The demise of the NYC hot dog rears its delicious head
It happens every time.
I'm walking down 6th Avenue... running and errand, meeting a friend at McCormick and Schmick’s for their fantastic happy hour special... cutting across midtown... and it hits me.
Sure, NYC food carts emit smells (and some emit odors)... but this smell is special. It's the intoxicating smell of marinated chicken, onions and peppers with some crazy-ass magic juice splashed on top.
I stop, stare at the cart, and contemplate.
Can I eat this? Is there time to eat this? Have I eaten already? Do I have dinner reservations in an hour? Is there a bathroom nearby? Crap that smells fantastic.
Then, I slowly walk up, pretending that I was going to eat there the entire time, and place my order.
"I'll have a chicken and rice, with a pita. White sauce and hot sauce."
Then the magic begins. The dude uses his samurai spatula and drags a pile of simmering chicken over to the hot side of the griddle. He pauses to grab the grill scraper, scrapes the griddle clean...(purposely long) and continues to cook and chop my chicken.
Meanwhile, he grabs a white container with some lettuce already aboard, and scoops 2 or 3 generous spoons of a yellowish rice pilaf thing in to the bottom. Here we go.
At left, a photo of a typical chicken and rice container in Midtown Manhattan
Soon, he chops the remainder of the chicken, gives it one last squirt of magic juice, and transfers the chicken to the rice container. He slices my grilled pita into 8 wedges, covers the chicken in a white "tahini-yogurty" type sauce, gives a squirt of hot sauce (almost like a Chinese chili sauce) and transfers the prized 3-pound box of food to my waiting arms.
"That's 4 bucks."
I am thinking, this is the deal of the century.
So if you think you know which Halal Cart I am referring to, you should pause a moment... it's not the famed cart across from the Hilton on 53rd and 6th.... it's actually Shendy's Halal on 52nd and 6th.
Sure, the cart on 53rd is amazing, but who has that kinda time? I mean, I compared the two, and really couldn't tell the difference… well, maybe the white sauce, but again….
Now, the other carts that serve halal-style chicken and rice up and down 6th Avenue... should be avoided. For instance, the halal carts in front of my building on 50th and 6th are just bad. The flavor is lacking, they can be largely messy, and to top it off, the chickens still come with some joint bones, etc... which makes for a crappy meal.
Shendy's does more than chicken and rice, but doesn't pretend that chicken and rice isn't their best dish. The lunchtime demand reinforces this daily.
What the hell is halal?
Well if you look it up, it basically says "In Arabic-speaking countries, the term is used to describe anything permissible under Islamic law".
This is directed at diet in this instance, meaning that everything in that cart was A-O-K... well, if you come from and Arabic-speaking country.
So what are you waiting for? Go get ya a chicken and rice from Shendy’s. The line will stink, it will take 10 minutes and the container will burn you hands.
But it will be worth it. Take it from me.