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.


  • Yes, but what was the verdict on what white sauce is made of?

    I once heard a Spanish-speaking streetmeat vendor ask a customer if he wanted “mayonesa”, which is a significant clue. The Kwik Meal version is obviously more complex, but I was able to create a passable replica of a Rafiqi’s-style white sauce by thinning out some mayonnaise with a little bit of water and vinegar.

  • lamazou on 27th and 3rd for their gorgonzola egg salad! They also have a couple of other great specials, all are quite special.

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