Flatiron Lunch: tbsp Has Great Value and Quality, If You Order Well

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.

Since we went pretty low brow last week, it is only fair we went upscale this week. Granted, this is a place that Clay previous checked out, but, selfishly, I have been wanting to try. I was first drawn into tbsp because of the cozy feel noticeable from the street (the same atmosphere that Clay wrote about last winter). The pressed tin ceiling and hanging lights casting a nice glow over the whole place made an impression when I peeked through the large glass windows while walking by.

I figured it would be out of the ML price range by a few dollars but was pleasantly surprised that almost everything on their menu was in budget. By digging around their website, I also discovered that they have daily specials. The specials are published online every day but are also on display in the restaurant. The online menu doesn’t show the prices, so when I called in my order, I found out that one of the two entrees of the day was under $10. Clearly, I had to get it. I was also tempted by the southwestern chicken salad with lime chipotle marinated chicken, fresh corn, grated cheddar, chopped tomatoes, and black beans on romaine with tortilla strips and chipotle dressing on the side ($9.25), but the words “our house roast beef” on a sandwich distracted me. I tend to be a sucker for places advertising house specialties.

When I arrived to pick up my order and explore the interior, I scoped out the fridge case. I was immediately struck by the measly size of the roast beef (you can see a lone one in the back of the case on the right of the photo…but I get ahead of myself). For your reference, the grilled chicken sandwich with pecorino, mixed greens, and chipotle aioli on ciabatta is a hearty size for $8.25. And the southwestern chicken salad I was tempted by was on par with most salads for the price at other Flatiron Lunch spots.

I can’t say there are no redeeming qualities about the roast beef sandwich, and I know my judgment was slightly clouded by my disappointment in the size of the sandwich for $9. The beef is roasted in house, and it tasted great. The problem is there was a measly layer, especially for such a small sandwich. The combo of pecorino, roasted garlic aioli and baby arugula complimented each other. When the menu says “on a Kaiser roll”, they mean a pretty typical Kaiser roll. It is only slightly more interesting with corn meal on the outside than the kind you get an egg sandwich on.

The daily special I ordered – buttermilk fried chicken with kale AND mac and cheese – was on a completely different price scale for $9.75. It came with two chicken breast strips. The kale was sauteed with garlic and red pepper flakes just as I make it at home and equally delicious. It also came with a large portion of mac and cheese, which would probably cost $10 on its own at City Bakery a few blocks away. Don’t get me wrong, I love City Bakery. And I would probably give my first born child for pretzel croissants and mac and cheese. And that is about what it costs. The top of the mac and cheese had this great mixture of breadcrumbs and shredded cheese that crisped up. At first, I thought maybe they were fried shredded carrot because of the color, but later figured out it was slivers of crispy cheddar. The topping provided a great textural contrast with the gooey mac below that is often missing.

Since the chicken was made with just white meat, it came out a little dry on their own (probably made worse by my walk back to the office). The spicy mayo (sorry, per the menu “chipotle dipping sauce”) did the trick perfectly to add a little bit of spice and cut the dryness.

In the case of tbsp, size matters. Don’t recommend ordering over the phone (like I did), because the size and overall value of items varies widely. I think the best strategy is to check out the specials as soon as you arrive. They can be an amazing deal and delicious. If none of those strike your fancy, head to the sandwich and salad display case. Keep in mind they have a few panini presses so all of the sandwiches can probably be toasted. The food is undeniably good here…it is just a matter of making sure the value doesn’t ruin the taste.

The + (What somebody who likes this place would say)

  • The size and taste of the fried chicken special was in another league.
  • It is clear this place cares about ingredients and flavors.
  • Clay was right about the amazing atmosphere. It is so welcoming and cozy.

The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)

  • They have to be kidding with a measly portion the house roast beef.
  • If they really cared about taste, they wouldn’t use white meat for fried chicken.
  • The inconsistency in value could be really bad if I am not paying attention.

tbsp, 17 West 20th Street (btw 5th and 6th Aves), (646) 230-7007

1 Comment

  • Comparing anything (not having “Momo” in the name”) with City Bakery for value is ridiculous. :) I live around the corner fromCB and refuse to patronize it. Lots better food to be found locally at a far better value. TBSP is in that middle ground, good for a splurge and above-average quality but, as you noted, you do have to order carefully for value.

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