Category Archives: Street food

Barneys Bone Broth

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Here’s a weird one.

Up until last week, I had no idea that bone broth was so trendy. Whenever I’d walk by Barneys, it’d strike me as perhaps a little weird that there existed a whole sidewalk store devoted solely to the sale of one specific type of broth, but I never really thought much of it. I mean, there are tons of weird single-concept restaurants in this city—and anyway, people like soup, right?

Apparently, though, it’s a health thing. A lot of people—including (and especially) the folks behind Barneys—believe that bone broth has all sorts of wonderful health benefits. And while that’s most likely a bunch of hippy-dippy hogwash, this bone broth stuff is probably at least a little bit better for me than the Chik-fil-A or the Crif Dogs that I’d otherwise be having for lunch.

In any case. Five days a week, I eat lunch within a mile or so of Washington Square Park, and I’m always, always, always looking for new lunch stops to add to my rotation. Most days, I’ll walk by Barneys at least twice, and each time, I make note of the teeny-tiny menu and idly figure that I could probably eat (well, drink) whatever’s on it.

Sure enough, I can—but the situation isn’t as simple as I’d imagined. While there are no tree nuts (or peanuts) used in anything sold at Barneys, the stand does share a kitchen with White Oak Tavern, which is not a nut-free restaurant. Still, I’m told that all the Barneys stuff is prepped in a separate area from the White Oak stuff and that there really isn’t much of a chance for cross-contamination to occur—so I don’t worry much about inadvertently ingesting trace amounts of nuts when I’m slurping away at my bone broth. (As always, though, your mileage may vary.)

Barneys Bone Broth's sidewalk store (and their menu, too)

Like I said, the menu‘s pretty simple: there are four types of broth, four add-ins, and a daily soup (whose allergen status I’m actually not sure of). I’ve only tried two of the broths (the signature, the beef) and two add-ins (the meatball, the soft-boiled duck egg)—but that was all it took, really, to turn me into a big ol’ Barneys fan. At this point, I’m an addict…though I wish I weren’t, because Barneys isn’t cheap.

The beef broth—made with beef bones, beef shoulder, apple cider vinegar, a lot of ginger, and a bunch of herbs and spices—is tolerable, but all the ginger is its hamartia. I love ginger, but this broth just has too much of it. It’s overpowering, and it gets old. The signature broth is another story, though: made with veal bones, beef bones, chicken carcasses, and chicken feet, it has a lot more to it, and since it’s less gingery, you can really taste all its components. It’s less boring than the beef broth, too—and that’s most of why it has my vote. (Sorry. I don’t really know how to describe this stuff. It tastes like a soup. A particularly good soup, with layers and nuance and, um, salt. It’s good.)

Two cups of Barneys signature broth

But the add-ins are where I really have my fun. Admittedly, they’re a little awkward to eat—pulling a meatball out of a to-go cup isn’t the easiest thing in the world, and I definitely get some weird looks whenever I try—but I deal, because these add-ins are pretty much mandatory. (It’s not that the broths are lacking or anything; it’s that the add-ins are that good. Although I guess plain broth is a little on the lame end, as lunches go.)

In my eyes, the soft-boiled duck egg is a must. It is, after all, a soft-boiled egg—so when you puncture the white, the yolk leaks into the broth and turns it all…well, yolky. This—yolky broth—is favorite of the soup-related phenomena (and it’s approximately 40% of the reason I so love Ganso’s miso ramen), and my Barneys experience wouldn’t be complete without it.

Even better than the duck eggs, though, are the meatballs. I know we just went through this whole rigamarole, but for real, these are the best meatballs I’ve ever had. Seriously. They’re bouncy-soft, herby, and never, ever even the slightest bit overcooked—and they’re particularly excellent at breaking up slurps of soup. These, too, are a must (in my eyes, at least); and if they weren’t $3 each, I’d probably ask for a half dozen. Here’s one, half-eaten:

A Barneys meatball

So. Takeaways? Barneys is a little expensive, sure—$12 for a 12-ounce broth with a meatball and an egg thrown in—but their broths make for a surprisingly satisfying meal. Of course, I wouldn’t want to drink my lunch every day. But once in a while? Hell yeah.

