Flatiron Lunch: Foragers Hitting Stride With Butcher Sandwiches
Every Friday we go 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.
As you probably already heard (because, really, there was an insane amount of press), Foragers City Grocer aka Foragers Market, a grocery institution that has been providing a curated market experience (aka upscale grocery store) in Dumbo, has landed in Chelsea. In terms of produce and roast chicken, they seemed to have it figured out from early on. I know this because a woman in there told me that she had a “problem” – she had bought about a dozen roast chickens in as many days during their first two or three weeks of being open. In contrast, the sandwich options have been a bit of a mess throughout the growing pains. So after a few visits (for science, of course), I feel that it might finally be hitting its stride. It doesn’t hurt that many of the sandwich prices have come down. As Rachel asked just this week, who actually lowers prices?
In the early weeks, Foragers lacked a written sandwich menu in store. To confuse things further, the online menu was far more extensive than was offered on site. Based on the online menu, it seemed like they should have at least an option or two, so I made the walk to check it out. Also, selfishly, I have wanted to visit the original store in Dumbo for a long time, so I figured this was a good way to check it out. I made a beeline to the display case and heat lamps in part because it seemed like the logical place to order lunch, but also because the food looked so darn delicious. The display was very enticing with glistening pieces of disheveled meat that look like one tiny touch would cause them to shred upon themselves.
At that time, they described every sandwich each time someone asked, and the set-up was not efficient so every sandwich took a long time to prepare. I heard them say porchetta and I answered yes. I know the foodies out there are going to be very upset with me, but (aside from a bite at the New Amsterdam Market) I haven’t tried Sara Jenkins’ porchetta sandwich – the sandwich that put porchetta in our vocabulary. Granted, without that point of reference, I thought this was a delicious sandwich. The pork was completely tender, flavorful and dripping with cooking juices. The pickled peppers (sweet, from what I could taste) and arugula provided the flavor and texture balance necessary to make this type of rich, fatty sandwich work. (This sandwich started at $8.95, but is now $7.95…Go figure.)
The next sandwich I tried was the camembert and roast pear baguette sandwich ($7.95). Since I was on my way to meeting, I figured a cold sandwich would be easier to eat on the run. Since this is not a butcher sandwich, it lives over by the coffee, pastries and pretzels. In theory, since it is already made, these sandwiches should be quicker to grab (that is as long as you can get someone to help you quickly.) In addition to cheese, pear and arugula, this sandwich came with a fennel-infused honey. To me, fennel-infused means the fennel or fennel seeds are put in the honey and then strained after a period of time. I would be wrong with this sandwich. There were so many fennel seeds that I didn’t taste the sweetness of the roasted pear until half way through the sandwich. This could have been a fluke in my sandwich, but those with an aversion to fennel stay away, because it also comes with shaved fennel.
Weeks later, I went back to see how the sandwich situation was coming along. They had managed to upgrade the menu from a laminated piece of paper to a painted sign that hangs in front of the butcher counter.
But while talking to the gentleman behind the counter about my options, he informed that there was also special lamb sandwich that day. The lamb had been roasted in house in their chicken rotisserie. While watching my sandwich be prepared, I noticed that there were many large hunks of fat mixed in with the meat. I felt bad about it, but not wanting to get a full mouthful of fat later and because there was no one waiting after me, he happily trimmed the meat a little when I asked. I am glad I did because unlike some of the other rotisserie meats that sit under heat lamps all day swimming in their own fat getting tender, the lamb was room temperature or cooler so the fat did not dissolve while eating. Complimenting the lamb, the sandwich was prepared with onion chutney, pepper relish and arugula. It was a reasonable size for $7.95 with the sandwich about 8 inches long. I tasted a hint of mint on the lamb so I wonder if they marinated or cooked it with mint (I even checked the onion chutney jar later to see if it had mint, just in case), but it seems I have been mind-mapped to taste mint with lamb.
It wasn’t until my most recent visit that I tried their house smoked beef navel pastrami sandwich (I should note that this sandwich started out at $9.95 but is now $7.95. Like Rachel, I am not complaining about a place lowering their prices, but I do wonder if the sandwich has shrunk with the price slash.) This is my favorite sandwich at Foragers so far. The pastrami was incredibly soft without being too fatty, and since I prefer my pastrami cooked with all of its fat and then partially trimmed before serving, this was perfect for me. They combine it with Six Point beer (grain) mustard which provides a nice kick.
