Category Archives: Sandwiches

Ben’s Pizzeria

The storefront of Ben's Pizzeria

I’ll admit it: I never would’ve given Ben’s Pizzeria a second glance had it not been for its presence in the opening to Louie. But I go to school in the neighborhood, so I pass Ben’s all the time—and the image of Louis C.K. shoving a slice of Ben’s pizza into his mouth is so burned into my mind that I couldn’t help but give the place some attention.

Since Ben’s is an exceedingly average pizzeria—all they serve is pizza, calzones, rolls, garlic knots, salads, and heroes—I figured the place was probably a shoo-in. Still, I was really dreading making the phone call, because pizza places are fucking impossible to communicate with. Think about it: their phones ring all day, but 99.9% of callers are just calling to order a pizza. Those are the calls they’re trained to handle. So when someone calls in asking whether there might be any nut products on-site, they get confused. The usual language barrier doesn’t help—but the fact that I’m calling to ask a sort-of-unprecedented question doesn’t help, either.

But I did call, and the gist of the answer I received was that there shouldn’t be any nuts or nut products anywhere within the walls of Ben’s. And that—combined with the incredible convenience of the location, and, you know, the whole Louie thing—convinced me to give this place a try.

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Unfortunately, the pizza isn’t all that great. It’s fine—it’s not weirdly sweet or offensively doughy or anything—and it’ll certainly do in a pinch, but it definitely isn’t good. At $2.75 per slice, I’d expect this stuff to be reliably better than the dollar slices you’ll find at 2 Bros. et al., but it isn’t. In fact, it’s actually a little worse. The cheese is bland, and there’s way too much of it—and overall, slices are so flavorless that I’ve actually taken to salting them. (Who salts pizza? Not me. But Ben’s pizza needs salt.) The crust’s decent, though. I’ll give them that. And the sauce is all right, too.

Maybe I’ve just been unlucky. Maybe Ben’s has better pizza to offer. I don’t know, but I guess I’ll find out, because it’s not as if I’m about to stop eating there. Within a certain range of quality, well…pizza is pizza—and Ben’s pizza certainly falls within that range. (I definitely don’t agree with that stupid-ass adage that there’s no such thing as bad pizza. There’s bad pizza, and if you tout the aforementioned adage as some sort of universal truth, I hate to break it to you, but you’re probably one of those folks who’s into bad pizza.)

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Their stromboli, though, are certainly worth avoiding. At all costs. For real. The crust is fine, but the filling—no matter what you settle on—sucks. The meat melds together; the vegetables meld together; everything gets all slimy, and the final product verges on inedible.

Pictured immediately above is a meat stromboli (made with ham, salami, pepperoni, meatballs, and mozzarella) that I just couldn’t bring myself to finish, despite my best efforts (and despite my hunger, too). It was just too goddamn unctuous—actually unctuous—to get through. Though I did eat 100% of the crust.

But Ben’s isn’t without its pros. They have a pretty wide array of toppings (though you’ll have to order a whole pie if you happen to want a combination of toppings that isn’t already on one of their pre-made pies), and, well…there’s seating. (Joe’s has none—so although Joe’s pizza is way, way better, Ben’s wins my patronage in the winter months.) Plus, their garlic knots (pictured immediately below) are actually worth eating. They’re huge—fist-sized, almost—and they have a prominent sourdough flavor to them, which I really like.

An order of garlic knots from Ben's Pizzeria

Surprisingly enough, I’m also a fan of their calzones. They’re made with plenty and plenty (and plenty) of cheese, and the folks at Ben’s will throw whatever fillings you want in there, too. I get broccoli, which is probably a mistake—their broccoli is watery and not really worth ordering—but maybe one day I’ll get over my aversion to most pizza toppings and give something else a try. I do tend to like plain old cheese calzones, though. Ricotta is one of my favorite things in the world, and mozzarella’s an easy sell, so it’s not as if I need anything additional in my calzones. But I wouldn’t mind some better broccoli…

Oh well. Here’s a calzone:

benscalzone

Anyway. Like I said, mediocre food won’t stop me from patronizing Ben’s. Maybe I’ll get around to trying the sandwiches, maybe I won’t—but I know for sure that I’ll keep eating their pizza, calzones, and garlic knots. I have to; I’m nearby every day, and that shit definitely does the trick. Again: The food isn’t bad. I just can’t, in good conscience, call it “good.”

Find Ben’s Pizzeria at at 123 MacDougal Street, between Minetta and West 3rd.

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The Burger Bistro

The menu at The Burger Bistro

I’m such a sucker for customizable meals. Let me build my own anything and I’ll probably end up your most loyal customer. So for me, The Burger Bistro was a no-brainer. Pretty much all they do is customizable burgers—with two million possible outcomes, according to their slogan—so obviously, obviously, I had to try it out.

First, though, allergen information. To my pleasant surprise, The Burger Bistro is one of the most allergen-aware restaurants I’ve dealt with—which isn’t really saying all that much, but which is nice nonetheless. There are no nuts or nut products of any kind in their kitchen, and as for buns, the spiel is as follows:

I cannot attest that the bakery we get fresh rolls from is nut free. But I offer a potato roll, sliders, gluten free roll and a lettuce wrap that I can guarantee are nut free. All breads are kept separate. If you decide to dine with us I will personally make sure we open a brand new package of bread and not cross contaminate anything. I understand your concerns and that’s the exact reason why we do not have nuts in our locations.

Pretty, pretty, pretty good. (Seriously.) I’ll gladly limit myself to—ugh—potato buns if it means continued existence on my part. That’s a fair trade-off, I think. (I should probably mention, though, that The Burger Bistro does offer ice-cream sandwiches, which aren’t, as far as I know, guaranteed to be totally free from cross-contamination. No big deal, though; the rest of the food really does seem safe, and I’m 100% comfortable with all of it, with the exception of the rolls mentioned above.)

A nut-free burger from The Burger Bistro

The first time I went, I had no idea what to order. It was the Fourth of July, and all I knew was that I wanted a burger. But what kind of burger? At The Burger Bistro, there are so, so, so many options: 8 patties, 10 cheeses, 13 toppings, 6 sauces, and 7 buns (or bun substitutes). They’ll nickel and dime you for just about everything, but still—you’ll have a lot of freedom, and it’s hard not to take advantage.

We started with the deep-fried corn on the cob, which was sort of like a sweeter version of corn tempura…minus the tempura batter. I liked it, as did Sam—but $9 for a few halved corn cobs? I wasn’t quite disappointed with the dish, but I don’t think I’d order it again. But the appetizer stage passed quickly, and within a few minutes, it was burger time.