Find Barneys Bone Broth on Greene Street, between 8th Street and Waverly Place.

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Sammy’s Halal Food

Chicken and lamb over rice with white and green sauce from Sammy's Halal Food

I went over 7,500 days without eating anything that came from a halal cart. (I guess some of those were my no-solid-food days, but I liked the number, so let me live, all right?) I don’t know whether I’ve ever gone more than 7.5 days without smelling something from a halal cart, but until this past January, I’d never, ever gotten up close and personal with any chicken and lamb over rice. As a kid, I guess I never had much interest—and as an adult-ish thing who at least attempts to handle her allergies responsibly, I figured that there’d be no feasible way to get in touch with a “halal guy” for Q&A.

I could’ve just walked up to a random cart and asked about nuts, sure, but I’m typically a little uncomfortable with such a casual approach. I don’t like to go into first-time meals without having spoken to an employee—preferably, a higher-up—via phone (or preferably email) well in advance. I don’t think it’s all that rational, but the feeling I have is that waltzing on in, asking a few questions about nuts, and then sitting right down to eat is too lax a restaurant-vetting method. Showing up and asking doesn’t does it do much to make me feel safe—and a meal spent worrying is bound to be an unpleasant one, no matter the quality of the food. Plus, I’ve found that the answers I get in person are, for whatever reason, way less likely to be true. So when I’m in the mood to try something new, I make sure I’m sticking to premeditated meals at restaurants with phone numbers.

But how to fit a halal cart into that perhaps-ridiculous requirement? By the end of a few months of idle brainstorming, I’d come up with nothing. If I spent long enough combing Google, could I maybe find a cart with a phone number or email address? (Well, couldn’t.) Could I, with enough effort, get any search engine to point me toward a single page that might mention both halal carts and food allergies? (God, no.) What about The Halal Guys? They’re huge—could I get in touch with them? (Yes, but I didn’t end up being comfortable with their baklava.) Could I develop a half-decent rapport with one of the halal guys I walk by every day, to the extent that I’d be able to have a nice, thorough conversation with him about his ingredients? (Sounds like a lot of work.)

Out of the bunch, the Halal Guys idea was the only one that’d even come close to leading me anywhere, so I decided to search (and search) for some other halal-cart chains. (I had no idea these things came in chains. I thought they were one-off things. Guess not.) Rafiqi’s looked promising, but their Twitter is inactive, and they read and ignored the Facebook message I sent. And then I found Sammy’s, Queens-born winner of the 2006 Vendy Awards…and solution to the Halal-Cart Problem™.

Sammy's Halal Food cart

Sammy’s has no website, no Twitter. (They seem to have had a website at one point, but these days, the URL just leads to spam.) What they do have is a Facebook page, which proudly bears just what I’d been looking for: a phone number (which ended up being one of two I’d later realize were printed right there on the front of the cart itself).

Half-afraid that the number would somehow up and disappear right before my eyes, I called it immediately—and the guy I spoke with told me just what I’d been wanting to hear: that none of Sammy’s carts use any nutty ingredients, and that I’d be just fine, allergy-wise, with all the food they serve. I forgot to ask about their pita (which is of particular concern to me, as all bread products are), but some cart window–peeking has since tipped me off that Sammy’s uses Kontos pita, which contains wheat, sesame, and soy, but which fortunately doesn’t come with any sort of “may contain” warning for tree nuts. Good enough for me.

The contact information for Sammy's Halal Food

In my 7,500 halal-free days—or rather, in my 500-ish Halal-coveting days—I’d cultivated quite the mental swath of hype for this stuff, to the point that it seemed unlikely that any of it would ever be able to meet my ridiculous expectations. I mean, those carts smell good. Plus, everyone’s always cracking open those styrofoam containers in NYU’s lounges, and while I’ll always cast a reflexive sneer at anyone who thinks it’s okay to eat fragrant food in an otherwise food-less public area, I can’t deny that their lunches always make my stomach growl. Plus, white sauce? Come on. I had to get in on that.

And you know what? Sammy’s didn’t disappoint me anywhere near as much as I’d figured it would. In fact, it hardly disappointed me at all—and I’m perfectly willing to write off the entirety of that (negligible) disappointment, given the sheer size of the overgrown hype-swath I’d been living with.

