Flatiron Lunch: Get Buns & Congee From Jess Bakery

Now that Downtown has its very own section of the site, what are we going to post on Fridays at 10am? Answer… how about a new column devoted to those lunches just south of the ML boundaries. Please give a warm welcome to Jason Lam from the blog Me So Hungry. Every Friday at 10am he’ll post about lunches in Murray Hill south, Gramercy, Flatiron, and everything in between… or as we’ll call it from now on: Flatiron Lunch.

One thing I’m grateful for in New York is the easy access to a good Chinese steamed pork bun, one of my childhood favorites. Although most of the bakeries are in Chinatown, it’s good to know there’s one right on 23rd St near the School of Visual Arts. Not just a place to get a good steamed pork bun, but some other good food too.

Jess Bakery is a narrow little place where you’ll see some fantastically decorated treats and cakes when you walk in. There’s a server to assist you when you want a bun. Then there’s food and drinks made to order in the back –standard Chinese take-out, noodle soups and bubble tea.

The Chinese steam bun ($1.50) is pretty solid. Nice portion of pork with sweet bbq sauce pocketed inside moist steamed bread. The pork isn’t as fatty as many other places, but still tasty enough.

Then there’s some interesting buns that I wasn’t familiar with before, like the corn and bacon buns ($1.35). The corn is baked on the Chinese sweet bun with what I believe is cheese and mayonnaise. It could almost be a take on an Mexican corn on the cob (Elote) if it just had some chili seasoning. The corn bun isn’t as exciting as it looks though.

The real star is the bacon bun –bits of bacon & scallion and mayonnaise spread on top of the sweet buttery bun. It was oozing with grease all over and down my mouth.

It was surprising to see congee (rice porridge) on the menu. I didn’t enjoy congee growing up as a child. It’s usually rather bland and has stuff in it that I think is gross. But I suppose congee is my brussel sprout. Now I eat it as an adult, because my tastes have changed and because it’s comforting. Jess’ version is decent. I ordered the salty pork with thousand year old egg ($3/small). The pork is unfortunately tiny slivers. However, the key is the salty preserved egg, which adds the necessary flavor to the bland rice porridge …even if that flavor is just salt. I don’t imagine many SVA students order the congee, but it’s up my alley.

Jess also sells some cheap crust-less sandwiches, like Turkey & Cheese and Tuna ($2-2.35). The specialty sandwiches include roast pork, roast duck and Hong Kong Toast sandwich, which looks like what my dad used to make for me (fried egg with cold ham, lettuce and mayo on toasted white bread). I recently tried out the roast duck sandwich ($7). It’s one hell of a sandwich with the pulled duck meat & skin mixed with hoisin sauce on toast, buttered both sides. I would just take out half of the pale crunchy lettuce and spread on more mayo. My finger already had grease dripping off it, but more mayo, right?

So all in all, Jess has some tasty finger foods. Makes me feel at home. I just don’t know about the other hot food they serve. The photos of the Chinese take-out food on the wall don’t look appetizing. Speaking of photos, I just had the Jess Bakery menu on my desk and noticed something familiar in the corner of my eye. The restaurant picture looked crooked, like my old shooting style. I checked my blog and it really was my photo. I’m flattered that they like my slantyness.

THE + (What people who like this place would say)

  • I would really love me some steamed pork buns close to work
  • I want to feel like a Chinese boy again
  • Did you say bacon and mayonnaise bun?

THE – (What people who don’t like this place would say)

  • I don’t know about the Chinese food photo-menu on the wall (I think they sell well though)
  • Whoa, can’t handle the greasiness in this sandwich. I grew zits on my fingers.
  • I’m worried they’ll jack my photos

Jess Bakery, 221 E 23rd St (between 2nd Ave & 3rd Ave) New York, NY 10010


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