I ended up with a pretty standard burger: potato roll, beef patty, mozzarella cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and a fried egg. Boring? Maybe. But if The Burger Bistro were really all it claimed to be, such a simple burger would’ve been the restaurant’s chance to shine. That was my logic, at least—but the burger just wasn’t very good. I won’t hate on the bun, because I know it isn’t The Burger Bistro’s fault that potato rolls are inherently terrible at supporting much of anything (nor is it their fault, really, that their probably-way-better brioche rolls aren’t nut-free), but I will hate on their beef, because what the fuck?

Listen. If I’m going to a restaurant that specializes in burgers, I’m going to expect the beef—the main character!—to be good, especially at around $15 per burger. I don’t care that the offered Kobe beef, tuna steak, bison (get real), or lamb might be worlds better; it’s a burger joint, and the standard beef patties should be reliably good, at the very least. But they aren’t. They’re the right size (nice and big, without being too thick) but they’re undeniably boring. More mushy than tender, they don’t have much of a sear on the outside—and the medium-rare isn’t much of a medium-rare; it’s more of a medium, if you ask me. Lame.

The rest of the ingredients were all right, I guess. The egg was fine, but its yolk wasn’t runny enough. There were plenty of onions, whose presence I always appreciate—and the lettuce, though fast food–quality, was inoffensive. The tomato was your average not-particularly-flavorful tomato, the mozzarella was fine, and the potato bun was a potato bun. Call me underwhelmed.

Sam’s burger was similar, as were his impressions—but our mediocre experience didn’t keep us from going back. It may have taken us four whole months, but we did return to The Burger Bistro, determined to find some way to squeeze some fun out of their burgers.

A nut-free burger (with pineapple) from The Burger Bistro

Now, I’m still a (big) believer in sticking with the classics, especially at restaurants that have generally failed to impress me—but in the interest of fun-squeezing, I decided to switch it up a bit, namely by adding some grilled pineapple to my burger, which is pictured immediately above. (Otherwise, I did keep it simple: potato bun, medium-rare beef patty, and onions. I didn’t want to cheese-up my pineapple, nor did pineapple and tomato sound all that complementary. And their sauce selection leaves much to be desired…so I went sauceless.)

Still, the burger was good. Not good-good—it had the same problems as the last, and I think the patty was even a bit blander—but good enough to enjoy, at least. The pineapple was great (though I could’ve used more), and should I ever find myself back at The Burger Bistro, I’d definitely order it again. Even for $1.50—which is what each and every topping, cheese, and sauce costs to add on. (Ridiculous.)

Frizzled onions from The Burger Bistro

That night, I also tried the frizzled onions, which were surprisingly good—until they’d cooled down, that is. While hot, they weren’t the slightest bit soggy, nor did they taste mostly of bland grease (as do most frizzled onions and onion rings, in my experience). Instead, they were crispy, soggy, and satisfying—and the portion was huge, too, given that it’d only cost $5. Final verdict: reasonably pleased, would re-order.

So…I don’t have any grand plans to return to The Burger Bistro (not soon, at least)—but I appreciate its existence nonetheless. Allergy-aware restaurants are always, always, always an asset, so I’m (at the very least) glad to have found this one. Is the food to-die-for? No, it isn’t. And is it reasonably priced? Well…not particularly. But if you manage to find the right stuff to order—and good luck, among the literal millions of options—the food’s enjoyable enough.

Find The Burger Bistro in Park Slope, at 177 5th Avenue, between Berkeley and Lincoln, and in Bay Ridge, at 7217 3rd Avenue, between 72nd and 73rd. (Everything I’ve written in this post has been based exclusively on my experiences at the Park Slope location. I’ve never been to their Bay Ridge restaurant.)

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Kossar’s Bagels & Bialys

Three everything bagels from Kossar's Bagels & Bialys

I have a huge thing for bagels, and I’ve spent a lot of time scouring this city for some that happen to be allergy-friendly. I’ve found a few, but none that are quite what I’m looking for when I’m craving a classic NYC bagel…that is, with the exception of those you’ll find at Kossar’s. These—these—are precisely the bagels of my dreams.

Before eating at Kossar’s, I spent a few days emailing back and forth with Evan Giniger, who has owned the store since 2013. Rather than trying to summarize, I’ll just paste the relevant bits below. (I’ve taken the liberty of splicing some emails together, but otherwise, what follows is exactly what I received.)

We do not use any nuts in the production of anything we make at the store. We do use seeds though, which you say below are fine.

Some of the packaged products like babka and cookies are made in an outside facility that does use nuts in other products.   While anything we sell does not have any nuts in them and all come in wrapped, we do sometimes sample them in the store, meaning technically would be possible for cross contamination to have occurred outside our store.

We do sell peanut butter and Nutella spreads in the store at the counter and it is possible that a knife might come in contact with one of those.

All of our spreads are prepared in house in a kitchen area that would also prepare things with sesame seeds, Nutella, and things like that.  I can not say for sure that there is no cross contamination and again if you are very sensitive or concerned at all I would avoid them.  We only have one set of knives we use for everything.

So my two answers are no, we do not use nuts in any of our products, but if you are highly allergic, I would advise that you do not take any risks and refrain from eating at our location.

So Kossar’s isn’t the most clear-cut of cases. But Giniger is refreshingly honest and allergy-aware—and the bagels themselves seem to be pretty low-risk, as they don’t (well, shouldn’t) come into contact with any nuts at any point in their production. So I am comfortable eating at Kossar’s…with some limitations. I’m not too bothered by the potential in-store samplings, but I am bothered by the nutty spreads. (The above emails mention only Nutella, but Kossar’s has almond butter, too.) So given the whole one-set-of-knives thing, I avoid not only the spreads, but the fish, etc., too.

Bialys at Kossar's Bagels & Bialys

That leaves only two options for the nut-allergic stubborn person/bagel-craver who wishes to eat at Kossar’s: unadulterated bagels and unadulterated bialys—which is sort of unfortunate, given how much other awesome shit they sell. But it’s fine, really, because their bagels, even plain, are seriously some of this city’s best. Finally, I’ve found them: nut-free bagels that don’t suck. (Take that, Thomas. Also, fuck you.)

A Kossar’s bagel is fluffy, dense, and chewy, just as a bagel should be. It doesn’t need toasting, nor does it need accoutrements (though they’re a welcome addition, no doubt). Inexplicably, it’ll be warm or warm-ish around 4 times out of 5, clock-hour be damned. The everything bagels are perfectly seasoned, with just enough salt to make them interesting—but I don’t mind an undressed plain bagel every now and then, either. (Not if it’s as good as those at Kossar’s, at least. If you think I’m going to eat an undressed plain bagel from Baz, you’ve got another think coming.)