For my nerves’ sake, I kept my first Sammy’s order exceedingly simple: chicken over rice, topped with white sauce and nothing else. (The unnamed green sauce is evidently what sets Sammy’s apart from other halal carts, but—for whatever reason—I was particularly nervous about my first Sammy’s meal, so I didn’t exactly feel like courting a mystery sauce.) And simple as it was, I definitely did enjoy it. The chicken was nice and tender, with a very mild spice to it, and the rice itself was surprisingly good. (I’ve been eating a lot of poorly cooked rice lately, I guess—but this rice was particularly good: not over- nor under-cooked, and nicely seasoned, too.)

The white sauce—which I did like, by the way—was the only thing that left me wanting. If I hadn’t been looking, I wouldn’t have been able to tell it from straight mayonnaise…and that’s fine, I guess, but it wasn’t exactly what I’d been dreaming of. I would’ve liked it to be a little tangier—or a little more anything-but-mayo-y, really—to cut through the flavors in the meat and the rice, but I suppose you can’t always get what you want. White sauce is mayo-intensive. Never knew. But once I’d come to terms with that, I started to enjoy it quite a bit.

A nut-free platter of chicken and lamb over rice with white and green sauces from Sammy's Halal Food

The only issue I took with my chicken over rice was that it ended up being a little flat—especially as the meal goes on and the platter gets more and more mixed up—which was why, my second time at Sammy’s, I decided to go with chicken and lamb over rice with both white and green sauces on top (pictured at the top of this post and immediately above). And sure enough, that did it.

The lamb, though not all that great on its own, brought new life (well, new flavors) to the platter—but it was actually the green sauce that really changed the game. I don’t know what’s in it, nor do I even really know what it tastes like (cilantro, for one), but I do know that it combines with the white sauce to produce a topping that’s actually effective at brightening up the meat it tops. Predictably, it adds some much-needed dimension to these relatively plain meat-over-rice platters, and so I’ll admit it: The Yelpers are right. Green sauce, at Sammy’s, is indispensable.

(Sorry for being so vague about the flavor of this stuff. It’s herby. It’s sort of garlicky, but I have no idea whether there’s even any garlic in it. I should probably at least mention that it isn’t hot. The red sauce is the hot one. That’s the only sauce they’ll explicitly offer you, by the way. You’ll have to request the green sauce by name—and I’d advise that you not forget to do so.)

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Onto the falafel, though. Pictured above is, of course, a falafel sandwich, which just might be my favorite Sammy’s offering, if only because I’m a sucker for warm, chewy pita. The falafel itself is good—both in this sandwich and over rice, too—and the lettuce and cabbage are surprisingly inoffensive. (I think there’s other stuff in there, but I can’t quite say what. Onions? Probably. And a few bits of carrot, too. Basic stuff, really. But pleasant stuff nonetheless.) Again, though, it’s the combination of the white and green sauces that sold me on this thing. They work just as well with the falafel as they do with the chicken and the lamb, and they coat the pita nicely, too.

Anyway, I really like Sammy’s—as if that weren’t abundantly clear. And I’m sure a lot of that’s just my excitement at having finally become a halal-cart regular, but it has a lot to do with Sammy’s itself, too. The food is cheap as hell; it never tastes like it’s been sitting around, even though it probably has, I guess; and the guys who run the cart are always pleasant and friendly. Being able to make a casual stop for street food is new to me, sure—and the novelty of the whole thing has certainly done a bunch to shape this review. But Sammy’s is good. I really do think so.

Find this particular Sammy’s cart on the corner of West 4th Street and 6th Avenue. (There’s another in Queens, on the corner of 73rd Street and Broadway, and there’s one in Brooklyn, too, on the corner of Brighton Beach and Coney Island Avenue.)

 

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Sushi on Jones

Sushi on Jones

Remember David Bouhadana, the sushi chef who got his restaurant shut down after a spat with the DOH over their rigid, rigid glove rules? Well, Bouhadana lost his job at Sushi Dojo—but he’s back, serving up fresh DOH-agita at his new open-air (read: outdoor as fuck) sushi spot. And yes, his chefs are wearing gloves.

