Flatiron Lunch: City Halal Cart Gets Its SMP Moment in the Sun
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.
Sometimes as Flatiron Lunch’ers, we feel like the forgotten child and no more so than during Street Meat Palooza (SMP). The nominations for the annual competition (Edition #5!), which will take place sometime in the coming weeks, are strictly limited to the normal Midtown boundaries. That didn’t stop a reader from writing to lament the restriction and wishing to nominate a cart in the Flatiron District. So in advance of the upcoming chow-down, I checked out this “nominated” cart on the southwest corner of 28th and Broadway. I am all for filling the comments field with other Flatiron “nominees”.
The first thing I noticed on approaching this corner was that there is no cart on the southwest corner of 28th and Broadway. After confirming the location on my email and with scaffolding on the southwest corner, I decided perhaps the cart, called City Halal, on the northwest corner was possibly my target. I asked the vendor if he always at this spot, and he confirmed. Of course, a shadow of doubt that I hadn’t found the right cart hung over my entire meal.
My friend went for the falafel sandwich ($4). She said yes to white sauce, but as a Midwesterner who doesn’t deal well with spicy, she opted for no hot sauce. It really had a kick, so it was probably for the better.
“You know, this is really not bad” is not necessarily a ringing endorsement, but she qualified that she is not a street meat regular. We both enjoyed the insane amounts of coriander seed embedded in the falafel which added a punch of flavor. But at the same time, she noticed and was disappointed that the sandwich only contained falafel, lettuce, and white sauce. No tomatoes, onion or anything else.
In SMP tradition, I had to order the chicken and lamb over rice ($6). The plate came with a few lightly sauteed white onions, one lone falafel, chopped iceberg, and three fries that were taken out of the oil directly onto my plate so they were just plain (and) soggy. Not that it is a deal breaker, but just an observation, no pita or other bread was included. The hot sauce had a really nice burn that reminded me of the New Mexico red chili sauce my mom makes.
A few things happening at the cart raised my eyebrows in the preparation of my dish. First, I noticed yellow and not-quite-white white rice at the cart. But I wasn’t given the option but was automatically dished the white rice. After a couple tastes, it seemed to me that the color was in part because the rice was cooked with tons of black pepper.
The chicken was good with a mix of white and dark meat, with only one bite of undesirable meat. The status of the lamb when approaching cart gave me major pause. The vertical spit normally used for roasting lamb was completely empty, and this was only 1:00pm. When I queried the vendor why, and he said he already cooked it and pointed to the pile of pre-sliced lamb in the corner of the flat-top. Suspicious. By sitting in the corner, the lamb sat in a significant puddle of grease, which later added a nice shine to my rice and entire platter.
The lamb was both tender and crispy, but it was certainly from pre-formed lamb kebab/gyro and not layered pieces of lamb on a kebab. I am fan of both kinds in their own way. Despite having a crisp on one side, the lamb was almost half inch thick, instead of slivers, which is a negative in my book.
I think our lunch confirmed one thing. That side by side tasting, like Street Meat Palooza, is really ideal for properly judging. Also, that like any other muscle in the body, the ability to accurately judge street meat needs regular exercise and practice. And I have to admit that I feel out of shape and rusty.
The + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- I enjoyed the crispy lamb even if it didn’t come of the roasting spit.
- It is nice to be reminded of the great and cheap food from Halal carts.
- Coriander seeds in the falafel is brilliant!
The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- Average. Average. Average.
- This lamb can’t compete with vendors who do it the old-fashioned way.
- They keep it too simple and it is boring.
City Halal Cart, North-West corner of 28th and Broadway