A Kossar's everything bagel with scallion cream cheese from Baz Bagel

When I get bored of undressed Kossar’s bagels, I’ll usually pick up some cream cheese (scallion, from nearby Baz) and dip my bagel(s) into it, like the baboon I really am. (Process pictured immediately above—except it usually takes place while on the move.)  And when I’m in the mood to pretend I don’t have food allergies, I’ll usually pick up some cream cheese and some lox, then take everything home and assemble it to my liking. Sure, it’d be nice to be able to let the folks at Kossar’s do all that for me—but it’s not so bad to have to do it on my own. (Nothing can upset me, really, when there are good bagels coming my way.)

By the way (and this should be more than a “by the way,” but whatever), the bialys, pictured in baskets above, are great, too. The onion ones are my favorite, but the others are good, too—and whichever I end up with, I like to take them home and toast them, patience permitting. They’re just so doughy, almost like an extra-thick, extra-chewy pizza crust. Honestly, they’re right around as good as the bagels. (And that’s a high compliment. Trust me.)

Anyway, I’m absolutely in love with Kossar’s, even though I can’t eat, like, 98% of the things they sell. The bagels are easily good enough to keep me coming back, despite the fact that there literally isn’t a train that’ll take me from my neighborhood to anywhere near Kossar’s. It’s a 30-minute walk—but there’s nothing that can keep me away.

Find Kossar’s at 367 Grand Street, between Essex and Clinton.

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Burger King

A Whopper with regular fries and Chicken Fries

Burger King. Yeah—that’s what I’m about to write about. We’ll get through all this corporate capitalization together, though. I promise.

Forget introductions, though. Let’s just dive right in. (This is Burger King, after all. Home of the Whopper. Home of the Whopperito. Home of All Those Weird-Ass “Long” Sandwiches. These are the folks who brought us Mac n’ Cheetos. These are the folks who brought us the Egg-normous Burrito. In the world of Burger King, there’s no attempt at nuance or subtlety. There are no appetizers; there’s no easing you in. There are just Tendercrisps and Tendergrills and Grilled Dogs and fucking Croissan’wiches. Shit’s vulgar. Why should I ease us into this with an intro?)

According to their allergen chart, nothing at Burger King contains tree nuts of any sort. (The Reese’s pie and the Snickers pie do contain peanuts, though—just something to be aware of.) For peace of mind, I avoid the pies, the cookies, and the rather lewd-looking Otis Spunkmeyer Cinnamon Rolls (sorry, but come on!)—but in my experience, everything else has been totally safe. So. There’s that.

Moving on.

Most of the time, I’ll order a Whopper, but if I’m not in the mood for a slab of nasty-ass beef(-ish product), I’ll often go for a Tendercrisp (which is, on a good day, about sixteen times better than a Buttermilk Crispy Chicken). I like the Tendercrisp—the fried chicken is indeed pretty tender (though not all that crisp), and the tomatoes are, for the most part, inoffensive. Plus, there’s mayo. I like mayo.

Third in my hierarchy is the Big Fish: an often-worse Filet-O-Fish, and a monstrosity that I reserve for my hungriest, most desperate days. It’s just Alaskan pollock, breaded and topped with tartar sauce, pickles, and lettuce—and it’ll do the trick in a pinch, I guess. (I do ask them to hold the lettuce, though. That shit tastes like E. coli.)

As sides go, I’m really into Burger King’s mozzarella sticks (which aren’t on their American menu, but which are definitely available at some American Burger Kings). They’re gross, sure…but they’re really creamy, and I can’t deny that I’m a fan. When warm, the Chicken Fries (plain, not Cheeto-dusted) are good, too—they remind me of the long, peppery Burger King chicken nuggets of my childhood—and though they’re a little expensive, I’ll usually spring for them over regular nuggets.

My favorite Burger King offering, though, is definitely the chocolate shake (sorry, the Chocolate Hand Spun Shake, Which Is Totally Hand-Spun, We Swear). Though the chocolate syrup is a little overbearing, the shake, as a whole, is pretty tasty—and its whipped cream topping makes for a good french fry dip, should you run out of ketchup.

Chicken fries and regular fries

Forget favorites, though. What fun is praise, anyway? The folks at Burger King have clearly lost their minds, and I’m now going to take a few minutes out of my day to warn you about the menu items you shouldn’t, under any circumstances, consider ordering. Here we go.

First off, the Whopperito (a “burger-burrito mashup” made from…everything that goes into a Whopper, with some minor adjustments) is fucking disgusting. That goes without saying, I know—but it’s fucking disgusting nonetheless. I like fast food. I like Burger King. I even like Whoppers. But the Whopperito is an obvious, obvious cry for attention, and it’s nasty as hell. (Seriously: that thing makes Taco Bell seem like fine dining. It’s horrifying.)

How do I know? Because I’ve tried it. I know it’s bad because I’ve paid to eat it—because Burger King owns me, my soul, and my wallet, and because I’m powerless in the face of advertising of any sort, it seems. Sure, I ate it ironically—all I’d wanted was to laugh at the thing. And I did. But in that situation, who’s the winner? It certainly wasn’t me, belly full of Whopperito, money lining The Burger King’s pockets. It’s Burger King. The winner’s always Burger King. So much for ironic transcendence.

Also terrible are the Mac n’ Cheetos: another cry for attention whose transparency has done approximately nothing to keep me away. They’re essentially just breaded bits of mac and cheese that have been coated with Cheetos dust, but they’re way, way more than the sum of their parts. They are so much worse than I ever could’ve imagined—it’s insane. (I haven’t yet tried the Cheetos Chicken Fries, and I’m not exactly planning on it. I’ve been burned, I guess.)

Anyway: I’ve been pretty mean, but I do like Burger King, for what it is. Plus, when I remember to use the coupons they offer through their app, I rarely spend more than $15 on a meal for two—a welcome relief, given how much I’m usually roped into spending on food.

Find Burger King all over. (If you’re in the mood for a particularly strange experience, though, consider stopping by the Burger King at 106 Liberty Street. They do table service—and they sell beer.)

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Frankel’s Delicatessen & Appetizing

The #3 specialty combo from Frankel's Delicatessen

[Edit: As of late 2017, Baz Bagel—the bakery that makes the bagels used at Frankel’s—no longer has a nut-free kitchen. The gluten-free bagels at Baz are now made with almond flour, and since they’re made in the same kitchen (and on the same equipment) as the regular bagels, I’m no longer on board. So that…slims the pickings at Frankel’s quite a bit, doesn’t it?]

