Tip for Surviving the LIRR #7: Eat Something Ethnic
July 7, 2010 Leave a comment
The 53rd Street Halal Guys–you’ve seen the line stretching West down 43rd street; cabbies, drunk NYU club-kids and alternative chicken and rice guys scattered throughout the area. This poultry tableau is the same whether you’re there for lunch or “4th Meal” ([shot of Powers] “Let’s get chicken and rice!”). We’ve all been there: all of a sudden it’s 2:30 AM and you’re in a cab going 35 blocks for a $4.50 plate of salad, rice and chicken with whitesaucehotsauce. I’m here to be a staid counterpoint to Zach at Midtown Lunch and… well almost everyone I speak to (/scream at belligerently).
I’m not going to contest that these guys have a good thing going; in the past 4 years they’ve expanded their empire, adding two new carts, an army of shithoused loyalists and imitators that sprouted up across the street wearing matching yellow tee shirts (who said consumer confusion was a bad thing?). It’s just that, I’ve never been totally satisfied by a plate of their food. I’ve gone Chicken and Rice, Chicken over Salad, Chicken/Lamb Convo over Rice, Lamb Over Rice–pretty much any permutation I could think of to get an aluminum plate of moist protein with white sauce squirted all over it. It’s all been just okay. Their food has never sent me into meatgasmic throes of histrionics so I never say no to going, I just look at all the other carts we pass on our way there and say, “Guys, let’s just stop here.” I might as well have said, “Guys, let’s have a circle jerk.”
Just for the record, I’ve eaten a lot of street food. The Vendies are my new Woodstock (hit the link for a glimpse of my bald head in the second photo). My favorite cart, even if–in my eyes, there are problems with consistency depending on when you go and if the main dude is working or not–is Little Morocco across the street from my office at 39th St and 7th Ave. Both lamb and chicken are moist, he has fries that they’ll just throw right on there for you, his hot sauce, as Zach notes in the link, is unique in that it actually tastes good and doesn’t just melt your face “Raiders of the Lost Ark style.”
The comparison there, to finally bring this back around, is to 53rd Street Halal Guys’ hot sauce. They leave it up to you to add it. This is a shrewd move on their part, that sauce is like a lawsuit waiting to happen. Best shift the blame to the customer, who is not only always right, but usually a dickhead. But in the wee hours of the morning, in the dark, if you think you’re grabbing ketchup and accidentally grabbing hot sauce, you are in a mean motherfucking predicament, pal. That shit is inedibly spicy (though you will soldier through it because, let’s face it, it’s fucking good, and more importantly, there).
With this very long introduction, I bring us to Tuesday night: Three beers at Jimmy’s Corner ($3 Rolling Rock and a mean Eastern European bartendress for the win), an unknown quantity of Harp plus wings at McGee’s. I wasn’t hungry. I was drunk and knew that I needed to get on a train to the Island. Still sitting at the table, wing carcasses around us, empty pints still wearing the froth rings of Harp being cleared, I looked at Phil and said, “We should get chicken and rice.”
“Halal Guys opened a West-Side cart, he may still be there.” (53rd and 7th Ave, just by-the-by)
So we went. And not only was he still there, but he had MOUNTAINS of lamb and chicken slowly stewing under their reams of draped aluminum foil, reflecting the work light clamped to the awning. Phil got a lamb gyro. That sounded good. “I’ll take lamb over salad. Yeah, whitesaucehotsauce. No drink.” I saw a cab, I jumped into it. I got out a block from Penn Station and was very. Confused. I just went through my phone hoping that I had the forethought to snap some pictures of what I saw, but alas, this is all I was interested in at that moment:
Tuesday night was night number one of Lady Gaga’s two night sold out MSG shows. As a result, everyone on the train aged 16-74 were dressed like her. It was weird. It wasn’t weird because funky sunglasses shock me (I work in fashion for fuck’s sake), but because it’s amazing how little self-awareness these people had. They all looked horrible. I guess what I’m trying to say is, your take-away from this should be, “If Lady Gaga only just pulls this look off, maybe I should rethink leaving the house in a vinyl rubberband when I’m 5’3″ and 210 pounds.”
So here we are, standing on a packed, 110 degree platform. People are excited, exposed, sleepy. I’m cranky, drunk, have a plate of lamb burning my hand. I figured that I’d have to throw some ‘bows to get a seat, but because I obviously rock, I placed the train entrance perfect and was first one on… to a hot car. By the time I realized that the AC wasn’t coming on the train had started to fill up. I made the snap decision to run to the next car (almost knocked over a kid, which I felt horrible about) and grabbed the seat behind the door. The one across the bathroom, bathed in the smell of urinal disinfectant. I didn’t care. I put my headphones on. I took the waxed cardboard top off my aluminum charge. It was like when Vincent opens that briefcase and the genius of my actions hit me in the face like a 40 watt lightbulb.
No one. Is Going. To Sit. Next To Me. Look at that picture of my hand up there. You see anyone in the seat next to me? No? You know why? Because when you’re on a train full of white teenagers from STRONG ISLAND, they’re not going to want to sit next to a bleary-eyed guy that smells like a homeless guy. I love street meat, Indian food, offal–the trendy shit–but without exception, it’s rude to eat it confined quarters with people that are unfamiliar with its awesomeness. They’re just not gonna like the smell. While I was sitting there I thought back to all the times I’ve brought chicken and rice on the train, and each time, the only people sitting next to me ALSO had chicken and rice!
I dug into my lamb over salad and started really thinking about it. REALLY thinking about it. It was definitely Halal Guys’ lamb. It was definitely their hot sauce. It was definitely still just okay. The lamb is a little on the dry side with an off-putting sweetness to it. And while the vendor-applied hot sauce/white sauce mix was spot on, the white sauce wasn’t the same white sauce. Usually, you get the thin-ish tzitziki from a streetmeat slinger and it’s an unplaceable mixture that you think “Has got to be yogurt-based but could be mayo, do I taste Ranch in there?” but in the end you find it best to just eat and enjoy. Tuesday night I definitely stopped and said, “Son of a bitch that’s 100% Ranch dressing. What’s the problem here? The problem is that it’s just too sweet of a condiment on the also too-sweet lamb. I’m not sure what was going on there (I was drunk, my palate wasn’t exactly up to snuff), but I had just come from a fight with southern and midwestern people about dipping wings in Ranch (they do it and I was shocked/appalled/confused and stuck to my bleu cheese thank-you-very-much) so I definitely knew that I was eating more ranch.
And all in all, it was fine and it hit the spot, but I still don’t see why I should go so very far out of my way for it, even if this guy was sort of on the way.
In the end an old Japanese lady sat down next to me. I had finished my food but the sweet smell of victory lingered on. I gave her a look that said, “Oh yes, we are in that fraternity.” She didn’t return it. I passed out.