FreeFoods Duck Pastrami Sandwich is a Triumph. A Freakin’ Expensive Triumph.

We could go back and forth about whether or not FreeFoods NYC is a true Midtown Lunch (it’s not), or whether or not I should even be eating at a place like this (I shouldn’t).  But the simple fact is this.  They made a new sandwich, put it on their menu, called it “The Midtown Lunch Special”, and charged under $10 for it (if you don’t include the tax).  So, according to the rules set forth in my Midtown Lunch sandwich challenge, I am obligated to go and eat the sandwich and post about it.  I never said I had to like it… just eat it, and post about it. 

Standing in FreeFoods, I could feel my anger rising.  I mean, this place is really expensive.  Sure, most of it is organic, they use the best ingredients, and it is one of the few places in Midtown where a vegetarian, vegan, or raw foods enthusiast can get a decent lunch.  But I don’t fall into any of those categories, and my category (cheap fatso) is clearly not intended audience.  The sandwiches are all $11 and up (except for the ML special), the by the lb. buffet is $395 a pound (or so it seems), and their non coffee drinks are $3 at their cheapest and $8 at their most expensive.  In other words, if you want more than just a sandwich, you’re not getting out of here for less than $15. 

There is only one problem.  The “Midtown Lunch Special Sandwich”, a duck pastrami reuben, is really freakin’ good.

I am a cheapo, but to pretend like I never spend a lot of money on food would be disingenuous.  I’ve done the $100 price fixe at Ko, and the $115 omakase at Soto (both amazing.)  I enjoyed the $32 crab in chili sauce at Fatty Crab (even though you can get cheaper versions in Chinatown) and I’ve spent more on a steak than I spend on two weeks worth of lunches.  But lunch?  Sandwiches?  There is something in my brain that snaps about spending more than $10 on lunch.  (Especially if it’s just a sandwich.  All you can eat buffets?  That’s a different story.) I’m sure their profit margin on one of these sandwiches is significantly less than what, say, the Biryani Cart makes on their food.  But this site isn’t about profit margin. It’s about what it costs to me.


So there I was, eating the duck pastrami sandwich at FreeFoods.  Spending the big bucks, and doing what I said I would never do.  But putting my cheapness aside, and my staunch Midtown Lunch views, I have to admit, this sandwich is not only good… it’s completely worth the money.  Why?  The duck.  It’s not a big sandwich (it comes on 2 slightly smaller than normal slices of rye bread) but they do not skimp on the duck.  You probably get a whole duck breast (something that would easily cost $20+ at a nice restaurant), and it’s perfectly cured, and sliced thick, with a really nice layer of fat (as it should be.) To give you an idea of its size, it’s about the same size as all of the “fat guy” sandwiches at ‘wichcraft.


The whole thing was perfectly complemented by the slaw, emmentaler swiss, and russian dressing.  The fat from the duck and the cheese greases up the bread real good while it’s being pressed in the sandwich machine, giving you that authentic reuben feel.  What can I say?  It was really awesome, filling in that “fat fills me up” kind of way, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Do I love FreeFoods now? Let’s not get crazy.  I was pretty angry every single minute I sat in that place, wondering how people could spend so much money on lunch at a place that doesn’t even have waiters. It also didn’t help that the other two sandwiches my friends ordered (the meatball sandwich and the chicken/lime sandwich with avocado ad mango), were pretty meh for $11… or maybe it just seemed that way after eating the duck pastrami special.  Truthfully, if I’m in the mood for a meatball sub- I don’t need to spend $11 on this just ok version (with dry bread.) 

The duck pastrami sandwich, on the other hand… I may have to return for another.  Or better yet, maybe I’ll just order delivery.

Free Foods NYC (Two Locations)

  • 150 E. 52nd St. (btw. Lex+3rd),  212-371-1945 
  • 18 W. 45th St. (btw. 5+6th),  212-302-7195 


  • wait, people paid $9.75? not to be a total cheapo but mine was $9.99 which i thought was pretty lame to make it one cent under the limit… and over the limit with tax. even odder- the cashier asked me how much it was, even tho there were of signs around that said 9.99.

    that said- it was delish!! and actually really packed with duck, which surprised me after seeing the skinny sandwiches in the display (this was my first time in FF…$5 for one gluten free brownie? really?). thanks for this challenge zach! i look forward to getting to check out other overpriced places that i can now afford!

    but how sad is it to watch other people in FF getting ripped off? it was like watching a car accident. guy right before me in the line had a tiny box of food from the buffet- $15!!!

  • I went there today with my stack of $100 bills at around 1:30. They told me that they didn’t have the sandwich. It wasn’t clear if they ran out, or just didn’t have it. But this is the second one of these places I have gone to that didn’t have the sandwich (I went to Certe a couple days early). This seams like an easy way to leach customers.

  • @Harry- Wayne sent me a photo of his sandwich, so they definitely had it. Sounds like they ran out of it by 1pm. Oh, and I went to Certe today… and they had the sandwich. And it was *amazing*. Full post coming on Monday…

  • Harry – what darkly lit alleyways or other areas obstructed from public view and thinly travelled do you pass through on the way to lunch with your stack of 100 dollar bills, eh? Just curious :-)

  • Had it today — unbelievable they can do this for less than $10. Such a freakin amazing sandwich.

