Wednesday: Voila! The $5 (Fill-You-Up) Salad

Confession: I am a little terrified of the choose-your-own-adventurephoto-3 salad stations at delis and counter-service restaurants in Midtown, you know the ones where you can pick your own mix-ins?

Making good food decisions on the fly is not one of my strong suits. And unlike ice cream toppings, which are made to go together (often times the more the merrier), there are more bad ideas than good ideas lurking at the salad station. I feel like I inevitably end up with one item that makes the whole thing gross, like fresh mozzarella … and silky tofu. Plus, with so many options, it’s difficult go get out for less than $7, which is often my goal.

photo-2I finally think I found a strategy that results in a salad that is both super cheap — $5 for a veggie version, or pay an extra $1.50 for meat — and that you won’t regret later on.

STEP ONE: Pick the small salad. Nevermind container size, the salad will be substantial. At Village 38, the small salads start at $2.75. (If you still have doubts, pick up a $0.50 bag of Wise chips.)

STEP TWO: Say “yes” to free. Order all the complimentary ingredients you can stand. At Village 38, they offer sprouts, red onion, scallions and crutons.

STEP THREE: Order one menu item from each category. It sounds like so little, but with the free ingredients you’ll end up with a salad with five (or more) mix-ins, plus dressing. Plus, your salad is less likely to get messed up by your over-zealousness. You’ll be fine.

photo-1I ordered: $0.50/mushrooms, $0.75/egg white, $1 feta cheese (upgrade and get a meat protein if you’re in doubt or feel like spending a little more).

STEP FOUR: Add it up. Double-check to make sure you’re getting charged for what you ordered. In my case: $2.75 + $0.50 + $0.75 + $1.00 = $5. Now that’s a bargain.

Ed. Note: I tested this strategy at Village 38, but in general, most places offer some sort of free “topping(s)”  and their price point for ingredients is within the same range, if slightly higher. You’re still in and out for less than $7.


Breakfast: Double-Cupping at the Deli (Sshhh…)

I wonder how much overhead at the large, bustling delis of Midtown go phototowards hot and cold cups, plasticware, those little shitty tri-fold napkins, salt and pepper packets, coffee and tea accouterments and other condiment packets? And what sort of hit do the delis take because of people like me who are constantly pocketing a little extra to stash away in office desk drawers?

One of my moves is to double-cup my hot tea. I have to sneak it past the ladies who would rather I just have a single cup and put the cup of hot liquid in a small paper bag — a ridiculous idea  to begin with. Plus, in turn, I use those two cups to make about a week’s worth of tea in the office. (I don’t add milk, that would be gross.) It’s $1.50 well spent.

At the end of the day I don’t feel so bad … I’ll be back soon enough to pay $1 for a 12 oz. soda, $1 for what is ordinarily a $0.50-cent bag of Wise chips, and then some.

Breakfast: What a Difference $0.40 Makes (aka the “Used To Be Cheap Oatmeal” Post)

Unlimited topping oatmeal bar for $2.50? That’s a deal, especially when the toppings include fresh fruit of almost every color of the rainbow — chopped mango, pineapple, banana and strawberry bits, and blueberries — plus several kinds of nuts, plus the usual brown sugar, raisins, craisins, even.

photoWhy buy fruit from the $7.50/lb. buffet at Village 38 (which is always a little questionable) when you can fit a serving’s worth of fruit into your oatmeal?

And that’s exactly what I did: If you could cut away a side view of the container, you’d see: The oatmeal fills the container a little more than halfway. Then, there’s a layer of sunflower seeds and brown sugar (I really want to make a geology/sediment/rock layer joke here, but I don’t know the terminology).

The remainder of the container is filled almost to the top with fruit, another sprinkle of brown sugar, the whole thing topped off with a good pour (probably about 1/4 c.) of whole milk.

photo(2)Brilliant! This plan was working so well … until I got to the register. For my $5, I was given $2.10 change. Not to put too fine a point on it, but you gave me the wrong change, I said to the petite older woman who gives me change several days of the week. (I didn’t actually say, “not to put too fine a point on it.”)

She tried to tell me that oatmeal was $2.90. I pointed to the sign, “It says $2.50.” We went around and around a few times, waiting to see who’d get dizziest first and fall off (concede) when a guy behind the counter stepped in and told her to give me the $0.50.

Smart man. They were probably loosing money (or maybe just not intaking as fast) due to the holdup of the line.

Breakfast: $3.75 Breakfast Burrito that Doesn’t Suck, Imagine That!

photo“How much is that breakfast burrito?” 
“How much is that vegetable omelette?”
        “$3.75. But the difference is, the potatoes go into the burrito and with the omelette, they’re on the side. They’re just there on the plate there for the display.”

So I’ve heard a couple of rumors of a breakfast cart in the neighborhood that does breakfast sandwiches with a meat option of real chorizo; I know where it is but I haven’t had the morning window of time to quite get there yet. 

So I had a soft spot in my heart already when I found this display at Amici 36 deli (which, if you check out the link, you’ll see I frequent on occasion) — despite the whole-wheat tortilla, which reminds me of a wrap in an unpleasant way. (And I don’t like wraps.)

I think I found a little gem: 

photo-1— First entry into the breakfast sandwich tag/category that hasn’t begged for a dribble of Mexican-style hot sauce. I think it’s just that right combination of egg, cheese, meat and potato in one bite. Mmm…

— If you want a sausage in your breakfast burrito, which would otherwise cost an additional $1.50 to any other breakfast, but comes optionally-included in the burrito… I think that’s called a loophole.

Amici 36, southwest corner of W. 36th Street and 8th Avenue, NYC

Lunch: Deli Sandwich Symmetry (How Do They Do That?)

I want to take a brief moment to appreciate the craft of the deli sandwich.

photoThis is a simple fresh mozzarella, lettuce, tomato, onion on toasted rye ($4.50) from Blue Rose Deli in Midtown, which may as well be any one of a thousand nondescript delis in New York City. (Check out the Google search returns on: blue rose deli nyc. Pretty much radio silence.)

But just look at the construction: Somehow, the clerk at the sandwich station has managed somehow to build the sandwich so that two flimsy pieces of rye bread are actually able to contain it all. Look at that: stacks of cheese, a heaping pile of lettuce (shredded, nonetheless), multiple slices of tomato.

And you could get a sandwich just this anywhere. I consider it a small marvel of the culture of deli food. Don’t believe me? Try this at home … you’ll have lettuce, cheese and tomato slices sliding everywhere.

TIP: There’s a great blog,, dedicated to scanning and studying cross-sections of sandwiches. If you geek out about this sort of thing, check it out.

Lunch: The Opposite of Meat

photo(3)In anticipation of the barbecue dinner at Dinosaur BBQ in Harlem this evening that has the potential of being epic, I’m eating not meat for lunch:

Vegetable stir-fry from Amici 36, done Mongolian barbecue style where they pack noodles, vegetables and other savory flavors into a bowl, and they keep packing and packing, and by the time its ready to go into the wok, it’s a small mound of goodness.

The cooking bit is actually a two-wok process: The vegetables go into a wok bubbling away with boiling water for about two minutes, a quick blanching effect. They’re removed with a large, circular slotted tool and tossed into the hot oil in wok no. 2 with the protein and noodles.

photo(2)I order mine spicy, which means the finished product is laced with a Sriracha-style hot sauce.

For a mere $6.25, it’s a damn good lunch.