Among “Gourmet” Delis And Cafes, Zeytinz Is Relatively Fabulous
Like many of you, upon my arrival on the Midtown Lunch scene, I quickly developed an allergy to the gourmet delis and cafes littering the neighborhood. They all seemed the same. Build-your-own-salad. A grill. Pizza. Perhaps sushi. Of course the deli. Steamtables that immediately bring cattle troughs to mind. (And does anyone know why the steamtable food is often so oily, even when it’s just veg? Is it to make the food appear shiny and therefore deceptively fresh? Or is it to weigh it down so the by-the-pound price goes up?)
Zeytinz Fine Food Market Place (on 40th btw. 5+6th) has some of the usual options you might find at the typical midtown gourmet deli, cafe, or *ahem*, fine food market place. But here, both selection and presentation are superior. Plus, they have some mighty good food, and some very good deals at that! Zeytinz is the go-to place for almost everyone in my office, plenty of Profiled Lunch’ers, and a swarm of others every day. I’d like to take a little time to tell you why.
I’ll start off with an overview of stuff I’ve seen but not yet tried. There is a brick oven on the premises for pizza and paninis, which seems pretty awesome. The sushi looks so colorful I would like to paint a still life of it, and I see people snagging it every time I go. There are kebab, rotisserie chicken, and Tex Mex options. They’ve got a nice looking bakery, and they outsource macarons from… you guessed it… Macaron Cafe.
Zeytinz doubles as a grocer; they sell several types of fruits, meats, and cheeses, all beautifully presented in baskets or ceramic trays. One example is manchego; surprisingly a better deal at Zeytinz than my local grocery store in Queens. Perhaps an option for a place to go shopping for dinner on your lunch break if you have fridge access at your office…
The deli section has a nice selection of meats you can get on a wrap, panini, or 18 kinds of bread. Yeah, I counted. And the one that appeals to me most is the olive ciabatta. I ordered a turkey with tomato and mayo on an olive ciabatta once and caught a photo or two. The bread was so perfect – just a tiny bit of crunch on the crust, a soft interior, and sliced brown and green olives both on top of and nestled within the bubbles of the crust. The $8 sandwich had lots of meat, as always, and a generously sized pickle and pepperocini peppers on the side. I might ask them to construct a pseudo-muffaletta using this bread sometime. (If anyone knows where I can get a real muffaletta anywhere in bounds, by the way, please share.)
While the deli is nice, the favorite with my coworkers is the bibimbap bar. Here’s the deal, and it’s a deal worth trying. Unlike many of the food-by-the-pound options in midtown (including Zeytinz itself), the Zeytinz bibimbap bar is $7.99, you can fill up your bowl as much as you possibly can, AND you get a cup for miso soup for FREE.
You can get so much food in this bowl your arms will be trembling under the weight by the time you get back to your office. I almost hate to let this secret out, because the place is packed enough already. But the only way I can possibly fathom that they can make this practice profitable is from the people who don’t know that the bibibmap bar is *not* by-the-pound like their salad and food bars. Those folks must balance out people like me and my coworkers who have figured out what to do: fill that bowl up until you don’t think you can get one more edamame bean in, shake it down, and then heap on some more. I admit I’ve never attempted an official weigh in, lest they catch on, but I would estimate you can get at least five pounds of food in there if you really try.
The bar doesn’t have the traditional bibimbap beef, but it does have shredded chicken, scrambled egg, and tofu for protein. Along with brown or white rice, there are marinated yellow peppers, carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, edamame, bean sprouts, spinach, fresh lettuce, and other ingredients. There’s also a soy-based sauce with green onions, and a hot sauce. I use what I like to call the “round-the-world” technique, where I fill up my bowl with all the ingredients on the bar, then top with sauces, shake ‘er down to make it as dense as possible, then give it a second go. Then shake it again and pile on even more stuff. Repeat if possible.
I try to follow some of the same advice that Zach gives us in his by-the-pound eating guide to get the best deal here. Lots of meat… not too much rice… think about price per space rather than price per pound to fill that bowl up. I thought maybe the people at the cash registers would give me dirty look when showing up with a bibibmap bowl roughly the weight of a small child, but apparently that ain’t no thang.
How does it taste? I try not to act like an expert when I’m not; the first and only time I had bibibmap before Zeytinz was in K-town Los Angeles circa 2002(?) when unfortunately my love for food hadn’t quite developed and I remember enjoying it but not thinking about it. Zeytinz bibibmap is salty (grab a bottle of water) and also satisfying, but I would guess it’s not super-authentic. Has anyone else tried the bibibmap here that would like to comment?
If you’re ready to brave the long lines here, it’s a great place to find deals and to grocery shop for later. There’s also a secret register in the back where you can skip the lines if you pay cash, and you can escape upstairs to the second-floor seating area or take your lunch out to Bryant Park for a little picnic. Look, I get it. Midtown “gourmet delis” are generally shitty. They are outside of the realm of the Midtown Lunch way of thinking. But Zeytinz, in my opinion (and many other folks’ opinions), is an exception. 10,000 suits can’t be wrong…
The + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- I love bibibmap, and boy can you get a big bowl of that here for $7.99.
- I hear there are 18 different kinds of bread at the deli and a brick oven for pizza and sandwiches. Sign me up.
- Gourmet delis are totally my bag, and this is all kinds of awesome.
- I like to do a bit of grocery shopping on my lunch break so I don’t have to shop at the end of the day when I’m tired. This is a great place for it.
The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- Deli, schmeli. Cafe, schmafe. This is just another crappy version of boring Midtown food.
- WAY too many annoying people here and the lines are too long. I’m OUT before I even walked in.
Zeytinz, 40th btw 5+6th