PROFILE: Midtown Lunch’er “Francois”
Every Tuesday I turn over the site to a different Midtown Lunch’er for his or her recommendations for the best lunch in Midtown. This week it’s Francois, a Montreal native who worships Calvin Trillin.
Occupation: History Professor
Where in Midtown do you Work?: Normally I live and work in Montreal, but I’m on sabbatical this year and, due to what was no doubt a clerical error, was granted a fellowship at the famed Dorothy and Lewis Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, at the spectacular main branch of the New York Public Library, where I get to hobnob with the great and good of New York’s literary scene and cavort with famed academics as I enjoy what I’m frequently told is the best year of my life.
Favorite Kind of Food: Of course it depends on my mood, but my favorite eating experiences are usually hole-in-the wall-type food, intensely local, with big flavors: spicy, smoky, peppery, you name it. It might help explain my taste to say that Calvin Trillin is my hero.
Least Favorite Kind of Food: Generic faux fancy food, the sort of dreck that is corporatized to the lowest common denominator, mostly found in shopping malls in wealthy suburbs, that combines high prices with branded imaging and is marked by a stunning absence of taste.
Favorite Place(s) to Eat Lunch in Midtown: I’m in love with Margon (on 46th btw. 6+7th), and especially the staff there. (I couldn’t have been happier to see a cameo of it in a recent late night 30 Rock marathon viewing extravaganza I competed in against… myself, which I’m glad to say I won in record time.) The Grand Central Oyster Bar is a fantastic place for that Mad Men 1950s feel, and for the miraculous fact that it is not overrun with tourists. Szechuan Gourmet (on 39th btw. 5+6th) is great, of course. My two favorite food carts so far are the Kwik Meal and Biryani carts; it kills me that Montreal outlawed street food due to the pressure of restaurants and convenience stores. All of these are within five minutes of the library; I admit my geographic scope is limited by my inherent laziness. Finally, although it’s out of range, I have to give a shout out to Nam Pang, just south of Union Square, which serves the most amazing Cambodian sandwiches hands down superior to anything I ate in Cambodia.
“Go-To” Lunch Place You and Your Coworkers Eat at Too Often? I used to grab a sandwich at the Prêt à Manger across the street from the library; I could be there and back in under four minutes. I didn’t even have to put on a coat, and I figured at least they care about getting quality ingredients, or so they claim, all made with “love.” The shame of paying their excessive prices and eating chain food finally got the better of me, however, so now for a quick bite I go to Café Zaiya (on 41st btw. Mad+5th), which only takes an extra minute and has much more interesting food, with the strangest juxtapositions. I’m addicted to the An Doughnut, filled with a delicious and not-too-sweet black bean paste stuffed into what they call a doughnut but reminds me of the beignets they used to serve on French beaches.
Place(s) you discovered thanks to Midtown Lunch? All of them. Who knew eating in midtown could be interesting? Midtown Lunch was also what first bonded the members of our research center, all of them thrown together for a single year—the best of our lives.
If you could work anywhere (just because of the lunch) where would it be and why? Probably Singapore or Malaysia: food-court heaven. If someone brought that formula to midtown… well, one can only dream. That said, I have to give a plug for Montreal, which can hold its own in the down-home eating scene against any North American city. If any readers are heading that way, get in touch with me for recommendations.
Is there anything you’d like to ask the Midtown Lunch readers? Any extra office space for me so I can work here again some day?
Are you asking for a job? Nice. As always, if you would like to be next week’s Profiled: Midtown Lunch’er (or know somebody you’d like to nominate), email email@example.com.