A New York tale of two lunches (Pearl Oyster bar and The Spotted Pig)

I’m good at lunch.

I’m not afraid to say it.

Particularly when I’m traveling. Then I’m very good at it.

It becomes the anchor around which a day is built.

Sure there’s a stop for coffee in the morning. Then maybe a wander. A museum. But then you need a place to moor yourself, gather your spirits and rest your legs.

The tricky bit is when your wishlist of destinations dangles beyond the days you have left. It’s like your itinerary got short-sheeted.

Welcome to the quandary we faced in NYC.

There were two days left. There was still David Chang’s má pêche to call on. There was the Spotted Pig. And then there was the little matter of Pearl’s lobster roll- which numerous sources- including the esteemed Adam from Amateur Gourmet, had decreed the finest around.

So here’s what we do.

We apply a little ‘out of the box thinking’. And we saddle up and prepare to eat two lunches, in one day.

It’s a tough life, but someone’s got to do it.

Quest for the best sandwich lunch in Greenwich village

Pearl Oyster Bar

You’ll find Pearl Oyster Bar in Greenwich Village, under the dappled shade of Cornelia street. This is a food lover’s ‘hood. You might twig onto this because Murray’s Cheese store is within chucking distance. Or because there’s a tour stopped out the front of your destination where tourists are paying someone so they can discover some not-so ‘secret food spots’.

When we arrive at Pearl at 11:50 am there’s already a lackadaisical queue snaking down the street.

“These people have come here for the lobster roll” intones the tour guide beneath a hamburger that they’re holding above their head on a stick. “And it’s not cheap”.

This is something we soon discover for ourselves.

At 12:00 pm the doors open and we sidle into a casual bar gilded by cool grey marble and circled by blonde wooden bar stools. Behind us are a smattering of cyclists in lurid lycra and ladies in shoulder pads and pearls who were dropped off by a town car the size of a city block.

We take a seat at the bar. The ladies who lunch slink into the adjoining dining room. Above our heads is a framed cartoon of Mario Batali with this “Pearl Oyster Bar has the best lobster rolls I’ve ever had”.

Enough already about the rolls.

To kick things off it’s a glass of French pink. For The Hungry One perched on the stool next to me it’s a Belgian Delerium Tremens. On the bench ready waiting for us are some plastic wrapped packs of Westminster oyster crackers. These incidentally have no oysters in them at all. Instead they have the mildly salty, bland flavour you’re Mum would recommend you turn to if you’d just had an upset stomach.

This is exactly the opposite of the roll. Both its husky size and the $27 price tag mean sharing it is a sensible option.

It arrives looking more like a voluptuous landscape than a plate of food. To the side is a rising hill of shoestring fries. Out the top are some tufts of green. Erupting from the middle of a butter glossed and grill smocked bun is an embarrassment of pink meat, bound with mayonnaise.

It’s impossible to pick up and chew into. So in we go with knives and forks clashing. The bun turns out to be a Pepperidge farm hotdog that’s been cooked in clarified butter. It’s got the decadent squish of a still warm croissant. The fresh lobster meat has been tossed in store bought Hellman’s mayonnaise and gussied up with a sprinkle of fine diced celery, some lemon, salt and pepper.

All in all, it’s rich without being cloying. It’s also surprisingly sweet, made even more so by the salt from the fries which slants through like little beams of contrasting light.

I’ll join my voice to a large chorus. This sandwich is a rare mix of indulgence and simplicity. It’s a pretty perfect summer lunch. Though the price point does make you swallow rather hard.

Desserts at Pearl also continue the theme of celebrating the seasons. The blueberry crumble pie is a sweet belly of ripe fruit that’s barely messed with. The topping is gooey and dense where it hugs the fruit before morphing to a dry tundra of crumble. Next to it is a flat scrape of vanilla ice cream.

This is the kind of food that you should probably eat while feeling grass against your thighs looking out over a Maine coast line. Though here in the air conditioned comfort it doesn’t last long.

An hour later and we’re out, full but not bilious. Which is good, because we’re only half way through.

Pearl Oyster Bar
18 Cornelia Street
New York. NY 10014
Tel: 212.691.8211

Open weekdays 12pm-2:30pm, 6pm-11pm;
Sat 6pm-11pm

The Spotted Pig

You’ll find The Spotted Pig ten minutes up Bleeker Street, past hipster students and Marc Jacobs shops. It may be in the heart of Greenwich Village, but this Mario Batali outpost feels more like the kind of spot you’d stumble into after 40 minutes on a train from Heathrow.

It might be a day hot enough to make my cheap shoes pash the pavement with every step, but inside this English pub, it’s positively nippy.

At night the crowds can be chaotic, so lunch is a good time to go. Then there’s space to negotiate your way through to a banquet that’s covered in a tartan that falls somewhere between the offcasts of a Vivien Westwood show and the uniforms of private high school. The rest of the decor is a smattering of the charming and twee; walls are clad in wood paneling, fresh herbs hug the window panes and everywhere you turn there are icons of pigs winking at you. Even in the unisex loos.

These celebrated porcines also make their presence felt on the menu. For The Hungry One it’s a Pork Slap Pale Ale to drink. For both of us to eat it’s a Cubano sandwich.

What comes is not so much a pork sandwich as an odyssey.

A hunk of crusty baguette, pressed tight with pulled pork, prosciutto and gruyère cheese. To punch it up there are specks of cornichon and jalapeno. With it there’s a squeezy bottle of spicy mustard to apply according to taste.

It’s a sandwich that’s impossible to eat without the pork juice trickling down to your elbow. It would also help if you could dislocate your jaw.

To complete one on your own would be a feat of strength.

But to have eaten a cubano and a lobster roll, in the same meal?

Well, that’s something that’s worth writing home about.

Aren’t you glad we did?

Spotted Pig
314 W 11th St # 1
New York, NY 10014-2369
Tel :(212) 620-0393
Open Tue-Fri 12pm-2am; Weekends 11am-2am

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