My dad is notoriously terrible at handling my allergies. He’s convinced he can determine with a glance whether a pastry contains nuts, and he has a habit of insisting that restaurants are nut-free based on nothing more than his own intuition. It’d be one thing if he had some sort of inexplicably high success rate with these things, but he doesn’t, so I’ve learned to ignore his suggestions—or at least to be sure to thoroughly vet them myself.

That said, he was onto something when he suggested Frankel’s, a Greenpoint delicatessen that opened this past spring. The folks at Frankel’s—the Frankel brothers, rather—don’t cook with nuts, meaning there are no nuts or nut products in their kitchen. Their pastries are supplied by Green’s and their bagels by Baz; plus, they sell Utz and Zapp’s chips, which are both made in a nut-free facility. Knowing all that, one might start to get the idea that Frankel’s is intentionally nut-free—but it isn’t, as far as I know. [Edit: Actually, it is. See the edit below.]

Their rye bread (supplied by Rockland Bakerydoes come with a “may contain” warning, but the matter isn’t so simple. I’ve actually been told by Rockland’s Food Safety Manager that the rye is made in a nut-free facility—but I can’t be sure, as the information I’ve gotten from Rockland has been inconsistent, to say the least. Katz’s Delicatessen uses Rockland’s rye, too—so rather than re-spieling, I’ll just direct you to the first few paragraphs of my post on Katz’s.

I’ve eaten Rockland’s rye at Katz’s and at Frankel’s countless times without issue, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should follow my lead. Use your own discretion, obviously—and if you aren’t comfortable with Frankel’s rye, the good news is that it’s easy enough to avoid, as you can order pretty much anything you want on a bagel. (As bread goes, Frankel’s also offers rolls and challah, but both are supplied by Amy’s Bread, which is not an allergy-friendly company, so I’ll just stick to recommending the bagels—and maybe the rye, depending on whom at Rockland you trust).

And while I’m ironing out allergen information, I should probably mention that Frankel’s gets their fish from Acme Smoked Fish (who don’t use have any nuts in their New York facility), and that they get some of their meats from a nearby warehouse that they don’t seem to want to name. It doesn’t seem as though they do all that much in house, which costs them a few points on the allergy-friendliness scale—but really, whaddya gonna do? I’ve eaten at Frankel’s without issue quite a few times now, and I feel it’s worth a post, at the very least. Your standards may differ, and that’s fine. This is my blog, after all.

[Edit: A week or two after publishing this post, I received an email from someone who identified herself as a part of the Frankel’s team, saying that Frankel’s is, indeed, intentionally nut-free. Evidently, their executive chef, Ashley Berman, is allergic to peanuts—and while she isn’t allergic to tree nuts, the folks at Frankel’s evidently do their best to maintain an environment that’s 100% nut-free. (Apparently, Berman has worked with Amy’s Bread for years, and she’s comfortable with their handling of allergens. When it comes to breads, though, peanuts are certainly much easier to avoid than tree nuts—so do with that information what you will.) Good news nonetheless, though. I had a feeling something was up!]

Pastrami, egg, and cheese on a plain bagel from Frankel's Delicatessen

You know, for a Food Allergy Blogger™, I have an unusual amount of hatred for blogging about food allergies. Spelling out allergen information isn’t any fun; I much prefer eating and/or talking—writing—about eating. Onto the fun part, then.

The menu at Frankel’s is small and simple, but that doesn’t make it any easier to decide on what to order. I’m not the biggest fan of Baz’s bagels—I wrote some nice things about them back in June, but I’ve since come out of my bagel-deprived stupor and realized that theirs are rather underwhelming, to say the least—but the idea of a Frankel’s bagel sandwich had me drooling nonetheless. (Perhaps a Baz bagel would fare better out of Baz’s hands. That was my hope, at least.) Why stop at bagels, though? Frankel’s has all the classic sandwiches—pastrami, corned beef, Reubens, roast turkey, salami, chopped liver, and brisket—as well as breakfast sandwiches, hot dogs, and latkes. How was I ever supposed to make up my mind?

The first time I went, I ordered a #2 specialty combo (Nova lox, Nova spread, and salmon roe on a bagel), and to be honest, I wasn’t impressed. It wasn’t bad, but it was no different than anything I could’ve gotten at Baz, which isn’t exactly a compliment. The lox was fine, but the salmon roe wasn’t the best, nor was there very much of it—and the sandwich was made with regular cream cheese rather than Nova spread. Oops.

There was no way in hell I was giving up that quickly, though. Far sooner than I’d like to admit, I returned to Frankel’s with Sam in tow, and that time, I was able to sample a little more widely. We split two sandwiches: the #3 specialty combo (Irish organic salmon, whitefish salad, capers, onion, tomato), and the pastrami, egg, and cheese.

Now, the #3 (pictured at the top of this post) was good, but it didn’t exactly leave me wishing for another. Perhaps it would’ve, though, if the ever-important bagel itself had been good, because the whitefish salad was perfect, the onion was cut into super-thin slices that actually made sense in the context of the sandwich (for some reason, this is rare), and the tomato was fresh and flavorful. The bagel itself really left me wanting, though. Baz’s aren’t the slightest bit fluffy, and for some reason, they never taste all that fresh. It’s a shame, because the #3 was otherwise solid.

The pastrami, egg, and cheese (pictured second above, in Sam’s clutches) is another story, though. That thing never fails to make my day, no matter how many times I order it. The egg—which is actually good on its own, unlike that you’ll find in your average bodega sandwich—is absolutely smothered with melted cheese, and the pastrami is peppery, fatty, and tender as can be. The sandwich as a whole is the very definition of “melt in your mouth,” and its contents are so good that they actually manage to make up for that boring-ass Baz bagel. Seriously: Forget about bacon. Pastrami is definitely the superior meat.

frankels

The pastrami, egg, and cheese may be my favorite Frankel’s offering—if we aren’t counting their specials, that is. If we are, though, I might have to go with the heirloom tomato ordeal I had a few weeks ago (immediately above, in an iPhone photo, as I was without my camera that day). It was simple—an open-face bagel topped with tomato, basil, chives, olive oil, and just enough cream cheese—but it was surprisingly tasty.

The tomato, thick cut and actually flavorful, was one of those magnificent treasure-tomatoes you’ll only find at the farmers’ market, and the olive oil, while nothing special in itself, brought the whole creation together wonderfully. God, it was good. I wish it weren’t just a special—but I also don’t, because out-of-season tomatoes suck. (Take note, Baz.)

