Flatiron Lunch: It’s Mad. Sq. Eats Time!
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.
So last spring, I couldn’t help but spend every day of Mad. Sq. Eats’ opening week stuffing my face with a multitude of dishes. This past week, I have spent a good amount of quality time at the market, but I found that with only a handful of newcomers and the overall prices have prevented me from really going to town. But I gave it my best shot! And now I am going to hit you with it.
Before telling you about the new vendors, it is only fair to remind you that several
fan my favorites have returned. Most of Roberta’s pizzas remain under $10, Cannibal’s Pig Head Cuban is exactly $10, and La Sonrisa offers empanadas for $3.50 that when combined with something smaller could make up a hearty lunch in ML budget. And we can’t forget Mexicue’s Tostilocos!!! At $5 each, take two and thank me in the morning!!
But since I can’t (or can I?) eat only Tostilocos and Roberta’s every time, I was happy to have two friends join me the first time I went to this season’s market to cover as much ground as possible. Lucky for me, they have been regulars at past markets, so they were happy to try vendors we haven’t tried.
One friend did a quick lap and chose the Baby Got Back Ribs plate ($9). She picked the 21 spice dry rub ribs over the sweet BBQ. You may remember Baby Got Back Ribs as a Vendy nominee in the Market category. She thought that the 4 small ribs were a little dry. (If I remember correctly, they served one of each style at the Vendy’s and neither was dry, so maybe it was an off day.) The cornbread served with the plate was okay, but not terribly impressive. My friend’s favorite part of her dish was the apple slaw which was tangy and refreshing.
On another visit, I wanted to try the artisanal McRib sandwich, but when I asked the guy behind the counter which he recommended, he said that he recommends the McRib if you like sweet, and the mole sandwich if you like spicy. Since I like spicy more than sweet, my decision was made.
While preparing my sandwich, I found out that the shredded pork rib meat came from their regularly cooked ribs, hand shredded, and then braised with three types of Mexican chilies, peanut butter, Guinness and a few other items. The sandwich was really more like the size of a larger slider for $9. They sweeten the deal a little with watermelon, but I know many of you will be disappointed by size. When I got a bite with a full cross-section of the sandwich, I loved the cool and sweet avocado combined with the hot spicy shredded pork and the bun. They could have taken it to the next level by toasting the bun.
On my first trip, my other friend got an order of country sausage teriyaki balls (6 pieces for $5) from Mimi & Coco NY. (This was after she started with an ice cream sandwich from Vendy Dessert Award winner Melt which she didn’t save a bite for me. Not fair!)
I have loved the idea of Japanese dough balls since watching Anthony Bourdain eat takoyaki in Osaka on No Reservations (google it – it will make you want them too.) These were constructed a little bit differently than on the show, and they don’t have octopus as a filling option, only sausage, shrimp and potato.
These teriyaki balls were tasty and filling. We decided that perhaps the seasoning (Italian?) in the sausage wasn’t the best compliment to the teriyaki sauce, but shrimp and potato would probably taste better. These are also covered with a long list of toppings: teriyaki sauce (normal), Japanese mayo, corn flakes, roasted almond slices, parsley, Sriracha and black pepper. Wow.
On another trip, a friend of mine got a Mighty Balls hero on my urging. It was a meal I had my eye on last market, but never got around to having. He went with the traditional combo of beef meatballs with tempting tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. ($8.50 for the three meatballs and sauce on a hero, plus $1 extra for shredded mozzarella cheese.) The bread was quite good on its own (not as good as Broken English, but we will get to that in a minute) and was toasted. But that combined with the fact that it was sliced through (according to some this would make it a hoagie and not a hero), made the whole sandwich fall apart at the first bite.
After a couple more bites, my friend decreed it just a mediocre meatball parm hero. At those prices, those of you with a favorite pizza place with a great meatball parm hero for about $7-$9, you will likely be disappointed by this 5 inch hero. The meatballs were a little on the sweet side like a Swedish meatball and dense. They had a nice sear from the griddle, but it got lost in sandwich. The sauce was light and refreshing like a quickly cooked pomodoro, not like a slow cooked Sunday sauce. It also had a kick.