Located in The Bowery Market, Sushi on Jones is not your average sushi spot. Sure, it’s home to a few recognizable motifs—a sushi bar, white-coated chefs, a mostly-classic omakase—but there are only six seats, and with a reservation (which you’ll have made via text), you’ll be in and out in under 40 minutes. Water comes in Poland Spring bottles, green tea comes in cans, and Kid Cudi just might form the soundtrack to your meal (if you can hear whatever their iPod’s playing over the sirens and motorcycle revs of NoHo). Strange dogs on those godforsaken extendo-leashes may sniff at your feet, and pigeons will probably feast upon your fallen ginger. Such is the Sushi on Jones experience.

Suffice it to say, then, that this place is a little offbeat. Unorthodox. Quirky, if you will. Fortunately, though, their sushi’s pretty traditional—which means nothing New-Agey, nothing cream-cheesy, and, of course, nothing nutty. I spent a week or two sporadically poking around online in an attempt to find an email address or (call-able) phone number at which I could direct my nut-related questions, but no such things existed, nor did their iPhone-manner ever respond to my message about allergens. So I resigned myself to just showing up, asking about nuts, and hoping for a promising answer.

Sam and I ended up stopping by one Saturday night around 8pm. Immediately, a woman—she was sort of a waitress, but there isn’t much waiting to do at Sushi on Jones—asked if she could help us. I asked my usual questions (“Any nuts? Shared kitchen? Reason to worry?”), to which she responded with the best answers I could’ve hoped for: no nuts, no shared kitchen, no reason to worry. She even sent the manager out to confirm, and that he did. Lovely.

Now, getting a seat isn’t hard, but it isn’t the easiest thing in the world, either. That night, we couldn’t get a reservation via text—I’d sent a text with a few times that worked for us, but all I received in response was a “sorry not tonight.” Fine. But when I asked in person 15 minutes later, they were happy to give me a reservation within a few minutes of one of times I’d originally asked for. Weird, but whatever. We were just happy to have gotten a spot.

When our time came, we made our way back to Sushi on Jones and were seated within 10 minutes of our arrival. Sam and I were the only two seated at the (two-stool) second counter, which is actually on Great Jones Street, rather than a few feet into the market, where the main counter is. Our little area was dark (really dark, hence the heinous backlit iPhone photos I’ve included with below, and the Google-supplied Grub Street photo at the top of this post—which was taken by Noah Fecks, by the way), but sitting off to the side was nice, if only because we were that much farther away from the loud-ass group of four sitting at the other counter. (They kept yelling—yelling—about “eel sauce.” Their chef looked tired.)

Anyway, as soon as we were seated—and as soon as the waitress had asked us if we had any other dietary restrictions—it was food time. At Sushi on Jones, there’s only one option: the 12-piece omakase ($50), though you can order additional pieces (as well as their signature WagUni—torched wagyu and uni—hand roll) à la carte once you’ve finished. In an attempt to be frugal (yeah, right) Sam and I stuck to the omakase—but by the time we left, we were both pretty damn satisfied.

That night, my favorite pieces were the yellowtail, the uni, the Arctic char, and the WagUni (sushi, not hand roll). The yellowtail was unbelievably flavorful, the uni was sweet and briny, and the Arctic char was pleasantly creamy. All were topped with a soy glaze, and some were topped with bits of pepper or crushed ginger—with the exception of the WagUni, which was topped with truffle salt, and which was probably my favorite bite of the night.

Maybe I’m biased—undercooked wagyu and uni are seriously two of my favorite things in the entire world—but goddamn, that thing was good. The photo I’ve included below does the WagUni absolutely no justice whatsoever, so here’s a better one from The Bowery Market’s official Instagram. (Drool away. I’ll be here.)

My least favorite bites were probably the scallop (not bad, but not for me), the eel (also not bad, also not for me), and the crab (fine, but boring). I was also a little underwhelmed by the medium fatty tuna, which seemed a lot leaner than it should’ve been. (Still, it wasn’t bad—chutoro’s chutoro, after all.) The weaker pieces didn’t bother me much, though. I thoroughly enjoyed pretty much everything about Sushi on Jones, and I’m already plotting my return. If only I could’ve talked myself into shelling out an additional $12 for a WagUni hand roll…

By the way, our sushi chef was wonderful. After we’d finished the omakase, he asked what our favorite piece had been so he could give us another set, on the house. (“I like you guys,” he said. “You’re quiet.” With a smile, he gestured to the sign above the counter: “Less talk, more eat. Mucho arigato.”) We went with the obvious choice—WagUni—and then he offered us another free piece each, at which point we asked him to give us whatever he recommended. A minute later, he presented us with another round of fatty tuna, which was noticeably better than our first serving. So good. Go figure.