  • I had this today. It is expensive but worth every penny. I love duck (Peking Duck and Roast Duck are my guilty pleasure foods) and this duck was great – heavily seasoned and extremely tender. There was definitely at least 3/4 lb of duck meat in this sandwich. Think of it more as a really reasonably priced gourmet sandwich. They are pre-making them now – wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator – but still tasted fresh after a few minutes in the press. They sold 5 of them alone in the several minutes that I was waiting for mine.

  • I finally had this today. It was delicious. The duck was tender. The spices and the bread really make the sandwich. The combination of flavors was terrific. There’s pepper to go with the duck and the dressing they use.

    The sandwich was painstakingly made. They took their time and made it fresh from scratch. It took a little time, but it was totally worth it.

    Funny thing is some guy came in and asked for the sandwich with lettuce and tomato. The guy that took the order went to the back and brought up the chef(?) who was dressed in a white coat. The chef said NO! because it would ruin the sandwich. He stood on principle and protected the recipe. The chef even offered to give him the lettuce and tomato separately. This is very admirable. The guy left, and it was his loss.

    Anyway, it was a terrific sandwich. I would put it slightly ahead of Certe and way ahead of El Rey. I can’t wait to try Sophie’s cuban next.

  • Can someone tell FreeFoods to make more of the Midtown Lunch sandwich? I went there at 12:30 and there were already sold out! Now I have to walk 10 minutes another day to try it…

  • Send them an e-mail (from their website)…

  • ordered the sandwich through seamless web (enticed by a $5 off your first order coupon). delivered to me with tax and tip under $7. you can’t beat that. about the sandwich: the duck was quite tasty! moist and flavorful with a good kick of pepper. the saurkraut not so much…. IMO too much ginger/carrot… could not taste the russian dressing at all (perhaps they forgot it in mine). overall totally worth $7, probably worth $10…. i’m a lunch packer (yes, how strange that i am addicted to this website) and also a self-titled cheapo and hate to spend ANY money on lunch……… but this was pretty good.

  • I’m conflicted.

    I do like duck. A lot. I like bread. I like cheese. I like all the components of this sandwich.

    The appeal of this sandwich is pretty clear: quality components, time and care put into the preparation, for a reasonable price. The guy who put the sandwich together did a very generous job.

    However, my sandwich looked nothing like the pink, moist, and gooey pic in Zach’s post. The duck was gray and a little dry-stringy, with a consistency not unlike that of liver. And for the first half of the sandwich I ate, there was too much pepper (for those naysayers who say that is just the pastrami-ness, I will offer up the fact that the taste of pepper overwhelmed all else). The sandwich press failed to warm the refrigerated duck and cheese, which results in crispy–and delicious–bread, but a cold sandwich. If you want a cold sandwich, fine, but the point of heat in the middle of the sandwich–of this sandwich–is to allow the components to become less disjointed and a happy ducky mess.

    The point is, I’m willing to give the promise of the sandwich another try–even at $10.83–but this time around, the wonderful quantity of food was overwhelmed by pepper and the flavors kept separate by incomplete heating.

  • i had the opportunity to try this today. like johannas had mentioned, mine looks nothing like the picture. not pink and fatty duck, but dry, grayish, and liver-y tasting meat. duck, cheese, bread, cannot go wrong, but i have to say i was disappointed. and probably would go as far to say that if one goes to freefoods expecting it to look like the picture above, they’d be let down. the bread in one half of it was falling apart and for a few bites i was holding the duck itself.

    not sure if this is a trend or a few instances of negligence, but i’d say to anyone looking to try this sandwich to keep your expectations in check

  • ^^ I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, dammit, does this mean the good duck batch is done with? Did I wait too long?? :-(

  • Sweet mother this sandwich is good. Juicy, vaguely spicy, perfectly prepared. I finally dragged myself over and ate it today. It’s only on the menu through the end of the month, or so says a sign in there, so get it while you can.

  • A co-worker and I went and had this sandwich after reading this yesterday. It was delicious.

    I hope that FreeFoods keeps it on the menu since I’ll be having it a lot more often.

  • I tried the sandwich for the first time just now from the location between Lexington and 3rd Avenue on 51st Street.

    The price of the sandwich is $12 + $1 tax. I usually don’t spend more than $6 or $7 for lunch in midtown so that hit me pretty hard. Also, they serve the bread on sourdough, which doesn’t look like the type of bread in the pictures above. I would’ve much rather had it regular white bread.

    All that being said, the sandwich was pretty damn good. I think the best part of the whole sandwich, other than the nice thick pieces of duck, is the spicy-ness.

    Sorry for the lack of comments but I ain’t no Food Network judge or anything. I just eat what tastes good and this sandwich definitely fit the bill. Would I get it again? Probably not. But that’s because I’m a cheapo and not because of any lack of goodness.

  • Mike Cosentino is not my coworker

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    The sandwich is no longer $9.99. They jacked it up to $12. Way out of my league

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