Last spring I tried three of the rice balls ($4 each) from Arancini Bros. The ragu was outstanding, the nutella not as much. My friend really wanted to have the ragu and since they were sold out for the day, he went with the bianco rosso verde with very pungent basil pesto, mozzarella and cherry tomato. We thought that the individual flavors were good but would have been better in different proportions (more mozzarella, less pesto, and maybe more than just one cherry tomato.)
While waiting for them to cook the bianco rosso verde, they were also making the buffalo balls, which tempted me with the promise of buffalo chicken and gorgonzola cheese, so I picked one up. Despite being a little cool in the center, the gorgonzola cheese in the rice layer made it very creamy which tasted great with the spicy shredded chicken in the middle. This doesn’t seem to be a regular option on their menu, but if they have it again, I will have a hard time resisting.
I was excited to see that Bar Suzette was featuring a $10 fish and chips, and they even have a boat bow as decor near the grill to match.
The chips turned out to be the same toothpick fries they pair with the burgers, which were good, but over-salted and maybe not a great fit with fried fish. The fish was outstanding. The batter rode the middle ground between light and substantial, and it protected the fish from drying out.
I think the standout newcomer has to be Broken English with the trademarked Trapizzino sandwiches. They are so notable that the NYTimes already picked up a piece explaining the triangle pizza bread used as a pocket, and its origins. No matter what filling I tried, the most notable part of the Trapizzino was always the bread. It was light and fluffy inside with a nice crisp on the outside. I can’t imagine these sandwiches working this well without a bread this quality.
On my first visit, I tried the pollo alla cacciatora (dark chicken cooked with garlic, olive oil, rosemary, white wine and vinegar.) The chicken filling was simple, yet delicious in its simplicity, just as you would expect from great Italian food. The chicken was shredded and well mixed with the other ingredients.
Based on a recommendation from the guy at the register, I tried the lingua in salsa verde (steamed beef tongue topped with a green sauce of parsley, garlic, anchovies and olive oil.) While I love a good tongue taco, I was surprised to see that this tongue came as a large steamed slice. It is not chopped or shredded like I have had previously, which meant the licking surface of the tongue was clearly visible. This made my friend uneasy even though she is not normally a squeamish eater. We agreed that the sauce was great, and the sandwich would have been a standout if the tongue had been chopped and then mixed with the salsa verde.
The next time I ordered from Broken English, I asked for my Trapizzinos to go. I was suspicious how well these triangle sandwiches would travel, but I was so impressed they used a drink holder nestled in a large cake box – it worked perfectly!
This time I tried the polpette (beef meatballs with spices and cooked in a fresh tomato sauce). While it was pretty big, the sandwich only included one meatball, and since it was placed in the middle of the pocket, it meant that some bites didn’t have any meatball. I think this could have been easily fixed with the inclusion of two meatball halves instead of one large meatball.
Even with an average experience with the lingua Trapizzino, I took their recommendation of the garofolato (beef, onions, pancetta, spices, tomato and red wine and cloves.) The beef had probably been braised for hours and was flavorful and falling apart.
So far, the Trapizzino are 3:4. With another 5 or so options to try, I will probably have to try a few more. In particular, I have had my eye on the baccala (salt cod), but every time I have asked for it, they say they don’t have it that day. Very suspicious that they haven’t had it ANY of the days I have been at the market.
So looking back on the last week at Mad. Sq. Eats, there continues to be ML budget friendly options. Feel free to browse the menus courtesy of Mad Park News to evaluate yourself. Despite the annoyance the prices cause me, I think that the joy of Mad. Sq. Eats comes from window shopping for your lunch, eating outdoors, trying new dishes during the run of the market, returning to old favorites and maybe even grabbing a midday drink if your office allows it.
Mad. Sq. Eats, Worth Square, just west of Madison Square Park at 24th Street and 5th Avenue). Through October 19.