Gut Instinct: Hi, Noon


It’s humbling to explain why, at 29, your shoes mimic Swiss cheese.

“I thought you work,” a friend said, marveling at my $5 knockoff Chucks with holes the size of pocket change.

“But I’m a writer,” I explained.

“You’re also anal. Go copyedit.”

“Point taken,” I said, taking a midtown corporation’s weeklong editing gig.

The work was smooth sailing: words, words, words. My office neighbor was stormy: a shrill brunette with hair apparently bleached blond via squirt gun.

“I can’t believe he didn’t call!” she bleated into the phone my first morning. “I am worth a phone call.”

To cope, I could embrace on-the-job intoxication (tip: vodka with Sprite!), or channel my ire into finding superlative lunchtime sustenance. I opted for the latter. What’s the lure of an after-work drink if you’re drinking at work?

Lunchtime Monday, I hit Chinese canteen Hing Won (48 West 48th St. betw. Fifth and & Sixth Aves., 212-719-1451). Buffet workers served gloppy sesame chicken, but the menu offered deceptively delicious comestibles: roasted duck, double-sautéed pork and noodle soup. Soup 11 struck my fancy.

“Pickle soup!” a ponytailed counterwoman screamed, delivering my plastic tureen of $6 goodness: Thread-like yellow noodles were topped with chewy porcine slivers, zucchini and tart pickles. I slurped the spicy soup noisily and lustily, returning to work wearing a grin and broth on my button-down.

Tuesday brought more inane nattering.

“I’m getting a time-share,” my work neighbor began, as I slipped away to drecky, gray West 39th Street. Amid garment shops awaited Szechuan Gourmet (21 W. 39th St. betw. Fifth & Sixth Aves., 212-921-0233), which serves seriously fiery, numbing cuisine: chili-black-bean rabbit, pork belly with leeks and dan dan noodles. I scanned the 40-item lunch menu and blindly selected braised crispy tofu with pork ($6.95). In China, I suppose, pork is a vegetarian treat.

“Extra spicy,” I told my server.

“Are you sure?”


I received magma-color tofu and pork slices, which was an oily, chewy-tender contrast that buzzed my lips and incinerated my tongue. Delectable, but note to self: no more super-spicy.

Wednesday. Hump day. “Bikini wax: yes or no?” my neighbor queried a caller.

I plugged my ears and marched to Moishe’s Falafel (46th St. betw. Fifth & Sixth Aves.), a Kosher-certified cart run by bearded Jews. I queued behind members of the tribe, their hats big and black, and ordered the cart’s namesake ($4.75). Crunchy yellow orbs, pickles and salad were shoehorned into a pita and then drizzled with tahini.

I like eating while walking, but Moishe’s forces sedentary ingestion. I sat on a fire hydrant while tan sauce sullied my fingers and lettuce fluttered onto my jeans like fall leaves. It was deliciously, shamelessly sloppy, much like me.

What’d my neighbor talk about Thursday? I dunno; I finally wore headphones. It was my second-smartest move all day. My finest was grubbing a roast-pork sandwich ($6.95) at homey Cuban joint Tina’s (23 W. 56th St. betw. Fifth & Sixth Aves., 212-315-4313). Like a jackalope, this sandwich shouldn’t exist: Crisp pernil, fried plantains, onions and a mayo squiggle are layered on thin, crunchy bread.

“Add potato sticks,” suggested a suit.


“You gotta go big,” he said, motioning to the caloric bomb.

I went big. The sandwich was a crunchy-soft combo of sweet and fatty, spicy and creamy. It sank to my stomach like an anchor, rooting me to my desk till 6 p.m.’s whistle.

Friday. My co-worker called in sick. Thanks, God. What’s a good meal for Friday? I wandered 49th Street. There: Bella Napoli (150 W. 49th St. betw. Sixth & Seventh Aves., 212-719-2819). This squat, steamy slice joint was filled with congealed pizzas and businessmen with necks spilling over collared shirts.

“Meatball sub,” I ordered.

“Meatball hero?” replied the gelled-hair counterman.

“Yes,” I replied acidly. Though I say soda instead of pop, I still make the occasional Midwestern misstep—just like my Ohio brethren in every recent presidential election.

I forgave the server upon receiving a sloppy, forearm-length assemblage of sprightly tomato sauce, springy meatballs and molten cheese. Oh, cheesy meat! Instead of wolfing it down, I luxuriated: a mistake. Given time, the sauce disintegrated the bread, making the hero look as bloody and messy as a zombie victim. I sat on a ledge and devoured the red mess, one pawful after another, as a woman and her chubby-cheeked youngster strolled past. The kid stared at my spectacle. I fluttered my red fingers.

