Flatiron Lunch: One Week Left to Gorge at Mad Sq Eats

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.

To recap my post from the first week of mad sq eats: I ate everything. Okay, okay. Not quite everything, but I sure tried. But since I left a few stones unturned and a few rice balls not eaten, I had to keep on, keepin’ on at Mad Sq Eats. And let this be your official warning that there is only one more week to go to visit Mad Sq Eats. The horror! Our only saving grace is that the festival returns in the fall. Hooray!

Based on Clay’s post last year about Ilili and the fact that the actual restaurant is very expensive, their sandwiches were a priority for me. Of course the kafta sandwich (which Clay wrote about) and the lamb shoulder sandwich (at $12, I avoided but still might need to try) looked very tempting, but remembering a friend liked the chicken sandwich, I decided to go that route. The pressed part of the pressed chicken sandwich ($8) happened very quickly so it didn’t get that smushed, crunchy quality that is so enjoyable in a pressed Cuban sandwich. This was good for the integrity of the bread, which was a type of spongy yet crumbly focaccia. The chicken was shredded in the sandwich. It was flavorful, but I think it would have been more so if it came off a slow turning roasting spit (see below). The other two components of this sandwich were actually the most notable and noticeable. The garlic whip was more airy than regular mayo with a heavy garlic flavor. They put copious amounts on the sandwich, and I found myself scraping it off to have a better balance. The chopped Lebanese pickles were a necessary addition.

I should also point out Ilili is featuring a different roasted meat each day of the weekend. Saturday is whole roasted lamb shawarma and Sunday is chicken shawarma. I know most people don’t like to head near their office on the weekends (and I second that), but if you can stomach it, I can imagine this will be delicious.

You may be aware that the market has competing Arancini…The Ragu one I tried from Arancini Bros last time was mighty good, but I still had to try Antica Focacceria’s for $5 (called Suppli Siciliano). I hesitated to get the rice ball Bolognese (I mean Antica is based in Palermo, Sicily, which is nowhere near Bologna.) I considered the ham and mozzarella, but it seemed like an Americanized option, and the vegetarian wasn’t available when I was there. I am pleased to report that both rice balls are equally delicious. The only difference I noticed was that Antica’s is larger, but it is also $1 more. Does this make me want to do a proper side-be-side competition to see which tastes better? Yes. Yes, it does.

Last post, Spydr331 commented about the empanada stand, La Sonrisa, and their reasonably priced options. Looking at their menu, it seemed like a great booth to get a full meal. With empanadas, pork sliders, and Cuban corn all for $3, you could get one of each and have $1 remaining for a drink. The guy behind the counter recommended the coconut curry chicken or the beef empanada. Curried chicken seemed different enough from the pork sliders to provide a nice comparison.

The curry chicken empanada was out of this world. The empanada shell was perfectly flakey and crunchy, but the filling was the most impressive part. I wasn’t sure how a Latin food stand would do with Asian flavors, but the killed it. It tasted as if the chicken had been pulled and simmered for ages in the coconut curry sauce. The coconut curry flavor was precise without being overpowering.

The pork also seemed like it had been simmered for ages. The meat was silky from having been cooked in black pepper and minced peppers (jalepenos?) adding tons of flavor and a little heat. They also added some spicy mayo which was fine, but considering how juicy the pork was, it almost wasn’t necessary.

Considering my love for Indian food, I wanted to try something from Graffiti/Metaphor so I ordered the pork dumpling chaat ($8). I was actually expecting a broken up pork samosa or two made into the full chaat dish, like the samosa chaat I used to get at Indus Express before I moved to the Flatiron area.

Well, it wasn’t. It was almost exactly as the menu says, and not what I wanted it to be. The chaat came in a Chinese takeout container with a soy based sauce on the bottom, seven pork dumplings, and topped with aloo bhujia and a salad of diced red onion, tomatoes and cilantro. The aloo bhujia, a spicy Indian potato noodle crunchies, combined with the salad was my favorite part of the dish. (It was actually really good.)

The dumplings were lacking in flavor. In fact, the pork was so minimal and ground up, that I was sure I was given the veggie dumplings by accident. I even went back to the counter to make sure. Either way, the dumplings had a slightly limp quality of something previously deep fried but allowed to soften with time.

So far this post and my last post have failed to mention two very important parts of Mad Sq Eats…the booze and the sweets. Since this column is the Flatiron LUNCH column, I have been trying to focus on items that could legitimately be considered lunch without breaking the $10 barrier. But as Roberta’s paper plate sign wisely pointed out, “Have a beer with lunch. Your boss doesn’t notice you anyway.” (I really wish I had thought to take a photo of that.)

Let’s not forget the many vendors offering dessert items. Some items might push you out of the ML budget, but it is worth the consideration. During one of the rainly cold days this week, I couldn’t resist the comfort food appeal of the Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Blondie ($4) from Hot Blondies Bakery (this has to be named after my fellow contributor, right?). This was everything I hoped it would be with all the necessary flavors well represented and in harmony with each other.

When it was hot and sunny (like I hope it will be for the last week of the festival), I opted for People’s Pops. I tried the red plum shaved ice (pictured) and the raspberry basil pop (not pictured). Of course, these capped two different meals, but both are great options after your possibly fried and probably greasy lunch. The pop had more depth of flavor while the shaved ice was a more enjoyable texture to eat in my opinion.

So with one week left, you might be curious what I still want to try at Mad Sq Eats. (Probably not, actually, but oh well. Le sigh…) Robicelli’s whoopie pie with nutella ($3) at Red Hook Lobster Pound caught my eye a few times. Depending on how much nutella flavor is in the pie (I prefer unreasonable amounts of nutella),this could be a winner.

The meatball hero ($8.50) at Mighty Balls seems like a good bet for a filling lunch. A friend had it and recommended it. She thinks she waited too long to eat it (she took it back to the office), because the roll got hard. So this is one to eat under the big umbrellas.

I have been meaning to try Calexico for a couple years now, but I have always been discouraged by the huge lines. For example, the scrum of people waiting this week was three people deep! I need to just bite the bullet, stand in line and see what all the fuss is about.

I realize that this post and the last one is a lot to absorb and might induce significant amounts of hunger. I hope my “sacrificing” for the greater enjoyment of Mad Sq Eats has been helpful. Not that it really matters, I would have done it anyway. Please use the comments to highlight favorite items! I hope you all get the chance and the good weather to venture to Worth Square for one last week of bathing in Mad Sq Eats glory…until the fall, that is.

Mad Sq Eats, Worth Square, just west of Madison Square Park at 24th Street and 5th Avenue).Through June 1st.

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