But don’t get me wrong: I like their simpler sandwiches, too—they just don’t excite me as much as the ones I mentioned above. The brisket (pictured below—on rye, though it usually comes on Amy’s challah) is actually made in house with Grandma Frankel’s recipe in mind, and it’s really goddamn tasty, if a bit too sweet. Plus, the bread comes griddled, which originally went a very long way in winning me over. And though the sandwich as a whole is a little one-note, it certainly makes for a satisfying meal.

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The pastrami and corned beef—while certainly nowhere near as good as anything you’ll find at Katz’s—are decent, too, though I’m not sure I’d order either again. On its own, the pastrami’s on the bland side. What flavor it does have is a bit too hot-doggy for me, but it’s thick-cut, fatty, and, um…present in large quantities, so there’s only so much complaining I can do. The corned beef’s a little worse, though; it just comes off as a fattier version of ham, without anywhere near enough of that signature corned beef tang. Oh well.

Anyway, Frankel’s is a neat little place…despite the fact that they don’t seem to do much of anything. I only wish it were more accessible by train. (The G’s your best bet, though it’s certainly possible to walk over from the L—until it stops running, that is.) Find it at 631 Manhattan Avenue, between Bedford and Nassau.

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Katz’s Delicatessen and the City’s Most Legendary Pastrami Sandwich

A plate of pickles, a pastrami on rye, and a corned beef on rye at Katz's Delicatessen

“For most New Yorkers, deli means pastrami, and pastrami means Katz’s. This is simply a fact of life, like death and taxes.”

*     *     *

Katz’s Delicatessen, easily one of this city’s most iconic restaurants. It’s been hanging around the Lower East Side for almost 130 years now, and in that time, tourists and New Yorkers alike have come to cherish its kosher-style food. Their pastrami sandwich is on every list of things you’re supposed to eat in this city—and you know what? You probably can, nut allergy be damned.

I’m in the process of breaking a bad habit of assuming I can’t eat any of the hyped-up foods everyone’s always talking about. Sure, it’s probably a valid assumption when it comes to some things (Dominique Ansel’s cronut, or—ugh, I need this—his burrata soft serve), but I’ve proven to myself time and time again that I can, in fact, get in on a lot of the trendy and/or iconic (read: uh, touristy) foods this city has to offer. Turns out, getting off my ass and asking questions actually pays off more often than I’d ever expected—and I suppose I have this blog to thank for that realization.

Since I started eating at Essen, I’ve been on quite the pastrami kick. It was that kick that led me to email Katz’s last week. I asked a few questions about nuts and cross-contamination, but the response I received was underwhelming, to say the least: “No nut products.” That was it. So I called, and while the experience was a bit painful (it involved, for some reason, lots of “can you just call back in 15 minutes?”), the results were well worth the effort.

The folks at Katz’s do not cook with nuts. However, they do carry a number of baked goods (babka, etc.) made elsewhere that may not be free from cross-contamination. No word on whether or not those baked goods actually contain nuts—their babka is rumored to be made by Green’s, actually—but I’ve been told to avoid them regardless. No big deal, really; I don’t think anyone goes to Katz’s for the overpriced desserts.

We need to have a talk about Katz’s ever-important rye bread, though. It’s supplied by Rockland Bakery, whose allergen information is confusing as hell, to say the least. At Katz’s, the Rockland bags are made of wax paper and are without any sort of “may contain” warning. I’ve seen other Rockland rye bags, though—at Frankel’s Delicatessen, for example—that are made of plastic and that do bear a “may contain” warning, right above the nutritional information panel. Strange.

Naturally, I called Rockland to find out what was up, and the woman I spoke with (who worked in Rockland’s retail department, the only department I had any luck reaching by phone) told me in no uncertain terms that Rockland makes only one type of rye, and that they do make that rye on equipment that’s also used for their nut-containing breads. So that’s that, then, I guess? Nope.

At that point, I’d been eating their rye for weeks without issue, and I’d decided to continue to do so because (a) it had been fine so far and (b) I love Katz’s. But I wanted to be certain about the risks I was taking, so I sent Rockland an(other) email in an attempt to perhaps find out about any measures they were taking to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. The reply I received, from Rockland’s Food Safety Manager, was as follows:

Thank you for contacting us regarding your concern on the allergen in our facility. I would like to inform you, our Rye bread is manufactured in a plant that is tree nut free and no equipment is shared with any tree nuts or any kind of nuts.
We are a HACCP certified company with specific programs and cleaning procedures to prevent cross contamination as well we have programs to control any use of allergens.
The allergen disclaimer on the bag, it is a generic statement found on all Rockland Bakery products, and in most cases, it is requested by our customers or governmental offices, however, like in the case of the Rye bread, it really doesn’t apply.
If Katz and Frankel’s, in fact are using our Rye bread, in both cases, the bread is free of any tree nut and nuts contamination.

I sent a few more emails to a few more addresses to be absolutely certain that above information was, in fact, accurate, but I didn’t get much back…except for what seems to be Rockland’s official allergen statement, which I’ve attached here. (Spoiler: It’s consistent with the above email, which comes as no surprise, because it was written by the same guy.) Good news, I guess.

While I don’t like how much misinformation I received—inconsistent answers are one of the easiest ways for a company to put me off—I’m inclined to trust that Rockland’s rye is made in a nut-free facility. Of course, I understand that such hubbub is enough to sour many nut-allergics on Rockland (and Katz’s, by extension). It may have been a deal-breaker for me, too, if I’d gone through all this before I got myself addicted to this goddamn pastrami. Too late now, though. (Plus, I really do believe that Rockland’s bread is safe.)

That is, of course, just my personal stance, and as always, you should only eat where you’re comfortable eating. My goal in rambling like this is to provide you with (more than) enough information to come to your own conclusions about Katz’s and their rye. (And by the way, it’s certainly possible to avoid bread at Katz’s. You can order the meat on its own, or you can go for any of their other bread-less offerings, though neither of those options is, uh, canon. Still, doable. I recommend the three-meat platter.)

Anyway. All I can say, really, is that Katz’s works for me. Proceed past the following salami wall at your own risk.

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Katz’s is loud and chaotic and almost always packed to capacity (with ding-dongs, no less), but all that’s easy enough to ignore—just focus on the smell of the meat. When you walk in, you’re given a ticket (don’t lose it or you’ll be out $50), and then you’re on your own. If you choose to go the self-service route, you’ll eventually figure out that you’re meant to take your little ticket to the appropriate counter and use it to order some food. If you’re getting a sandwich (as you should be), you’ll want to tip the dude who slices your meat, and then you’ll want to take your drooling ass to a table and get to business before anything goes the slightest bit cold.

