Flatiron Lunch: Grill 21 is Filipino Food Worth an Out of Bounds Trip
Every Friday our man UltraClay goes south of the ML boundaries in search of a delicious lunch. Sometimes it’s Murray Hill south or the Flatiron District, sometimes Gramercy and everything in between- but we just like to call it Flatiron Lunch.
Unless you live or work on the far east side, there’s nothing convenient about going to first avenue for lunch. In fact, it’s quite the schlep. When I got back into town last month, I had to make the trip to Stuyvesant Town to see a friend – the same friend who recommended Petite Abielle some time ago – and he told me he had a great lunch find I just had to try. He wasn’t wrong.
Filipino food is few and far between in New York, especially in lunching bounds. I’ve been on the lookout ever since I discovered the Filipino breakfast in San Francisco last summer. so when we planned to meet up at Grill 21 (21st Street and 1st Ave), I was already excited. When I found out they have $8 lunch specials, the only question was how soon could we get there.
The menu is jammed with dozens of Filipino foods that mostly fall in the $12-15 range, but I bee-lined it to the lunch specials: 10 dishes, all priced at $8. With adobos to barbecue to curries and more represented and reasonably priced, I could stop in again and again just to see what those are all about.
I ordered the grilled pork belly ($8) with garlic fried rice. The pork was firm and chewy in that perfect way that pork belly can be when it’s cooked quickly. There were salty charred bits here and there. I didn’t want it to end.
My friend went with the Pork Adobo, the vinegar-soy braised dish that’s best known in Filipino cuisine. The one bite I had exhibited all the tangy richness that made it famous. The pork itself was more tender than my pork belly, but not by a lot. It wasn’t braised to melting, but it certainly wasn’t tough.
After such a great meal, a return visit was in order and I headed east once more. I planned to delve further into the lunch specials, but then I spotted the brunch options. Served from 10am-4pm – the same hours as the lunch specials, the brunch menu has five dishes available at $9.50, each served with fried rice and eggs.
My friend had the Tapsilog, fried slices of beef with a fried egg and garlic rice. As has been the trend, the meat is also firm – soft, tender meat doesn’t seem common – with crispy edges.
I went with the Tosilog ($9.50), with Filipino bacon – called tocino, it’s made up of thick chunks of sweet, salty cured pork that’s like the best combination of bacon and ham (without the smoke). I had it with sunnyside up eggs which leaked the perfect amount of yolk all over the garlic fried rice.
I washed down both meals with a tall can of coconut juice. The sweet water of the green coconut comes with soft bits of coconut flesh floating inside. This can be a little disconcerting at first, but it always takes me back to the tropics with my first sip.
The only downside of finding Grill 21 is that now I want to try so many more dishes from the menu that I’m going to spend a lot more time traveling to the east side.
Grill 21, 346 East 21st Street at 1st Avenue. 212.473.5950. Delivery minimum, $15.