Lunch: So This Is Why I Don’t Like Hot & Crusty (The Cafeteria Food Quotient)

From the first moment we met, Hot & Crusty, I’ve never liked you. It’s not just that you try so hard to be liked (which you do).

photo(4)photo(2)It’s not just that you’re sort of useless, caught in limbo between mega-chains (Starbucks, Subway), better chains (Cafe Metro, Pret a Manger) and shut out from the allegiance people have to their local neighborhood delis (you’ll never be local). You’re just … bland. Which is boring. And I don’t want to be friends.

Every so often I think I’m being to harsh, and so I give you another chance, mainly because you do try, at least, to serve somewhat healthful food. Like today, I was craving some hearty vegetable dish — not salad, not soup and not a veggie and/or cheese sandwich or panini or wrap. I’d already stopped in Dean & Deluca and Teleon Cafe and struck out when I found this tray of spinach pies at Hot & Crusty. Bingo. A big, thick piece of spinach pie, plus a side salad, for under $6. I love it.

photo(3)photoBut then, when I took a bite of the salad, I had this electric and instantaneous sensory memory: This is the exact same Italian dressing I ate for years in my college cafeteria. And that’s when it hit me: Oh my god, Hot & Crusty IS college cafeteria food incarnate. Safe, middle-of-the-road pizzas, pastas, pastries, sandwiches, everything a little over-dry from sitting out for hours, everything slightly skewing towards “healthy” (i.e. no heavy oils, nothing too greasy or fried), bland, so as to not offend the pickiest of eaters.

And that’s exactly why we don’t play more often.

Lunch: Making Something Out of Nothing (aka the Classy Croissant Sandwich Post)

I truly foraged along Eighth Avenue at lunch today:

photoStart. It began with the scavenged remains of last night’s antipasto feast, frisee and a bit of arugula tossed in a sweet balsamic vinegar; a couple of roasted pepper slices; a couple of slices of salami. Out of this bedraggled mess I saw the potential for a sandwich.

Stop no. 1. A local deli salad bar, Amici 36, which, by 2 p.m. the offerings here are looking pretty sorry themselves. I scavenged some red onion slices in a pesto sauce, some roasted asparagus spears, more roasted peppers, two fresh mozzarella slices, fresh greens and a few other stray vegetables that looked appealing. ($2.25) The deli was out of croissants.

Stop no. 2. Hot & Crusty for a croissant, the last in the case. I asked the clerk if she could slice is lengthwise, “like a sandwich.” No plastic ware is going to slice through a delicate, flaky thing like that and not rip it to shreds. ($2.20)

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Finish line. Back at the office, some assembly required, but look at the beautiful sandwich I turned out. A foraged masterpiece.

Breakfast: Friday, March 27, 2009

p-1600-1200-bf171e5d-58a8-4e42-8fa6-b8026842101a.jpegWhat is it about the sweet, doughy smell of the Penn Station LIRR corridor in the 7 o’clock hour that makes me helpless the coy, “come hither” beckon of the pastry cases? Today I succumbed to the chocolate croissant from a Hot & Crusty outpost (top).

Au Bon Pain, Hot & Crusty, Krispy Kreme … I’m sure there’s others I’ve yet to fully register. Ordinarily savory is my weakness — cheeses, French fries and such — and I wouldn’t give a muffin the time of day.

What is this place? Have I happened upon some parallel, inverted universe?

COST: $1.95, plus OJ from home.
PREP TIME: N/A