The first time we went, Sam and I both ordered pastrami on rye—a mistake, considering how huge those sandwiches are. (Half of one is pictured below, in a bit of disarray, because I’m a klutz.) To our delight, our cutter let us sample some hot pastrami before he piled it onto our sandwiches. (Apparently, that’s SOP; we’d had no idea.) Over the din, he looked for our approval, and over the din, we gave it. And then it was sandwich time.

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The sandwich. The sandwich. The sandwich. I’d really rather not play into the circle-jerk, but my honest-to-goodness opinion is that this sandwich is about as good as it’s reputed to be. It didn’t change my life. It didn’t stop my heart. It isn’t the best thing I’ve ever eaten. But it’s absolutely delicious. That much is undeniable. The pastrami, thick-cut and peppery, really does melt in your mouth. It’s very fatty, though not sickeningly so, and the sour of the mustard complements it wonderfully. The rye is just okay, but really, who cares? It’s all about that pastrami, baby. And the pastrami is damn good.

The corned beef (pictured below—first untouched, and then in the inevitable state of disarray) is wonderful, too. So wonderful, in fact, that some days, I even prefer it to the pastrami. (Which I like more depends on little more than which I had last. Seriously: Corned beef is criminally underrated.) Like the pastrami, it’s incredibly tender and juicy—but it’s saltier, tangier, and to me, it tastes a little cleaner (though I’m fully aware that it isn’t “clean” by any stretch of the word).

Corned beef on rye from Katz's DelicatessenHalf a corned beef on rye from Katz's Delicatessen

If plain pastrami/corned beef sounds too boring, you’re wrong, but consider trying the Reuben. It’s made with meat (pastrami or corned beef), sauerkraut, Russian dressing, and Swiss cheese, and it’s pretty solid. I could’ve done without the Swiss, and the rye couldn’t quite hold the combination of greasy meat and wet sauerkraut, but you know what? Messy as it was, I enjoyed the hell out of the one Katz’s Reuben I’ve eaten. It’s not quite on par with its kraut-less brethren, but it’s a good option when you’re in the mood for something a little different.

I like their knishes, too. (Actually, I like stuffing fallen sandwich meat into their knishes. Same thing, right?) They’re under $5 each, which is low for Katz’s, and I like to use them to supplement my usual meal of a half sandwich. (Sam and I have fallen into the habit of splitting a sandwich and a knish. That brings the meal-for-two price down to $25, which is a lot easier on our wallets than the double-sandwiched alternative.) Katz’s offers both square and round knishes, by the way. I’m partial to the square ones, but some insist that round is the way to go. Do with that what you will.

Anyway. I’m, like, 1,700 words and 5 photos deep here, so I suppose I should probably stop going on about this place. Suffice it to say, then, that I am a huge fan of Katz’s—at lunchtime, at dinnertime, and even (and especially) at 2am on a Saturday night, when there’s hardly anyone there and the bathroom floors are covered in sawdust. There’s just something about that place that makes me happy.

And okay, a lot of that something is the food, but there’s more to it, too. The atmosphere: the bustle, the smell, even the tourists—even the misguided ones, who spring for waiter service and then insist on ordering turkey on wheat, extra mayo. The enormous dining room, the hanging salamis, the kitschy celebrity photos that cover the walls. The cutters and their perpetual need to poke fun at me. The sense of coming together over something (pastrami, duh). And, of course, the fact that even I can take part.

Find Katz’s Delicatessen at 205 East Houston Street, on the corner of Houston and Ludlow. And remember: DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, LOSE YOUR TICKET. (Also, here’s some further reading, because Katz’s fascinates me: a lovely description of a night at Katz’s, and an explanation of how they make their pastrami.)

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Essen New York Deli, Part I

A pastrami sandwich from Essen NY Deli

Man, Jewish delis are the best.

I’ve had a lot of luck with kosher food, but until now, that luck has been reserved for baked goods. I’d never been able to find a nut-free delicatessen—that is, until I heard about Essen, a glatt kosher deli in Midwood, Brooklyn that happens not to have any nuts in house.

It sounded too good to be true, so I sent Essen an email to double-check. The response I received, in its entirety, was as follows: “Hi, we do not cook with any nuts but we are not a 100% nut free environment. Any questions please call us.” That response could have meant a whole lot of different things, so I did end up calling with a few further questions.

After being transferred a few times, I ended up on the phone with someone who really seemed to know what he was talking about. He explained to me that, while they don’t cook with any nuts at Essen, they don’t like to call their food “nut-free,” as they have no means of controlling what their customers (or employees) bring in with them. They prefer to say that they make food without nuts so as not to mislead anyone with severe allergies. So far, so fair.

Bread’s trouble, though, and I wasn’t about to make a trip to Midwood without the promise of a sandwich, so I was sure to double-check on that, too. With me still on the line, the man on the phone called up his bread supplier, put him on speakerphone, and asked him whether there might be any nut traces in their rye or club breads. The answer was “no,” and that was that. Within 30 minutes, I was riding the Q to Avenue J.

[Before I move on, I’d like to emphasize just how competent and knowledgeable this guy was. I asked what “we are not a 100% nut free environment” meant, and without a second’s hesitation, he jumped into an explanation that demonstrated a degree of allergy awareness that was really refreshing—especially at the tail end of a few hours of restaurant-calling. He was patient, clear, and actually helpful, and I was incredibly grateful. Serious props to the folks at Essen for that one.]

The restaurant’s bigger than I expected it to be, with a few different rooms full of tables. There’s counter service at the front, and it’s easy enough to get food to-go, but Sam and I opted to eat in (mostly because I’m absolutely hopeless when it comes photographing food without a table to help me out). Ourselves excluded, all the patrons were Jewish—and most seemed to know one another, too. We got a lot of funny looks, but such is life in an Orthodox neighborhood for even the most modestly dressed of goyim. In all, everyone was friendly enough.

Essen has two menus: one Chinese and one with traditional deli food. Before I’d even sat down, I knew I’d be ordering the hot pastrami on rye. (How could I have considered anything else? Pastrami’s at the base of my need-hierarchy pyramid.) Sam got the Yitzy’s Favorite Deluxe (fried skirt steak with gravy on a club roll), which came with french fries and onion rings—and as we tend to, we split both sandwiches.

First came the cole slaw and pickles, though. The cole slaw was good, if a bit sweet—though it was much, much better after a few too many bites of pastrami. There were two types of pickles: half-sours, which were all right, and full-sours, which I much preferred. The full-sours tasted inexplicably like salami, but we didn’t care much. We ate them quickly, and our sandwiches arrived soon after.

