Get Your Real Lamb On at Michael’s Food Cart
When Zach asked me to write the Downtown Lunch segment this week, I was ecstatic. Then nervous. Then petrified. I tend to be something of an imaginative fellow and despite having read this particular blog for a good long while and knowing that the readers are good people, the only thing I could really grasp on Monday afternoon was a sense of impending doom. See, the big, bad blogosphere is sort of like Rikers Island. You’ve got to come in swinging for people to take notice and know you mean business (not that I have a lengthy criminal record or anything, but I’ve seen a few episodes of Oz). So the only question left is “who are you gonna shank?” Do I choose the Mexican hole-in-the-wall with the steady clientele of Spanish speakers? Nah, too out of the way, nobody would notice. What about the greasy Chinese joint tucked down a dank alley? No, that might not pack quite enough oompf for my first go around. No, if I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do it properly, Midtown Lunch style, and that means only one thing: Street meat.
I’ve had my eye on this particular cart, Michael’s Food Cart, for some time now. Positioned on the southwest corner of Wall and South streets, I’d heard it was one of the select few carts in the city that actually did cubes of lamb. And I’m not talking about cubes of that big spiced cylinder of processed lamb that you get in your gyro (though, full disclosure, I am a fan of that). I’m talking real chunks of lamb, seasoned well and grilled over a hibachi. And I don’t know about you, but when I think about grilled meat, I start drooling more than all of Pavlov’s dogs combined. I had to see this for myself.
At first glance, I could see that this cart was different from a lot of others. Most noticeable was the lack of aforementioned meat cylinder and the gentle waft of charring flesh. There were certainly an abundance of options, represented by pictures plastered all over the exterior of this shining metal meat beacon of truth. They’ve got everything from burgers and fries (yes, I saw a deep fryer in there) to a shish kebab special. But the thing that put a little smile on my face was the fact that they had a candy bowl on their counter, inviting you to take a little post-lunch treat for yourself. Not wanting to appear greedy, I waited patiently for my glistening styrofoam platter of chicken and lamb over rice before I would take the biggest handful of candy I could possibly grasp and run like hell.
The two gentlemen behind the counter were jolly gents, chatting with a lady who I’m guessing was a regular and showing off the various cuts of chicken to an indecisive customer (they’ve got legs, thighs, and wings). While it wasn’t long after I pulled up to the cart that one of them gave me a “hey guy, how can I help you?”, it was a bit of a wait from the time I ordered to the time I’d gotten my meal, I’d say about 10 minutes. This is undoubtedly one of the consequences of having the grill, as opposed to the standard griddle, as your primary cooking medium. I could see the chicken thighs ready to go, so I’m assuming it was the lamb that took a little longer. In case you’re not keen on waiting, there’s a sign just below the cart’s window proclaiming that you can call your order in for pick up (718-902-9951). Fancy that! Once those succulent chunks of lamb had been pulled off their skewer (though ‘sword’ may be a better term as some of them in there are HUGE), they got a quick mix up on their griddle with some onions and we were just counting down to lift off. T-minus 7 seconds, we came to a screeching halt.
“You want yellow rice or green rice?”
Green rice? “What’s green rice?” I asked.
“I’ll give you both.” Smart choice, my man. When you don’t want to deal with a customer’s ignorance, just throw it all in the box. And I’m glad he did. The yellow rice was a nicely spiced version of your standard rice at a lot of chicken and rice carts. Cinnamon seemed to be the most prominent of the spice combo which I found to be especially good, but I do tend to have a fondness for both cinnamon and bucking the norm. The green rice was an herbaceous take on my favorite grain featuring a good amount of cilantro. If given the option between the two again, I’d probably go for the yellow, but I really don’t think you can go wrong with either choice.
Once the meat was piled on, then came the shredded lettuce and some slices of tomato. They functioned more as a topping than a side salad. When it came to the sauces, I decided to go for the works. The BBQ sauce (which I don’t normally get) and the hot sauce (which I like hot) were nothing to write home about. The white sauce, however, was grand. To me, most carts I patronize have a white sauce with a consistency and flavor more akin to ranch dressing than anything else. This was a lot closer to tzatziki sauce, thick and yogurty with a good punch of dill. Not at all what I was expecting after seeing and tasting the other two sauces. I was a little mesmerized as I watched him close the container up (the lid barely fit on) and bag it up. My total came to $6.75, which wasn’t bad considering the amount of real meat I had. I gave my thanks, got a fist bump in return, and retired to a nearby bench to gobble this bad boy up.
Popping the lid, I picked out a couple pieces of lamb first thing to see if this was actually worth the extra expense and longer walk from my office. They were lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, enough to bring out a bit of the flavor of the lamb. It was good, not too “lamby,” if that makes any sense. The only complaint I really had about the lamb was that it was almost too well done for me. I think any longer on the grill or griddle and it might have been slightly less than enjoyable, but it wasn’t and I thoroughly enjoyed it. As the lamb seemed to be the item I was waiting on the longest at the cart, I bet they’d probably cook it to order if you wanted. The chicken was also really nice, good and moist, and again just lightly seasoned. After finishig, it wasn’t until I got about half way back to the office that I realized I’d forgotten my fistful of candy. Damn! All in all, though, it was a really good departure from the typical fare you get at street meat carts. If you’re looking to change things up a little, head to Michael’s Food Cart.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- Real meat! Grilled over a flame! Now that’s something special.
- You can call ahead (which is great for those of us who don’t like waiting in lines)
- Variety is the spice of life!
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- I’m not a fan of rice that has too many flavors added to it
- I don’t care for lamb or grilled foods in general (or I prefer my lamb off a gyro spit)
- About $5 is the most I’m willing to drop on food from a cart
Michael’s Food Cart, SW Corner of Wall & South Streets
Photos and post by Chris S.