Columbus Circle Holiday Market Might Be the Best Lunch in Town Right Now
I generally don’t get excited when a major establishment sends me a glossy press release about an upcoming special event. The ersatz nature of the Columbus Circle pop-up Holiday market smacks at my general preference for hole-in-the-wall places and secret spaces, whether they be in Midtown, the Village or Brooklyn. So I was more than excited to see some of my far flung favorites make an appearance, like Crif Dogs, Fatty Crab, and Pies n Thighs among others. Lingering questions remained though – would the quality of food be as good as the original? And is it possible to construct a $10 Midtown lunch in one of the most opulent areas of the city, right on the doorsteps of the house of Per Se?
The answer is Yes and Yes.
There are plenty of hearty, moderately priced snacks to assemble a filling lunch, such as Crif Dog’s Chihuahua dog ($5). There’s apparently a transportation cost of moving this bacon wrapped and avocado studded dog from Alphabet City, where they’re normally $4.50. But flavor wise, the Cardiologist’s worst nightmare is close to the original. Add a side of tater tots (S-$3 / L-$4) and you’re in for a filling lunch.
Cascabel Taqueria’s UES location has always been far out of bounds for me, even during non-lunch hours, so I applaud Columbus Circle for bringing yet another far flung food item for grateful Midtown lunchers. I sampled a carnitas taco ($3), three of which would easily make a hearty, meaty lunch. However, there were textural issues as my single wrapped corn tortilla disintegrated when I tried to pick it up. The meat was also on the dry side, but generously applied.
You don’t expect value for money or authenticity when dining at Fatty Crabs or Fatty Cue (West Village, UWS, So. Williamsburg). Instead, it’s all about the big and bold flavors, such as their Asian riff on a steak sandwich ($9). Though small in stature, the flavors in this sandwich are out of control from the creamy cheese, richness of the braised beef, and a good background heat from chilis. I would gladly break the $10 mark for another round of this sandwich, supplemented by their chicken and dumpling soup ($7).
It’s a hike and a half to travel from Manhattan to the original Pies n Thighs in South Williamsburg, but it’s a journey I’ve made in the past without hesitation. Having a Pies n Thighs in our own backyard is simply too good to be true. The Columbus Circle spin-off does justice to the original chicken sandwich ($6) – my biscuit was flaky, dense, and rich, while the chicken is slightly crispy with a Buffalo chicken like exterior. Be prepared for a bit of a wait as they fry the chicken biscuit sandwiches to order. You’ll be glad you did.
Collard greens ($3) at Pies n Thighs is another success. This soul food favorite is perfectly braised and tender, with a satisfying twang of hot sauce and vinegar. Don’t let the suspiciously healthy cruciferous appearance fool you, as there are nubs of pork fat to add richness and body.
In short, the Columbus Circle market has done an admirable job of giving tourists and Midtown lunchers an eclectic taste of New York flavors from every corner of Manhattan and beyond. If one orders wisely, it’s easy to assemble a filling, delicious and cheap meal with endless iterations. Even though Columbus Circle is out of bounds and mobbed with tourists, I’ll certainly be back for another round of Pies n Thighs and Fatty Cue – it almost beats taking the hel(L) train to Williamsburg.
The Columbus Circle Holiday Market will be operating from December 1 – December 24, 2010.
Open every day from 10am – 8pm