The pastrami on rye (pictured above) cost $14.95, and it was worth every last penny. Fatty, tender, and juicy, the pastrami itself was really tasty, if a bit thin-cut—and the bread wasn’t half bad, either. It held its integrity, at least. (I tend to hate rye, but how can you hate anything that’s acting as a vehicle for a few inches of freshly-carved meat? You can’t.) As a whole, the sandwich was simple and delicious, and I’d already begun to crave another within an hour of finishing my first. (Unfortunately—or fortunately, perhaps—I was back in Manhattan by then. Oh well.)

The Yitzy’s Favorite ($22.95) wasn’t my favorite, though I didn’t actually dislike it in the slightest. It wasn’t at all bad, but the fried steak just wasn’t anywhere near as good as the pastrami, and the club bread was worse than the rye, too. I loved the gravy, but the sandwich was a little boring overall—and it’d cost $8 more than the pastrami, which just made me feel like I was paying more to miss out. Nothing was wrong, but I’m not exactly in a rush to order the Yitzy’s Favorite again.

The fries it came with were pretty terrible, by the way. (Like, inedibly bad. Neither Sam nor I could get through them, which is sort of saying a lot.) And the onion rings were not onion rings; they were strands of hot onion adorned every few inches with clusters of fried batter. Regardless, they were delicious, though certainly a little strange.

With tax and tip, the meal was on the expensive side, but I maintain that it was absolutely worth its price. Fortunately, Essen is far enough away that I can’t stop by every day, which should go a long way in keeping me from going broke. Their menu’s pretty big, and I’ve only eaten two of its offerings, but you know what? I’m ready to say with confidence that I love this place.

Perhaps one day I’ll let go of the pastrami (yeah, right) and try out the rest of the menu. I’d like to try their knishes, or their matzah ball soup, or maybe some of their other sandwiches, at least. Perhaps I’ll even get around to trying a few things off their Chinese menu—though I think that’ll probably deserve a post of its own. (That’ll be part II—stay tuned.) But for now, it’s pastrami for me.

Find Essen New York Deli at 1359 Coney Island Avenue, between Avenue J and Avenue K. (It’s not that far away, really. From Manhattan, it’s 40 minutes on the Q, tops—way less if you’re starting off downtown.) Beware, though: They are Jewish, so they won’t be open on Shabbat. They close at 2pm on Fridays, and they don’t reopen till 11am Sunday mornings.

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Baz Bagel & Restaurant: An absolute godsend

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[Edit 2: As of March, 2018—or maybe earlier, I have no idea—Baz is once again nut-free. Back to rice flour for the gluten-free bagels, I’m told. Rejoice?]

[Edit: As of October, 2017—or maybe earlier, I have no idea—Baz has started to offer gluten-free bagels made with almond flour. As all the equipment’s shared, I’m no longer comfortable (in the slightest) with Baz, so I’ve gone ahead and taken them off my list. I’ll leave the post up as a record, but if you’re allergic to almonds, I can’t any longer recommend you go to Baz.]

It’s no secret that I love bagels. I have an entire category dedicated to bagels on this blog, and I think I’ve made it clear that I’ll do almost anything for a good one. But safe bagels are really, really tough to find. Bagels themselves almost never contain nuts, sure—but try finding a bagel store that doesn’t do pastries and/or nut-based spreads, too. (Alternatively, don’t bother. I’ve spent hours and hours trying, and it’s pretty much impossible.)

Now, Baz does sell pastries—though you won’t find them on their online menu—but they aren’t made in house, so I’ve been assured that cross-contamination is essentially a non-issue. (I’m not sure—and neither was the woman I spoke with—whether any of the pastries Baz sells actually contain nuts. All she said was that she couldn’t quite guarantee that they were safe, as she didn’t have much information about their baker’s facility. Fair enough.)

Pastries aside, though, I was told via email that “the only thing with tree nuts is almond milk for the coffee. Otherwise, all clear!” To me, this isn’t a huge deal, as almond milk is pretty self-contained. Still, comfort is subjective—so if you’re considering eating at Baz, please be sure to do your own research and only proceed if you feel comfortable doing so.

In any case, felt comfortable enough with the information I’d collected on Baz. (Plus, with food like theirs, how could I resist?) So early last Sunday morning, I made my way over to Grand Street to get myself a long-awaited bagel. For my first Baz experience, I kept it simple: an everything bagel with Nova lox and plain cream cheese—and it certainly satisfied my craving. The bagel itself was fine (not the world’s best, but fine), and the lox was…well, it was lox. Delicious.

An everything bagel with lox, scallion cream cheese, and chives from Baz Bagel

I’ve been back a few times since—I wasn’t kidding about loving bagels—and so far, everything I’ve tried has been wonderful. My two favorites are probably the Mooch (Scottish salmon, sable, cream cheese, tomato, onion, and chives) and the BAZ (Nova, scallion cream cheese, tomato, and onion). If I had to choose, though, I’d probably go with the Mooch, because a) sable’s awesome, b) I prefer the Scottish salmon to the Nova, and c) the chives make a huge difference. I do have one complaint concerning these two sandwiches, though: The tomato sucks. Tomatoes are out of season right now, though—so maybe that’ll improve. [Edit from the future: There was no improvement.]

I’m also a huge fan of the wasabi tobiko cream cheese (even though I generally don’t like the flavor of wasabi). The flavor isn’t too harsh, and the tobiko itself adds a great texture to the bagel-and-cream-cheese combo. The whitefish salad’s good, too (if a bit sweet), and the Nova and chive cream cheese is Nova-heavy and pretty much perfect. Honestly, nearly every spread or spread-like thing I’ve tried at Baz has been decent or better (but maybe that’s just because I know better than to go for some of their stupider offerings—I’m looking at you, blueberry cream cheese).

You can also dine in, if you’re so inclined—though I wouldn’t quite recommend doing so, as the service is (in my experience) painfully slow, and they tend to bring out a complimentary dessert toward the end of the meal, which isn’t ideal for those who are concerned about allergens. No big deal, though; Baz does counter service, too—and they’ll deliver to you (for free!) if you live between Worth and 10th Streets on the north-south axis and 6th Avenue and Essex Street on the east-west axis. (For the rest of us, I suppose there’s always Postmates and Amazon Prime Now.)

Is Baz perfect? No. Cheap? Not at all. Are their bagels the city’s best? Definitely not. But are they the safest bagel place I’ve been able to find in a few years of searching? Well, they certainly seem to be. And hey, their food is pretty damn good. So if you’re as into bagels as I am—or even if you aren’t—I’d certainly say Baz is worth a try. I, for one, am very ready to become a regular.

Anyway, if Baz’s handling of allergens seems like it’d meet your standards, you can find them and their bagels at 181 Grand Street, between Baxter and Mulberry. Beware, though: They get pretty busy around lunchtime, and they close at 4pm.