By now, it should be clear that I’m a big fan of Sushi on Jones. I love the food, the location, the speed, the ambiance, the overall concept…I could go on. The sushi, while undeniably good, isn’t the city’s best, but it isn’t meant to be—it’s something else entirely, and it’s a whole lot of fun. The whole place is unique-as-can-be, but not in the nasty, off-putting way a lot of Unique™ sushi joints are so. Plus, it’s allergy-friendly. Let’s not forget about that.

…Actually, let’s. Sitting at Sushi on Jones, I don’t feel acutely like a Person With Food Allergies, which is how I feel at a lot of the places I frequent just because they’re safe for me. It’s a cool place, and I’d definitely still stop by if I could eat wherever I wanted. And that, to me, is incredibly exciting.

(Seriously, though: Do yourself a favor and read up on Bouhadana’s glove kerfuffle with the DOH. It’s genuinely interesting—and funny as hell, too—and everyone and their mother has weighed in. Plus, the debate prompted one of my my all-time favorite Anthony Bourdain quotes: “This is not Subway, for fuck’s sake. This is something people have dedicated their lives to. No. You know which team I’m on.”)

Find Sushi on Jones at the entrance to The Bowery Market, which is itself located at 348 Bowery, between Great Jones and 4th.

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Smorgasburg, Part II: Duck Season

Duck Season's duck fat fries

As you probably already know, I recently ventured to Smorgasburg to try the famed ramen burger—but that wasn’t the only thing I tried on my trip. In fact, before we made our way to Ramen Burger, we stopped at Duck Season, a stand that specializes in—you guessed it—duck and only duck. Heaven.

I knew I had to try it—but before I did, I sent an email to make sure they’d be a safe option. The next day, I received the following reply:

There are no nuts in anything we make in house. However, we do use some products (mostly in sandwich and wing sauces) that *may* contain tree nut traces. To be completely safe, I suggest you stick with the duck confit, sliced duckbreast, duck rinds and duck fat fries. (Avoid sandwiches.) Our bakery makes some stuff with nuts so there’s always and chance for cross contamination. We isolate wheat based products on site and they never go on/in cooking equipment. If you have concerns I will be on site at Smorgasburg and can walk you through choices that are safe.

I really appreciated the level of detail in this reply. Usually, the emails I get are pretty curt: “Yes, we have nuts” or “No, we don’t have nuts,” with no consideration of possible cross-contaminants, even though I’m always sure to ask. But Duck Season demonstrated an impressive level of allergy awareness, so I was pretty confident that their food would be safe for me to eat.

Duck breast from Duck Season

When I arrived, I followed up with the (incredibly friendly and helpful) guy I’d spoken to via email. As I’d expected, he was exceedingly competent, and I felt 100% comfortable ordering whatever he suggested. He pointed me toward the duck breast, the duck-fat fries, and the duck wings—they were out of the confit, unfortunately—and advised me again to steer clear of the sandwiches, which I’d planned to do anyway. Easy enough. I went with the breast and the fries, and both ended up being pretty damn delicious.

To start, the fries (pictured at the top of this post) were great. Imagine Five Guys fries, if Five Guys fries weren’t so abysmally disappointing—and if they were cooked in duck fat and served with some sort of duck-based gravy-like sauce. Simply put, these fries were divine. The breast (pictured above) was really good, too, even though I probably let it cool for way too long while looking for a place to sit. Still, it was perfectly cooked and seasoned—tender, salty, and delicious, overall—and I’m genuinely excited to go back and try the confit.

Like Ramen Burger, you can find Duck Season’s tent at Smorgasburg—in Williamsburg (90 Kent Avenue) on Saturdays, and in Prospect Park (near the entrance on Lincoln Road) on Sundays. And unlike Ramen Burger, they do take cards. Definite plus.

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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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