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Tasty Dumpling

A plate of dill-and-pork dumplings from Tasty Dumpling

Has a restaurant ever had so many things going for it…?

For two years, I’ve lived within minutes of Tasty Dumpling. But somehow, I’m only just now finding out that it’s this unprecedented combination of everything I love and look for. First and foremost, it’s nut-free Chinese food, which is alone enough to win me over. But it also happens to be particularly good nut-free Chinese food, walking distance from the elevated cube I call home, served up very quickly, in a wholly painless setting, for next to no money. This, I think, is worth celebrating.

I came across this place in somewhat of a weird way. I was wandering aimlessly around my neighborhood, as one does, when I walked by Tasty Dumpling’s storefront and noticed how small their menu was. (I end up spending a lot of time walking around Chinatown, which is, of course, filled with Chinese restaurants. Most of those restaurants’ display menus are long as hell, so I tend not to bother with pausing to conduct my preliminary once-over for nutty dishes. Tasty Dumpling’s, though, looked promising.) So what’d I do? I stepped aside, dialed the number on the awning, and watched, through the window, as the cashier picked up the phone, asked me to repeat myself, then told me all I’d hoped to hear: No nuts. Nor peanuts. Not one.

[Why didn’t I just step inside and ask in person? I don’t know. I think calling feels more formal and less spontaneous (and thus more trustworthy), though I’m well aware that’s probably just an illusion. In general, I always feel a little better about restaurants I’ve contacted via phone or email than I do about those I’m not able to reach in advance—and while I do really believe that written communication is, for these things, a lot more reliable, I acknowledge that a phone call probably has next to no real advantage over a face-to-face conversation with an employee. That’s especially hard to deny when you’ve just watched a cashier pick up the phone and answer your question just as he or she would’ve answered it had you been physically present, but…well, I’m insane, and I do what makes me worry least. Haven’t you noticed?]

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Now, when I talk about cheap meals, I usually mean those that’ll come to under $10 per person. And while I admit that definition of “cheap” might be a little too liberal, that isn’t something I have to worry about in labeling Tasty Dumpling. This place isn’t just NYC cheap. It’s cheap-cheap—like, stuff-you-and-a-friend-for-$8 cheap. And at that price, can you really go wrong? (Yes. You can definitely go wrong with a $4 meal. Not at Tasty Dumpling, though.)

Fried pork-and-chive dumplings—the tried-and-true, and my personal favorites—come 5 for $1.25. Dumplings with “off-menu” fillings (like dill and pork, advertised via handwritten sign) cost a lot more—$5-ish for 8—but “a lot more” than $1.25 is hardly something to whine about. Soups will run you $2 or $3 ($4 or $5 if it’s noodles you’re after), and stir-fries (yes, they have them) around $5. Pancakes, $2-ish. Sodas, $1. Essentially, what I’m trying to say is that Tasty Dumpling won’t strain your wallet. You can probably even pay for your whole meal with nothing but the quarters you’ll find lying around your apartment…not that I’ve ever done that or anything.

Anyway. That’s more than enough about pricing. 500 words in, I’m finally ready to talk about food. I’ll start with this, then: Tasty Dumpling makes some good-ass fried dumplings. The pork-and-chive are best, I think, followed by the dill-and-pork, then the beef, then the others—but it’s hard to go wrong, really, provided you manage to choose whatever it is that appeals most to you. The wrappers—on the doughy side, though never tough—are strong enough to hold the fillings, which are themselves ridiculously moist and flavorful. And the vinegar (sitting on every table, and safe, too, as far as I can tell) only helps.

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About the pork-and-chive dumplings (immediately above), I don’t have all that much to say. The filling’s your average pork-and-chive dumpling filling—juicy, greasy balls of pork and chive—with one key difference: this stuff is approximately as good on its own as it is inside a wrapper. (Tasty Dumpling is big on forks and small on chopsticks, and for whatever reason, I’m straight-up hopeless at forking dumplings. With these, though, it’s no big deal when my filling ends up on my plate.)

On the other hand, the dill-and-pork dumplings, pictured at the top of this post, are like no Chinese dumplings I’ve had before. The dill flavor is particularly prominent—overbearing, almost—which reminds me more of, say, bagels and lox than of Chinese takeout. Of course, it’s entirely possible that these are just as standard as the pork-and-chive dumplings, and that I’m just ignorant and inexperienced. But still: If you’re into dill, these are worth a try.

A scallion pancake from Tasty Dumpling

Of course, Tasty Dumpling also has a number of non-dumpling offerings, too. And though it does seem a little silly to write about (or, for that matter, to order…) anything but the namesakes, I feel compelled to sing the scallion pancakes’ praises. The pan-fried noodles, pictured second above, are at once busy and underwhelming, and soups offered aren’t really my thing—but the pancakes? The pancakes! Pictured immediately above, they aren’t at all what I imagine when I think of scallion pancakes, but you know what? I don’t care. These, thick and chewy—dense and bready, even—have stolen me away from the thin and flaky Platonic ideal I’ve come to expect, and I can’t even pretend to have any complaints about that. God, I love these. Especially fresh off the pan.

