki and spices — and just about everything in between.

photo-1All are priced equally: $2.99 ea. or a pair for $5 ($5.44 with tax). Given that common denominator, I picked my two based purely on looks: The reuben, which, according to the menu, was a roll topped with corned beef, Russian dressing, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and caraway seed, and the twice baked potato one, one of my favorite styles of potatoes, and came topped with mashed red potatoes with flecks of red potato skin, cheddar cheese, sour cream and chives.

photoSurprisingly, I preferred the potato one, although the idea of starch-on-starch seriously unsettled me, at first. The corned beef version was okay; I ended up eating all of the topping and only about half the bun underneath, plus the whole thing was a little dried out — in part because, so far, people aren’t buying them quick enough. The only other people to stop in while I was making up my mind about the prettiest kolaches to try were two guys, who said something along the lines of, “We’re just stopping by to try to figure out what this place is about.”

My thoughts exactly.

Wednesday: One Last $5 Sandwich from Food Exchange (aka “The Third Time Is Not the Charm” Post)

The magic of the $5 sandwich finally wore off. I finally saw where the Food Exchange sandwiches were coming from (mystery gone). Or, maybe I just picked a bad one — made by a bad sandwich-maker. I’m not exactly sure what happened, or how, but I am certain that today’s Italian Submarine sandwich is the last sandwich I’ll be eating from Food Exchange for a while.

photo-11photo-12Which is not to say it was bad; it was just … ordinary. Sort of what I expected the quality of these sandwiches to be before back-to-back successes raised the bar.

photo-14photo-13Badly-folded, ultra-compressed slices of genoa and cappicola salami, a few thin shreds of proscuitto, thin shavings of red onion, a sparse distribution of hot peppers, wilted shredded iceberg lettuce, all within a so-so sesame seeded hero loaf, the sort that starts to dry out on the ends quickly after being cut. Generally uninspired. Next!

Monday: Oh Why The Hell Not (aka the “Back for More $5 Sandwich Love from Food Exchange” Post)

A friend of mine who saw my Tweet about trying Food Exchange on Friday asked me over the weekend, “Well, how was it?”

photo-7“Oh it was sooo good,” I said. “The special runs through Wednesday. I might just have to try three more.” I was teasing, sort of. But as it turns out, not really, because here I was, perusing the online sandwich menu for Food Exchange at 11:35 am on Monday morning. More than a little deja vous.

The only thing deja vous, however, about the “100% all natural beef” steak & cheese sandwich from the “Hot Pressini Melts” section (quite different from the “Cutting Edge Sandwiches” section) was … the serious deliciousness.

Another winning sandwich: It arrived via delivery perfectly warm, the cheese melty, tender slices of beef, flecked with bits of sauteed mushroom and red pepper, garlic aioli, all pressed between a crusty rosemary focaccia bread. My one (minor) critique would be I’d love to have the beef a little more rare, but that’s virtually impossible, particularly in a warm sandwich.

Alright, Food Exchange, you’re 2-for-2, so far…