My Typical Midtown Lunch with Ralph Brennan

At the beginning of the week, I put the question out there:  Where should I take New Orleans Restaraunteur Ralph Brennan for the best sandwich in Midtown.  The owner of Bacco, Red Fish Grille and Ralph’s on the Park, and member of the famous Brennan family- who collectively own some of the best New Orleans food institutions (Commander’s Palace, Brennan’s), was in town promoting his new cookbook, and challenged me to take him out for the best sandwich in Midtown.

I love and revere New Orleans (and the Brennan’s restaurants), and didn’t want to look like an ass, so I took your suggestions and gave Ralph a choice of 5 places that in theory, could serve the best sandwich in Midtown (this way I could blame it on you guys, or even him- since in the end, he chose.)

  • Best Quintessential New York Sandwich – When in New Orleans, you eat a Po’boy.  When in New York, you gotta have a gigantic pastrami or corned beef sandwich.  For that, we would go to the newly re-opened 2nd Ave. Deli on 33rd btw. Lex+3rd.
  • Best Bread in New York City – For the best sandwich, you’ve got to have the best bread- and although it’s out of bounds to the west (47th btw. 10+11th), Sullivan St. Bakery is arguably the best in town.  And even though their sandwiches are small, they are perfectly crafted.
  • Best Burger – Ralph is a burger man, so I had to include the Burger Joint at the Parker Merdien.  He had a car service, so I even suggested we could make the trip down to the Shake Shack if he wanted to see that craziness.
  • Best Street Meat – What’s more Midtown than the carts?  And the best street meat sandwich has got to be Kwik Meal’s lamb on pita (45th & 6th), right?
  • Best Midtown Lunch – And finally, the place that started it all.  I told him if he wanted the quintessential Midtown Lunch, the place that sums up everything this site stands for (cheap, delicious, unique- and usually ethnic), then we could go to Kati Roll (39th btw. 5+6th).  That counts as a sandwich, right?

Ralph admitted he could definitely go for a big corned beef sandwich- but felt like being taken to the 2nd Ave. Deli was like eating at the Central Grocery.  I assured him that Carnegie Deli was more like the Central Grocery of NYC, but he wanted something a little more unique.  With his Executive Chef Haley Bitterman on hand to consult, they both seemed really interested in seeing what Jim Lahey was doing over at the Sullivan St. Bakery.  So we headed west, for what I billed as ”the best bread in New York”.

But in true Midtown Lunch’ing fashion, the eating did not end there…

Not content with what a normal person would consider “lunch”, after we finished eating at the bakery, Ralph said “I really want to go have something from a street cart.  Can we do that too?”

Yes Ralph.  Yes we can.  And it was off to the Kwik Meal Cart.

It was not only an awesome lunch, but Ralph was a super nice guy and a great ambassador to New Orleans.  I was interested in hearing the “real story” of the Brennans (they’ve been feuding over the family restaurants and name for a long time), but we had better things to talk about- like how great the food in New Orleans is, and what exactly is in the white sauce that they pour over street meat.  Ralph’s verdict on your suggestions:

“The Sullivan Street Bakery was great, and the Chicken and Lamb Pitas (they ordered both) were outstanding.”

Thanks for all your suggestions, and I will email the winners of Ralph’s cookbook today.


  • Cool, although passing on the 2nd Avenue Deli is sort of sacreligious!

  • I agree with Vishal— Corned Beef or pastrami on rye with mustard, a pickled tomato and a cel-ray Dr. Browns. THAT is NY.

  • I give this guy a lot of credit. He looks like a Le Bernadin/Le Cirque kind of guy by his picture. The fact that he wanted to stand out on the street and eat a pita sandwich was great! What did he say his favorite lunch places in NO were (except for his restaurants of course)?

  • Zach great post. Congratulations on being chosen as the NYC ambassador to true eating in Mid-Town. You truly do it best. New Orleans food seems to be a love of yours also…since you say your wife went to Tulane and you got married in New Orleans. Meeting a “Brennen” must have been a foodies high.

  • zach, i’m curious too, what were mr. brennan’s thoughts on the current nola food scene?

  • You did the exact right thing Zach. Sullivan St. is the best sandwich around and Kwik Meal is the best cart. The new 2nd Ave. Deli is still working the bugs out, Burger Joint is way overrated (Shake Shack MUCH better) and the slop at Kati Roll shouldn’t even be in the running. Mr. Brennan do doubt was able to sniff the good suggestions out from the contenders!

  • In agreement – nice work Zach. Though I’m a little disappointed that Margon didn’t make the list, I’m glad you avoided Kati Roll. It’s just not the same in the new location (maybe because the rats are gone?).

  • It sounds like you made some great choices, but I wish I read your blog sooner because in NY, you have to have pizza, and pizza is technically an open-faced sandwich….

  • great post! this has totally made my morning.

  • *Glee*

  • x2! so cute!

  • Hope you got that firey green hotsauce on the lamb and chicken pita.

  • I’m glad he was happy!
    The suspense was killing me. whew… ok…. back to work now.

  • This is quite exciting news for a local blog. I, too, love New Orleans food and haven’t been able to travel to NO since Hurricane Katrina. That being said, all this talk about pastrami and corned beef is making me salivating! 2nd Ave Deli is way too far for me. Can someone recommend a good place with a decent rubeun sandwich around 46th-56th Street between 6th-8th Ave? Thanks so much in advance.

  • I strongly believe Roomali’s on 27th Street between Lexington (closer) and 3rd Ave is undeniably the BEST Roti Roll. Kati Roll was nothing compared to Roomali.

  • Does anyone know where we can order Ralph’s new cookbook? Zach’s right on that New Orleans food is fantastic… I’d love to try to out some recipes at home.

  • he was being nice. There is nothing to write home about anywhere in this area and NYC is completely overrated altogether.

  • ralph’s cookbook can be ordered at

  • Great post, Zach! Kwik meal was an inspired addition to your meal. I’m forever grateful to you for introducing me to the wonder of their lamb pita. Sigh. Bliss.

  • I was intrigued by your post, and had the afternoon off I walked on over to the Sullivan Street Bakery.

    I ordered a Cubano and a rice pudding pastry.

    It really was delicious. However, there was too much grain mustard on the sandwich, overpowing everything…and the garlic mayo was too garlicky- boy did I need Tums. The bread though was divine. The pastry- words can not express how good it was. And it is a downtown vibe cool kinda place….

    One thing though. As I left and walked down the block I was hungry again by the time I got to 9th avenue. Their sandwich was ridiculously small for $7.
    So I stopped into Amy’s Bread and got a cupcake and a sandwich there too! Thought I would do a bread bakery food crawl of my own. Their olive bread is delicious, but too chewy.

    Thanks for the post about Sullivan Street. Delicious yet pricey. Like the rest of Midtown.

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