While watching my sandwich construction, I noticed some steps that I didn’t catch previously. First, they cut each ciabatta when you order. Next, they brush both sides with olive oil before putting them face down on a panini press for a nice toast so the bread has the right combo of crispy and chewy. What I didn’t notice until later was that there was a sandwich construction foul committed by not putting the pastrami to the end of the bread. What good is a sandwich when the toppings don’t even go to the edge? Okay, okay… It was still delicious. For those of you with big appetites, the two gentlemen who ordered after me were both quite large and neither of them were concerned with going hungry.
The other sandwich I tried head-to-head with the pastrami was the turkey BLT ($7.95). It didn’t even compare. First, the bread isn’t toasted. I said something and they were happy to toast it for me. But instead of toasting the bread first, he compiled the sandwich with all cold ingredients and then tried to toast the whole thing. This might have worked if it had been pressed for a while, but it was quick and the bread didn’t even get crispy. Speaking of crispy, the bacon seemed to have come out of a fridge (cooked but cold) so it lacked the crunch that makes a BLT a BLT. This disappoints me since so much care is taken in other parts of the sandwich making process, including flattening the spine of the romaine so the sandwich stays flat and delicately sprinkling salt and recently ground pepper.
Foragers also has a reasonably sized display case with various salads and vegetables. These change regularly to match with what is available seasonally. I heard a woman behind the counter explain to a customer that even though she also loves the kale, since it is no longer in season they won’t be offering it for a while. I thought this provided many great alternatives to chips as a sandwich supplement.
First, I tried the roasted cauliflower which was actually a combo of cauliflower and broccoli (fine by me!) The cauliflower didn’t have the dark brown color from roasting that I find imparts the most flavor. I noticed some diced garlic, a couple sprinkles of grated parmesan and crushed red chili flakes. Despite the visual prominence of the chili flakes they didn’t seem to make the dish that spicy. In trying to get a smaller item to supplement my sandwich, I made the huge mistake of not asking for an exact amount. Of course, I ended up with $6 worth of roasted cauliflower. ML-budget FAIL!
I wised up the next time, and asked for just under $2 worth of chicken salad. I am not really a fan of chicken salad, but after seeing several people order it and reading that it is made with their house roasted chicken, I decided to give it a go. I am so glad I did. The chicken is loaded with flavor. There is none or next-to-no mayo in this chicken salad, just diced red onions, small slices of celery and grain mustard. I think the whole salad is held together by the fact that the rotisserie chicken was moist before it was shredded. Despite the fact that the chicken salad and the sandwich combined put me into a food coma, I would totally order this again.
I should make a quick note about the cheddar onion bread pudding. I have been lusting after this item since I first went in when the ladies behind the counter said it was their favorite item. A coworker got it one time and inhaled it so quickly I didn’t get a bite. Another time, it wasn’t yet prepared and was going to be offered later in the day for the after-work crowd. What a disappointment for me. From what I remember, a rectangular slice will run you about $3. It is hard to recommend it without having actually tried it, but I feel pretty confident that it is going to taste delicious.
In part because of their commitment to being a neighborhood market focused on seasonality and locally sourcing, but also because they are new and still making adjustments, the menu options are likely to continue changing. Luckily, the two best things I had (pastrami sandwich and chicken salad) are always in season and house specialties.
The + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- They sure know how to roast a chicken..and then shred it into delicious chicken salad.
- This pastrami is better than my local Jewish deli.
- A different butcher sandwich for each day of the week with money in the budget for a side as well!
The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- Why can’t all of their sandwiches be as good as the pastrami? They have so much potential.
- I like my sandwiches overstuffed or at least filled to the edges, and Foragers doesn’t cut it.
- They have too much artisanal mumbo-gumbo going on, just like that NYMagazine article.
Foragers City Grocer, 300 West 22nd Street at 8th Avenue, 212-243-8888 (butcher sandwiches until 3pm-ish)