Food aside, though, I think it’s worth mentioning that Tasty Dumpling’s an easy place to be—and I really appreciate that, given the sorts of places I’ve been known to subject myself to. Granted, the atmosphere itself doesn’t do much: it isn’t all that clean, nor all that aesthetically pleasing. But I’m much more interested in what Tasty Dumpling doesn’t do. It doesn’t aspire to be anything it isn’t; rather, it admits to half-assing what it half-asses—decor, customer service, whatever. It doesn’t aim at cool or hip or trendy. It doesn’t claim to be “healthy,” and there are no superfoods involved. Fortunately, Tasty Dumpling is humble: greasy, quick, and cheap. (And yes, it’s tasty, too.)

Find Tasty Dumpling at 42 Mulberry Street, between Bayard and Mosco. But do note that they close each night at the ridiculously early hour of 8:30pm, and that in the 45 minutes or so before closing, service is a little spotty. Also, don’t be caught cashless—there’s an ATM on site, but its fee will cost you more than a whole order of dumplings.

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Little Italy Pizza

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I live in a pizza dead zone. There are a few places in my neighborhood, but they’re all pretty terrible, so for the most part, I abstain. I can get Joe’s through Caviar, but it takes an hour and a half, and by the time the pizza arrives, it’s always soggy and lukewarm. So when I really want pizza, I have to comb the Internet for alternatives. Can you see where this is going? Little Italy Pizza is just one of those random pizzerias I found through whatever third-party delivery website I happened to have been scouring for a nut-free pie. I claim no responsibility for this post’s existence.

Unfortunately, Little Italy is at the very bottom of my random-delivery-pizza hierarchy (which category is itself at the bottom of the pizza-in-general hierarchy). But we’ll get there. First, allergens. Before placing my first Seamless order, I gave Little Italy’s Fulton Street location a call, and the guy I spoke with assured me (through much confusion) that there are no tree nuts or peanuts used in any of their food. Whether he knew what he was talking about, I have no idea—but I’m inclined to believe what he said, given that Little Italy is just a standard-issue pizzeria, whose ilk I’ve never, ever had any (allergy-related) trouble with.

Look: I’m just going to skip over all the Fluff & Fun and cut to the chase here, because this place is so bad that I can’t even have a good time at its expense. The pizza’s so lame that I actually won’t eat it—and there isn’t much I won’t eat (or at least idly pick at) once it’s in front of me. The cheese is inoffensive, I guess, but the sauce is so sweet, and the crust is…something else entirely. It has a weird flavor, and it’s so crispy that it’s basically a cracker—plus, it’s covered with bread crumbs, which (a) give it an even less pleasant texture than it otherwise would’ve had, and (b) make for an unusually messy slice of pizza. (Seriously. I eat extra carefully and I’m still vacuuming up breadcrumbs 10 minutes after getting rid of the box.)

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For whatever reason (desperation—the reason is desperation), I’ve also tried Little Italy’s calzones, their stromboli, and their mozzarella sticks. But unfortunately, I have almost nothing nice to say about any of the above. My calzone (ham and cheese) was inedible—the cheese may as well have been made of plastic, and the ham, present only in two enormous chunks, was pretty gross, too. And the stromboli I ate (three bites of) wasn’t any better. Each and every meat inside was unequivocally bad, but it was the pepperoni that kept me from reaching bite #4. There had to have been at least 20 layers of pepperoni in that thing, and it was Hormel-quality, too. Please, no.

The mozzarella sticks were, I guess, the best of the bunch. That’s not saying much, I know. But I didn’t actually mind them in the slightest. (Maybe I just have too much of a soft spot for mozzarella sticks. But my many food-related soft spots couldn’t save the rest of Little Italy’s food.) No doubt, these were bad—the cheese was shitty, and the breading was all wrong—but I got through them, and I ordered them again (of my own free will!), too. That’s a lot more than I can say about any of the other Little Italy productions I’ve tried.

Over the last six months (which is as long as I’ve known about the place), I’ve ordered from Little Italy maybe four or five times—but that’s only because they’re open all night and they’ll actually deliver to me when no other restaurants seem to be able to. My verdict, then: There’s no excuse for giving up actual legal tender in exchange for such bad pizza in a city full of such great options…except for, you know, all those excuses I rattled off over the course of this post.

You’ve been warned.

Find Little Italy Pizza all over Manhattan.

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Frankel’s Delicatessen & Appetizing

The #3 specialty combo from Frankel's Delicatessen

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.

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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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