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.


Lunch: Green Symphony, Back For More (the Avocado Delights Post)

On my first visit to Green Symphony last week, the $7/lb. hot/cold buffet photo-1(verdict: excellent) barely beat out this Avocado Delights sandwich: Two pieces of flatbread, smeared with hummus, and stuffed with a salad’s worth of lettuce greens, sprouts and avocado, priced at $3.95.

This has to be one of the healthiest, cheapest meals in Midtown. Needless to say, Avocado Delights had gotten into my head. I knew I’d be back soon.

… which means, less than a week later. Avocado Delights is as healthy and as fresh as you’d expect, but there’s a fundamental flaw with its composition: It truly IS a salad’s worth of lettuce — only, this salad has no dressing.

photo-2I’m generally a light-on-the-dressing sort of girl, but this much lettuce has got to have something. If I had a bottle of dressing at my desk I would have given the greens a quick toss and rebuilt the sandwich.

As an alternative, I doctored it up with some black bean and avocado salad, you know, the one with bits of cilantro, bell pepper and onion, and a few extra strips of bell pepper. Did the trick — and still for less than $6.

TIP: Green Symphony has a bunch of premade sandwich and wrap options, all under $5, including a chicken curry wrap (free range white meat chicken, mesclun salad, roasted tomatoes, raisins and cashews) and an organic turkey salad wrap (whitemeat turkey salad, fresh tarragon, pecans, tofu, lite mayo, granny smith apples).

Lunch: $2 PBJ. Really.

photo$2 PBJ. It might not be so miraculous except that I just don’t/can’t make sandwiches like that anymore.

For one thing, pre-made PBJs sort of suck. Some part always starts prematurely oozing and gets some part of the bread soggy. And let’s face it, I’m a working professional: There’s no way I’m going to buy a jar of peanut butter and keep it at my desk just because I like sandwiches and toast (ahem, tried, didn’t work); and there’s no way I’m going to keep a jar of jelly at my desk (gross! fear of bugs); and bread? Well, bread goes stale in the time it takes me to stop talking.

photo-1So what a delight to discover that my $2 breakfast sandwich place also does $2 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, in all seriousness! The sandwich comes with your choice of bread — wheat, multigrain, white, rye, toasted or not — and whatever you choose is slathered with both peanut butter and jelly. It’s a good thing. Because really, all you want sometimes is some peanut butter smeared and melty on some bread. And maybe a little jelly.

J.L.H. Deli, 307 W. 38th St. between 8th and 9th avenues.

Lunch: So Close to Excellence, But Not Quite (The “$6 Artichoke Cafe Sandwich Special” Post)

photo(3)Just look at it there in the case: That gorgeous seeded bread, such a welcome departure from the offerings at so many delis and sandwich shops in the neighborhood. Thick slices of turkey, crisp bacon.

All for $6, which includes chips?! It’s damn near impossible to find a decent deli sandwich in the city for less than $6, let alone one that comes on bread like that and chips.

Soo … what’s the catch?

I’ve wandered in and out of Artichoke Cafe a half-dozen times since it photo(5)opened earlier this year, each time wondering the same thing. As far as I can tell, other than being a little negligent on printing up or posting an official menu with prices — there are no prices or descriptions posted anywhere, which makes me feel a little weird because I’m constantly asking questions — Artichoke Cafe appears to be doing moderately well at offering affordable lunch fare that tends towards the healthful — pick-your-ingredient salads, sandwiches, paninis, a rotating selection of hot entrees, a  juice bar — without being overbearing about it.

Now about that sandwich. The bread was excellent: dark, nutty, fresh. I found slices of avocado tucked inside (bonus!), which bumped the sandwich up a notch, approaching club sandwich classification … until I saw the bacon.

photo(4)Here’s where Artichoke Cafe’s healthful tendencies veer off-track: The bacon was not bacon. It might be turkey bacon or mock bacon, I’m not sure, but definitely not regular bacon. I love a lot of veggie fare, but mock meat isn’t one of them. By all means, use mock bacon. Just let your customers know.

*Yet one more argument, and a strong one at that, for printing out little placards to place in the display cases adjacent the options — had I known, I’d have gone for the tuna melt, or the turkey cheddar number, or the pesto chicken, and been equally as satisfied, if not more so. So close to excellence, but yet, not quite.

Artichoke Cafe, 240 W 37th St., btwn. 7th and 8th avenues, 212.695.9086

Breakfast: It’s Back … (aka the “Wiener Schnitzel Leftovers” Post)

photoHot damn, that Wiener Schnitzel sandwich made such a good breakfast. All I wanted, exactly: good source of protein, on some sort of bread/roll, spicy mustard. (Spicy mustard in the morning is a real kick-start.) 

I was going to save this for lunch, paired with a side salad from a deli, but this perfect-breakfast-size dish never even made it back into the fridge … who wants breakfast proper when you can have this, is my feeling. (Told you that you’d see this again.)

Lunch: Grow, Port Authority Greenmarket, Grow! (aka “The Katchkie Farm Sandwich” Post)

In my “About” page, I mention that the BLD Project isn’t a diary of what I’m eating so much as why, where and how I eat.

photo(9)Lunch today is a perfect, self-contained example of how I investigate, how my online connections influence my real-life decisions, and vice versus. The ebb and flow between virtual and actual.

It started with this tweet from @nytimesdining:

Diner’s Journal: Port Authority Greenmarket: A Match Made in Midtown

The Port Authority is in the vicinity of my work neighborhood, so I had to find out more. I followed the link to the Diner’s Journal blog post, where I found a mention about one of the two vendors at this brand-new greenmarket selling sandwiches.

Done. Sold. I gotta go. On principle, to support this fledgling project. I’m excited! I responded to @nytimesdining on Twitter:

@nytimesdining Sandwiches, you say? Heading to new Port Authority Greenmarket at lunch on principle. (viaDiners Journal

photo(7)The Times’ blog doesn’t mention anything about the sandwiches other than that they were there, so I headed for the Port Authority still missing pieces to the puzzle. (The post also failed to mention that the greenmarket is in the smaller, northern terminal of the P.A., the part north of W. 41st Street. That could have been useful.)

Here’s what I discovered, on site: Katchkie Farms will indeed be selling a different veggie sandwich each week, using vegetables from their farm, Bread Alone bread and Hawthorne Valley cheese.

photo(6)photo(5)This week’s version: roasted zucchini, pickled radish slices and romaine lettuce, on a sunflower-seeded bread, both slices smeared with a creamy, spreadable quark cheese with bits of roasted onion, probably shallots. Not exactly your heartiest sandwich, but soul-satisfying in that get-out-of-the-city, country picnic sort of way. I swear you can taste the fresh air.

photo(7)The sandwiches are $6.50 alone, or, for $8.50, pair it with a Katchkie Farm Thunder Pickle — they start off deceptively bread-and-butter-pickle sweet, but finish with a kick of heat, not for the faint of heart — and a glass of Katchkie Farm’s spearmint basil iced tea, which might just be the perfect elixer for a hot summer day, when it ever gets hot.

All in all, a welcome addition to the neighborhood.