Flatiron Lunch: Toum Lebanese Family-Run Truck Hits the Streets
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.
About three weeks ago, a new player hit the Flatiron truck sweet spot on Fifth Avenue in the low 20s. They weren’t totally prepared (no twitter account, website under construction, and a dish or two missed the mark), but they had a great concept with Lebanese food. The news got better when I found out that the truck is a family endeavor. The truck doesn’t say that, but I heard the man out front taking orders proudly mention that his daughter picked the name of the truck. For your reference, the name is a Lebanese garlic spread or as gourmands like to call it, aioli.
On my first visit, I ordered the chicken shawarma sandwich ($7.00) which came with french fries, tomato, pickle strips and the ubiquitous toum. The menu says that it comes with mint, but I didn’t taste or see any. Perhaps the lettuce was used as a substitute. I was trying to decide between the chicken shawarma and the chicken shish taouk ($7.00). When I asked the dad of the family, he advised me to get the shawarma if I liked rotisserie style chicken and the shish taouk if I preferred barbeque chicken. I think he meant grilled chicken more than barbecue, but I was interested in trying the shawarma more.
I hate to say it, but the huge size of the chicken shawarma sandwich was probably the best part. I also liked the powerful taste and smell of the toum, and the aroma continued to permeate my leftovers throughout the afternoon. The pickles cut into strips were a brilliant addition to the sandwich since they cover the length of the sandwich better than the normal pickle disks.
I think my two biggest complaints about the sandwich was the sogginess of the fries and the dryness. For me, if you are going to add fries to a sandwich, they have to provide a crunch and these just weren’t it. More noticeable was an overall dryness to the dish. I hope this was a combination of factors that will be get better as they work out opening kinks. I found that a spoonful of coriander chutney (from my fridge) on my leftovers was the perfect fix. I know this isn’t a realistic solution for most (what, you don’t keep a jar or coriander chutney at the office?), but it really tasted amazing.
Wanting to try more than one item, I also ordered the fried kibbeh and the lemonade (each $2.00). Since you can only choose one to stay in ML budget, I would recommend the lemonade without hesitation. In fact, I would insist on it. The lemonade had the perfect balance of tart and sweet. It was subtle and delicious. I was such a fan from my first visit that on my next visit I convinced two other customers to try it. They were not disappointed.
By comparison, the kibbeh struck me as small for the price and, like the shawarma sandwich, it was on the dry side. Perhaps it would benefit from a schmear of toum.
On my next visit, I had to try the kafta sandwich since that is what the father of the family recommended I try next time. Of course, I had to get another lemonade as well. The kafta was in another league than the shawarma sandwich, and I wonder if they recommended it because it is so superior. The beef was perfectly cooked, and the tomatoes prevented dryness experienced with shawarma.
Watching the preparation of the sandwich, I shouldn’t have been surprised it was outstanding. First, they split the pita bread in half horizontally. I should quickly note that the pitas they use are huge disks -by my estimation about 12 inches across. Then, one half of the pita was lined almost to the very edge with a raw ground beef mixture. Both sides of the pita are then grilled resulting in one crunchy half, and the other side cooked the beef to a nice medium. The side with beef is then topped with parsley, tomato, pickles, onions and toum. The crispy pita half topped the bottom half, and the whole item was cut into quarters. Because of the details and labor that went into creating this sandwich, it took several minutes to prepare. But it was more than worth the wait.
My first time, dad was answering all sorts of questions, trying to drum up business, and acting as all-round mayor of the space in front of his truck. In response to the line “We are only a week and a half old,” a confused gentleman asked, “The food is a week and a half old?” But dad quickly quipped back, “Oh, no. The truck is a week and a half old, but Lebanese cuisine is over 2,000 years old.” In the couple of days between my first and second visit, the truck was able to get their twitter account up and running. They were sticking to the Flatiron location to build a following, but they have started to roam in the days since. Look for them in Flatiron or around town as they, hopefully, hit their stride with every dish. In the meantime, the kafta sandwich and lemonade should be more than enough.
The + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- I love the amount of time and care that went into creating my kafta sandwich, and I can taste the love!
- We welcome new cuisines to the truck scene
- It is heartwarming to see a family proudly produce and spread the word about the food of their country.
The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- With all the great chicken shawarma in town, they cannot serve a dry sandwich and survive.
- Not interested in a $2 lackluster kibbeh.
- The crunchy kafta sandwich is hard to eat on the go.
Toum Truck, Recently Fifth Avenue btw 20th and 21st Streets. Check their twitter account for current location, 917-TOUM-350 (aka 917-868-6350)