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Smorgasburg, Part I: Ramen Burger

Ramen burgers, mid-assembly

If you’ve been on the Internet at any point in the last few years, you’ve probably already heard of Keiko Shimamoto’s Ramen Burger. Every weekend, his stand opens at Smorgasburg to sell a single signature product: you guessed it, the ramen burger—a beef patty, arugula, scallions, and a whole lot of sauce, all between two ramen buns. And although they’re gimmicky as hell and probably super overhyped, I’ve been curious about these monstrosities for a while now.

For some reason, I sort of just assumed I wouldn’t be able to eat at Ramen Burger—or at any Smorgasburg stand, for that matter. I tried making my own ramen burger (no small feat), but it turned out to be a pretty boring meal for the amount of effort it took. So I forgot all about noodle buns for a while—that is, until I got the idea to contact Ramen Burger with a few allergy-related questions. Within a few days, I received the following reply:

Our food is safe to eat for people with nut allergies. There are no tree nuts (or any other nut allergens) in the ramen burger. We do use sesame oil though. There is no cross contamination of tree nuts either.

Good news! I can’t quite categorize Ramen Burger as truly nut-free, as I can’t imagine they’re in a position to make any sort of guarantees, but they’re a workable alternative—for me, at least. So onto my list it went.

This past Saturday, Sam and I took the ferry to Williamsburg, where we met up with my dad and ventured into Smorgasburg in search of Ramen Burger’s stand. It didn’t take long for us to find it—the stand drew a huge crowd, as it tends to—but it did take long for us to make our way to the front of the line. 30 minutes and $10 (each!) later, though, we had our burgers—and that was all that mattered.

Ramen buns on the griddle

There’s no denying that the ramen burger is good. It’s greasy, but not overly so—and it’s absolutely packed with flavor. Sesame oil, soy, and some sort of super-sugary Sriracha-ketchup hybrid kind of dominate the whole thing, as the ramen bun itself it pretty bland, but the noodles do add a nice texture. Definitely more interesting than your average bread-based bun. The patty was thin and definitely overcooked, though—and I feel obligated to say so to anyone who’s considering making the trek to Smorgasburg and, you know, getting in line to pay $10 for a burger.

As we were eating, a group of men approached us and asked whether the burger was really worth the wait. They seemed to really not want to spend their Saturday afternoon waiting in line for a hyped-up GimmickBurger, if that was all it was going to be—and who could blame them?  I was busy trying (and failing) to get a decent photo of the thing, so my dad—forever on the lookout for a chance to talk about food—answered immediately: “No.”

His explanation was fair: The ramen burger is good, but it’s not wait-a-half-hour-to-spend-$10 good. Still, it certainly is interesting—and perhaps worth a try, but not because it’s anything special, culinarily speaking. For better or worse, the ramen burger is iconic—and that’s why it’s worth finding out what it’s like for yourself. And for me, there’s that added bonus of being able to actually try one of those strange delicacies everyone’s always talking about. Overhyped or not, that process is pretty exciting.

And that was my favorite part, I think: the excitement that comes with being able to partake. As those with food allergies know, it can be really gratifying to finally be able get in on something food-related ritual that most others can get in on without a second thought. Ramen Burger offers the opportunity to partake—and that, to me, is worth the wait. (Oh, and there’s that whole bit about it tasting good, too.)

Anyway, if you, too, would like to partake—and if Ramen Burger’s incidental lack of nuts is enough to make you feel safe—you can do so at Smorgasburg, in Williamsburg (90 Kent Avenue) on Saturdays, and in Prospect Park (near the entrance on Lincoln Road) on Sundays. Bring cash, though—and maybe a snack or two.

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Chick-fil-A

A chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A

Another fast food joint that isn’t nut-free—and one that barely exists in NYC, to boot. And it’s owned by bigots. Lovely.

What does Chick-fil-A have going for it, then? The answer is simple: decent-to-good chicken sandwiches that seem to be somewhat safe for the nut-allergic.

According to their allergen reference guide, Chick-fil-A does sell a few products that contain nuts: the oatmeal toppings, the granola, and the roasted nut blend (all three of which come in their own plastic packaging). I reached out to Chick-fil-A with a few questions about how they handle those nut products, and I received the following reply:

We have two pre-packeged products that contain nuts, the nut blend packet that is served with oatmeal, and the superfood side, and the granola that is served with the yogurt. These come in pre-packaged and are served in their package to the customer. We do not open the packages in the kitchen.

It would seem, then, that two of those three nut items are the same thing—and that none of their nuts have much of a chance of coming into contact with anything else in the kitchen. (It’s worth noting, though, that Chick-fil-A fries in peanut oil, though they don’t list peanuts as an allergen because highly-refined oils generally aren’t considered allergenic. Still, something to knowif you have a peanut allergy.)

Anyway, the food. Chick-fil-A has two locations in NYC: one in Herald Square, and one in an NYU food court in Greenwich Village. I’ve only been to NYU’s location, which is actually a Chick-fil-A Express (meaning they don’t offer the full menu), so I haven’t been able to try much beyond the chicken sandwiches, nuggets, and fries. What I have had, though, has been pretty good—especially for fast food.

Fries and chicken nuggets from Chick-fil-A

The classic chicken sandwich (just bun, chicken, and pickles) doesn’t live up to the absurd hype you’ll find online, but it doesn’t quite disappoint, either. It’s sweet and buttery, but (usually) not to the point of being sickening—which is all too rare in the world of fast food. I like to get the pickle-free version and add a little honey or mayonnaise, but it’s good as-is, too. All things considered, it’s a pretty solid sandwich.

The nuggets are about the same: sweet, buttery, and generally solid, if a bit boring. The real stand-outs, though, are the waffle fries: crispy, but never burnt—and nice and soft on the inside, but never, ever soggy (I’m looking at you, Five Guys). These are what I hope for when I buy fries, really. And they’re on my meal plan. Score.

All in all: Bigotry aside, Chick-fil-A is a decent place—and I’m not just saying that because it’s one of the only places I can actually spend the on-campus currency I always seem to end up drowning in, come the end of the semester. It’s fast food–quality, sure—but I’d take a Chick-fil-A sandwich over a Buttermilk Crispy Chicken (McDonald’s) or a Tendercrisp (Burger King) any day.

…Well, most days.

Find Chick-fil-A’s largest location in Herald Square (1000 Avenue of the Americas, between 37th and 38th), or stop by NYU’s Chick-fil-A Express in the Weinstein Food Court (5 University Place, between Waverly and 8th—and yes, it’s open to the public).

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