Let’s get a few things out of the way: first, I have been simply unable to keep up with reading all of the great content that comes in on my Google Reader, what with school, work, maintaining two blogs, my relationship, and my friendships. And let’s not forget taking care of my dog… Anyway, the point is, I haven’t been reading, so the other day when I stumbled across this post on Midtown Lunch, and then this one… I almost passed out from excitement and knew I had to get over here as my last lunch before going (temporarily) meatless.
The other thing I have to get out of the way is that this post will be, aside from photographs, essentially useless to you (if you are familiar with banh mi). Why? Because I’ve never had a banh mi before in my life. I have no point of comparison. I have absolutely no idea if this is better than what you usually get at all the other lovely banh mi places in the city. Not a freaking clue.
I can tell you what it tasted like and if I liked it, though, so if you care, keep reading. If you don’t, just look at the pretty pictures.
Cuz there are a lot…
Oh, did I mention that the cart is parked on John Street, right off Water Street? That makes it right next to my gym. So after a nice run, I walked over to snag myself a banh mi. It was one of the coldest days this year, and super, super windy at that moment. See how there’s no line? An issue that many, many people complained about on other blogs? Don’t be fooled. These pictures were taken at 3:30, which is probably later than most of you would like to eat lunch. But hell, there was NO LINE. AT ALL. The guy in the picture got his sandwich as soon as I walked up, and I ordered.
Actually, I don’t know if I got a banh mi, cuz I don’t know what’s supposed to be in it. I ordered a #1, special baguette, for $5. Remember, it was super windy, so I can’t imagine how the little toaster oven they have could heat my sandwich. The guy making it seemed to keep checking it because he didn’t seem sure it was still on (I saw him put his hand against it a few times to check the temp). I timed the transaction; from ordering it to receiving my sandwich, it took 8 minutes.
And while I don’t want them to hate me at all, the younger guy – there were two in the cart – seemed really angry and not friendly at all. The older guy in the cart was happy to see me, and was chatting with me (about how windy it was, because I was jumping up and down trying to put my jacket back on but the wind kept blowing it). I don’t know, I’m kind of used to Asian people giving me the death stare for whatever reason, so maybe that’s what the younger guy was doing, but seriously, I’m a customer, get over it, I know. Ok? Thanks. (Without getting lecture-y on it, it’s a phenomenon known as Asian Stare.)
Who cares about that! I took it back to my office – a 10 minute walk away – to examine, photograph, and inhale. It was still warm, though I felt a little condensation so worried it might be soggy.
No… it was not soggy. I can’t identify any of the meats on this sandwich.
I can tell you, however, that the bread was lightly crispy from being toasted on the outside, and the inside was still soft, creating a perfect bite-able sandwich.
(One of my pet peeves is rock hard sandwiches that you bite into and everything immediately shoots out the other end and you’re left squishing everything back in with your fingers.)
The sandwich was very flavorful, with lots of seasonings and toppings, pickled veggies, hot sauce (only a little for my sensitive palate), a few hot peppers (he asked me if I wanted it spicy and I said “just a little bit”), …
pate, which added a smoky, creamy finish to the sandwich at the end of each bite.
Loads of veggies, some meats…
Is that bacon or roast pork I see? Seriously? Can anyone please tell me what I was eating?
The verdict is that I like banh mi and I really want to go try more from different places. I had wanted my first banh mi to be from StB‘s favorite place, but you can’t always pick your firsts that carefully, you know. In any case, I’m glad this was my first, because I really enjoyed it and definitely want to eat more of these in the future.
In fact, I went back a few days later (the next time I was at the gym) for a vegetarian baguette (a friend of mine informed me that it is not banh mi if it doesn’t have meat on it; I don’t know if she was being, y’know, jokingly snotty or just matter-of-fact, as she’s Vietnamese), $5.
This time, it only took 6 minutes from ordering to completion. I don’t know if that was because they got better, or it wasn’t as cold out, or because they started closing the window while they were making it, or if the vegetarian sandwich just takes less time. (Same guy, again, same death stare, but the older man seemed to recognize me as he smiled at me and made chitchat briefly.)
It was still warm when I got back to my desk, but something crazy had gone down at work while I’d been running at the gym, so it was another hour before I got to eat it. I could barely sit still to take pictures, it smelled so delicious – like pickled veggies, which I love – and the bread was still slightly warm. Same deal – crisp exterior with soft interior, allowing me to bite easily into the sandwich without it crumbling all over my desk, without all the innards squishing right out. Mmm, this was really damn good.
There was butter (or lard?) on the sandwich, pickled veggies, cucumber, caramelized onion, cilantro… a little hot sauce, pepper, etc. But the best part, or the funniest part – and this ties into me going meatless – I took a few bites and then suddenly FREAKED OUT that there was meat in it. I mean, I tasted meat! (but I have also picked up the habit of eating and then halfway through eating, getting this irrational panic that there’s meat in whatever I’m eating, which makes NO sense because aside from the banh mis, I’ve been pretty much eating food I’ve cooked – WITHOUT MEAT…) I opened up the sandwich and the brown stuff looked vaguely like meatstuffs, so I was getting really upset and picked some of it up and bit it. Tasted MEATY. What the hell! I said VEGETARIAN…! I started pulling it out and biting into little bits here and there just to make sure when suddenly, it dawned on me.
Mushrooms cooked in butter with the onions. DUH. Hahahaha, I’m an f-tard.
I also went back to try the grilled eel baguette. After the gym. Hey, why not?
At $7, it is hands-down the most expensive item on their menu. I wondered if it was anything special. What makes it worthy of the banh mi cart?
Grilled eel (probably frozen, easily purchased at an Asian supermarket for $5-7 for a decent sized slab); cilantro, cucumbers, pickled veggies, optional hot peppers, some butter or lard schmeared on…
Okay. It was tasty – I am loving the bread, crispy and yet soft enough to bite into without hurting myself (I have this severe aversion to certain crunchy things because there was an “incident” as a kid where I bit into something crunchy/”sharp” and it went straight into my gums which began bleeding; of course I may have been missing teeth in that spot, making it easier to get straight to the gums, but whatever!), and I loved the pickled vegetables. There wasn’t a lack (or over-abundance) of eel. The sandwich was darn tasty. BUT. It was not worth $7 in my opinion. Delicious and maybe an occasional treat, but this doesn’t have what I’d want in banh mi (from my now-three-times-experiencing-food-from-the-banh-mi-cart). The oiliness/fattiness of the eel – which is what makes eel delicious – overpowers the other ingredients and while the idea of an eel sandwich is great, this particular rendition falls flat. Anyone wants to retry — I’m open for trying new versions 😉
Yvo says: I don’t know if they serve good banh mi, or authentic banh mi, or whatever. I know they’re very good sandwiches and they filled me up for $5 – and I have a big appetite – they’re pretty long, though yes, a bit flat, this is not your overstuffed deli sandwich by any means. But packed with flavor, easy to eat, and really, if you’re that hungry, get another one, you’d still be within the $10 range! I highly recommend them (aside from the eel one) if you work or play in the area. Yummy. I foresee this being my go-to after-gym snack from now on.
Banh Mi Cart
parked in front of 132 John Street, between Water & Pearl
(646) 996-8990 before 11am for pick up