“Let’s go,” the mother said, gawking at my messy mitts, my holey shoes. She dragged her kid away, and I dragged myself back to the office with a full belly—but little else.

Gut Instinct: Gone Country


Gone Country Driven by culinary compulsions, Southern food is consumed at an alarming clip—pork cracklin’ and all

My obsessive-compulsive urges mean my toilet is always sparkling. Sparkling. I maniacally manicure my eyebrows, which would otherwise conjoin like Siamese twins. I listen to songs on repeat, nibble my nails to the bloody quick and, with a single-mindedness that demands institutionalization, fixate on food.

Some weeks, I’ll only slurp ponds of nose-watering Thai curries. Then I’ll devour crisp dosas, stacked like firewood, followed by a month of chorizo tortas. My whims are as arbitrary as the weather. Take last week’s Southern addiction: My mania began, as often occurs in this modern age, with an email. “Put on your cowboy shirts. We’re gonna eat barbecue,” a pal wrote.

Several days later, I was seated at fat-dude-favorite Hill Country (30 W. 26th St. betw. Broadway & 6th Ave., 212-255-4544). It’s a ginormous Texas mess hall with SS-style hospitality. Ropes corral customers. Diners are crammed together like cattle. The by-the-pound ’cue (prices range from $10-$20) is doled out, cafeteria-style, by carvers with tongues sharper than their knives.

“NEXT! STEP UP AND ORDER!” a young lass ordered with dominatrix élan.

“Quarter-pound of moist and lean brisket!” I shouted back. “Gimme a sausage and a rib, too. A big one.”

I got a big one. She wrapped my meat in wax paper along with bread slices as thick and white as my butt. At an adjoining station, I nabbed baked beans, cornbread and mac ’n’ cheese: enough calories to last a week. I descended downstairs to our long, communal table—wrinkled men with sauce-slicked fingers sat beside me—and tore into flesh.

“Wipe your mouth,” my girlfriend ordered. Brown goo surrounded my pucker like misapplied lipstick.

“Mmmpphh,” I grunted, lost in carnivorous rapture. The beef ribs were caveman delicious, though the sausage was kindling and the sides as forgettable as a Paris Hilton flick. The brisket was so luscious, I chucked my manners.

When a fellow diner tied his shoe, I sliced off a blackened brisket nub. “Stop. Stop that right now,” he ordered. I repented, then repeated my crime when he visited the toilet. My Southern-eating urges were as uncontrollable as my beating heart.

My fervor continued days later when I pedaled east from my Crown Heights apartment, searching for Southern grub. Miles ticked away. Trucks invaded my path. I detoured onto frenzied Atlantic Avenue and spied Carolina Country Store (2001 Atlantic Ave., B’klyn, 718-498-8033).

Bare-bones Carolina possessed a gamy odor of grandma mixed with butcher shop. Diamond-hard candies and Day-Glo tonics beckoned beside pig parts sliced, diced, smoked, cured, brined and cased every which way but Sunday.

“What do you want?” barked a woman behind the counter.

“Uh, just looking around,” I replied.

“Mmmhmmm,” she said as sternly as a schoolmarm.

I fingered peanuts and peanut brittle. Bone-in ham was appealingly pink. “Made up your mind yet?” the lady asked, drumming her fingers. Buy something, she telepathed. Buy something.

“Not yet.”

“Mmmhmmm.” Buy something!

Flustered, I grabbed a softball-size bag of crisp cracklings. They looked like Styrofoam packing peanuts and were a red-orange hue typically painted on hookers’ toenails.

“Mmmhmmm,” the counter ma’am said, weighing my bag. “A buck ninety-two.”

I paid and popped fried epidermis into my mouth, grinding crackly skin between my molars. The cracklings were aggressively salty and stinky as a swine pen. No wonder the Jews prohibit pork consumption. To kill the foul flavor, I ventured across the street to Saratoga Country Kitchen (1991 Atlantic Ave., B’klyn, 718-498-0200). Inside the no-frills, no-menu Southern restaurant, middle-aged women with matronly bosoms piled steam-table ribs, baked chicken, collard greens and black-eyed peas into aluminum containers.

“What are your favorites?” I asked.

“All good,” a gap-toothed woman said.

“I know that,” I said. “But what would you eat?”

“Fried chicken, mac’n’cheese and cabbage.”

Done. She loaded me up with enough edibles to feed Ethiopia’s famished children. Cost? $8.32. The gooey mac was worth double, and the cabbage was as earthy and savory as it was soggy. The chicken? Cold and dry as the Mojave after midnight. Despite my clucker’s shortcomings, I still joined the clean-plate club.

I burped my thanks, remounted my steed and pedaled home, scanning East Brooklyn’s faded storefronts for another Southern gem to sate my single-minded hunger.