The Pennsy Has Some Highs and Lows, but is a Worthwhile Splurge
Let’s get this out of the way first: The Pennsy is not really a cheap destination. To get a full meal here, we have to raise the ML budget a few dollars. But in the changing economic times, it’s a pretty fair splurge.
I’m impressed with this new food court in the old Borders space above Penn Station for a number of reasons. First off, they’ve resisted including the usual suspects (the food businesses we find at just about every iteration of Urban Space – seriously, how many more Asia Dog or Roberta’s stands do we need?) in their line-up. These are mostly new concepts from exciting respected chefs, some of who are still working the line.
Secondly, the space is very well laid-out and the lines are contained. I arrived last week at the beginning of lunch and I could actually walk around and breathe. Despite the crowd, there is plenty of space to look at each food kiosk before deciding which line you want to wait in. And then there are tables spread out throughout the space, including a coffee and cocktail bar (which should be getting their liquor license any day). And those lines really aren’t that bad. I waited in two lines and neither took more than 10 minutes to order and receive my food.
The options aren’t terribly diverse, but there’s probably some good food to uncover. Most of the kiosks are selling sandwiches (nothing wrong with that) – fancy grilled cheese and ham sandwiches at Mario by Mary, meat sandwiches at Pat LaFrieda, pressed lobster sandwiches at Lobster Press, and the usual spicy, loaded vegan sandwiches at The Cinnamon Snail. They also have their vegan donuts and pastries on offer.
The Little Beet was the only one that really tried to break the mold with bowls and rolls. Needless to say, they were the ones with the shortest line.
I started my first exploration of the menus with the namesake lobster press at Marc Forgione’s seafood counter. The Iron Chef himself was behind the counter making sure everything ran smoothly. I was very excited to see there was a lobster option here for less than $10 and it wasn’t a soup.
Of course, I should have known better to order the small lobster press because the sandwich was pretty much a joke. It’s sold as a lobster version of a French dip and so a bun is topped with lobster, doused in butter, pressed, and served with a side of spicy lobster dipping sauce. It sounded great.
And maybe it would have been great if it wasn’t just a buttered sandwich. Seriously, the amount of lobster meat present was laughable. I was lucky enough to dine at Marc Forgione’s fancy Tribeca restaurant last year and I still remember his angry chili lobster dish. It was phenomenal. And here they are trying to bring those flavors to a more approachable dish.
They are successful with the flavors (it tastes great), but the portion size for the price is really not right. Plus the little bit of lobster meat that was present sloppily fell out of the sandwich. And so I was mostly left with dipping toasted bread into a spicy lobster soup. For $9!!
I didn’t want to leave The Pennsy with this impression. Plus I was still hungry!! Since the first thing you see and smell when you enter the food court (if you use the 7th Avenue entrance) is beef, I got in line at Pat LaFrieda’s Meat Purveyors. This is probably similar to their CitiField location and the first of its kind in Midtown.
I’m actually surprised there was no burger on the menu and also that the cashier recommended the chicken sandwich when I asked which was her favorite. I almsot ordered it, but Pat LaFrieda is known for beef so it was hard for me to not feast on red meat here.
To keep the price somewhat down (at $12), I stuck with their Roast Beef sandwich. I thought it was a good sandwich and a fair amount of food for the price.
It’s stuffed with fresh thin slices of roast beef. No complaints on the amount of meat between the toasted roll. It’s also layered with blue cheese, pickled onions, horseradish aioli, and watercress. The flavors sometimes got lost with each other and I think there could have been more cheese and horseradish potency. But it was still a quality roast beef sandwich.
Even better were the amazing polenta sticks. Of course, these were extra ($4.95). But they were great. Thick, soft sticks of cornmeal were on the sweet side and had a smoky, peppery bite, especially when dipped into the included parmesan and black pepper dressing. They were the best thing I tried all day.
I do think The Pennsy is worth checking out and I’ll be back to see if I can uncover more gems. It’s still early in their life (they just opened two weeks ago), but I think this is a promising food court for those who work nearby or commute through Penn Station.
The Pennsy, 2 Penn Plaza (at Seventh Ave and 33rd St)