Whole Foods Is Hands Down the Best Generic Midtown Deli
In the far reaches of Midtown, there exists a magical place whose enormity, and depth of choice, is only eclipsed by its price. A wonderland of lunches, that makes Dishes or Variety Cafe look like a sandbox inside Disney World. Where prepared meals circle ethnic food stations, and pre-packaged sushi is turned out fresh by the minute. If only it wasn’t hampered by the anti-fat man, pay the lb. price structure, it could possibly be the Midtown equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Chocoate Factory.
This place I speak of is Whole Foods, and I finally got a chance to check it out last week for lunch. It rests on the Upper West Side corner of the Midtown Lunch boundries, on 8th Ave. & 59th St., Columbus Circle, in the basement of the Time Warner Center. It is easily the best “Grocery Store” in Midtown, and despite its high prices and questionable business practices, the food is undeniably fresh and of a much higher quality than any other place in our area.
The grocery store is nice, but for lunch purposes, we’re looking at the prepared foods area. The gigantic section between the “store” and the registers. What they’ve got, grocery store porn and a +/- after the jump…
To get to Whole Foods, enter the Time Warner Center through the front doors, and continue straight down the escalator. When you get to the bottom, a security guard will force you to go to the left. Resist the urge to continue straight into the grocery store. Hanging a right at the Sushi bar will take you right into the heart of Whole Foods Lunch.
Like any good Generic Midtown Deli, Whole Foods has got pre made pizza, and a ton of prepared foods lining the wall, along with a deli where you can order sandwiches. In the middle of the floor is the by the lb. food bars, stations with labels like Salad, Asian, Indian, and “Hot Food”, which refers to pretty much everything else.
I should hate Whole Foods. It’s everything I hate about the Generic Midtown Deli. Everything, and I mean everyting, is pay by the lb. Even the pizza is pay by the lb. What kind of crap is that. They might as well hang a sign up in the front that says “Fat People of NYC. We fully intend to gouge you.” It’s understandable from a business stand point, I guess. Why set a fixed price when you know hungry, overweight lunchers will end up piling on more than they should, not realizing that they’re going to end up spending $17, until it’s too late. Can you imagine trying to put back a scoop of Indian food in front of the cashier who has just told you that you’ve spent more money then you have in your wallet.
That being said, if you can put aside the price, and be disciplined about what you take, Whole Foods has some really fresh and delicious foods, that are head a shoulders above any other Generic Deli in Midtown. In L.A. I used to eat at Whole Foods all the time. My favorite was their curry chicken salad, a cold chicken salad with chunks of apples, raisins and a curry sauce. Pair that with a sushi roll, and you had a delicious lunch! It took all my power to ignore the stations in the middle, in an attempt to try and find the fabled curry chicken salad.
Unfortunately they didn’t have it, but they had something that looked pretty similar. A Morrocan (?) Turkey Salad, with apples, celery, raisins and what looked like curry covering the whole thing. Just a little scoop please… so I could try some other things. (I was lucky enough to have my wife with me, so it meant together we could try double the amount of things.) The scoop ended being just under a 1/4 of a lb., and cost $2.20. A rediculous amount for how little I got… but you’ve got to put the price aside. That’s the trick to Whole Foods. Go with a friend, try a bunch of things (small portions) and split the cost. That gives you about $16 to work with…
As much as I love quality sushi, I don’t mind the cheap stuff either- and the rice makes it a lot more filling then some of the other things at Whole Foods- so we got a little sampler pack with tuna, eel and salmon and avocado. Like most pre-made sushi, the rice was cold- but other than that it was good, and definitely better than most deli sushi. You can even ask the guys behind the counter to make you something fresh if you don’t see what you want… but don’t sit down at the sushi bar. They have a minimum order of $12 for that privelege, making the Whole Foods Sushi Bar, out of the Midtown Lunch price range.
Inspired by the Vegan profiled lunch’er last week, I was reminded of one of my favorite vegetarian items from the Whole Foods in L.A.- Fried Tofu. Fry anything, and it tastes good, and tofu is no exception. Whole Foods has got a great selection of tofu that would make even the most hard core meat-a-holic reevaluate his (or her) stance on those hunks of soybean curd. We tried a little bit of two different kinds. One that was fried and covered in sesame, and another that was just labeled “Ed’s Tantalizing Tofu”. I don’t know who Ed is, but his tofu had a mushroom and garlic type of sauce that made the whole thing pretty tasty.
We rounded the lunch off with a bag of cherries from the fruit section of the grocery store. All in all, we spent $16- and while it didn’t seem like a ton while we were putting the lunch together, we were both totally full at the end. They had a nice seating area, which gets pretty packed, but if you’re there with 4 or less people, seats open up pretty quickly. There’s also a Jamba Juice if you’re into that stuff.
The key is to be very disciplined. It may take you a little time to find a combination of items that fills you up, without breaking the bank. But a little planning goes a long way. I can’t stress that enough. Do a walk through, and plan what you are going to get before you go slopping things onto your tray. It also helps to share with another person. That doubles the variety, which is one of the reasons why Whole Foods is so great.
Since it is on the upper west hand corner of Midtown Lunch’ing, it may be a trek for a lot of people. If you are on the A,C,1,9,B, or D it’s a great Subway Lunch (especially if you have a monthly pass). Get off at the Columbus Circle stop, and you are steps away from the Time Warner Center entrance.
Is Whole Foods a bargain? Absolutely not. Is there a potential to feel ripped off eating there? I feel that way every single time I step into the place. If you are rich, and don’t care about how much money you spend on your lunch, will it greatly increase your chances of loving Whole Foods? Indeed it will. Is it the best selection of super fresh and high quality prepared foods that surpases every single Generic Deli in all of Midtown- yes.
Every once in awhile, it’s nice to escape to a fun wonderland of lunch’ing. Even if it is a splurge.
- Variety. Variety. Variety.
- Quality. Quality. Quality.
- Price. Price. Price.
Whole Foods, Time Warner Center, Columbus Circle. 212-823-9600
For more Whole Foods Photos, check out the Midtown Lunch Flickr Set