1036 Seventh Avenue, East Village
Guys asleep on the sidewalk. Guys shuffling past with walking sticks. Guys pushing shopping carts filled with their belongings. Guys rolling by in electric scooters with whiplash aerials and a faded Old Glory flicking at the top.
Man. I feel guilty just eating. I’m loaded with food out here on the three-table, two-umbrella patio of Super Junior Market & Deli. It’s on Seventh Avenue, between the trolley and Broadway, just beyond the smart B Street banking district and its lunchtime sandwich crowd. Here, we’re next door to a tattoo parlor, Lucky’s, and look across to a kind of storage place where people load ATMs on and off trucks.
“Got two bucks?” says this gal who’s stopped beside the railing. “I need a beer. Ice House costs $1.26.”
At least she’s honest. What the heck. Got a few spare today. I hand over two Washingtons.
Twenty minutes ago, I was heading toward Broadway to catch me a bus, when, hey. Noticed this market with a deli inside, and promises of real food. Oh, yeah. Lunchtime. Suddenly, I felt tapeworm-hungry. Found myself slip-sliding in, like iron filings to a magnet. Big liquor counter to the right, three or four grocery aisles down the middle, and deli on the left. Two gals at the counter, Romy and Miriam, are bright and cheery as all get out. They know the names of half the people they’re serving and exactly what they want. Plus, the deli looks like bargain city, but also clean and fresh. We’re talking Boar’s Head meats, displays of cheeses, chafing dishes bubbling with hot food sold by the pound. Pork loin, chicken fajitas, honey ham, turkey, catfish, tilapia, Lordy! Most are about $4.99 a pound. That includes two sides of, say, rice, veggies, baked potatoes, or mash. Oh, and they do breakfasts too, like a $2.99 sandwich with egg, cheese, bell pepper, and red onion. Or a $3.99 egg, cheese, and potato burrito. Or a cheese-potato omelet with a meat — sausage, ham, or bacon — for $4.99. Most expensive is the “Seventh Avenue Omelet,” with the lot: meat, cheeses, bell peppers, mushrooms, $5.99.
Then I notice a hot cabinet at the far right of the counter. It holds heated combos, some you wouldn’t expect. Like rice and sautéed potatoes with beef fajita for…whack! $1.99. A chunky pork chop for 99 cents!
“Such a deal,” I say. “What is the deal?”
“They’re leftover items from yesterday,” Romy says. “We combine them into dishes.”
So, hot diggity. I grab that $1.99 combo before it goes. Then I get down and continue the sandwich hunt. I know. I’ve already got enough food with two bucks, but I just like the sound of the California sandwich: roast turkey, bacon, avocado, Swiss cheese, and the usual fixin’s, $5.99.
I also see Phillies on the list, and clubs, Jr. Specials, tuna melts, torpedoes, and even a chicken pita. Average cost’s around six clams. Then, whoa: “Hey Buddy — Choice of Two,” sign says. So you can choose half a turkey sandwich and add either a half romaine salad or half a cup of soup. Cost: $5.99.
There are other customers waiting, so I jump on that. Pick the sandwich and pea soup option. Plus I ask for a coffee, but aargh! They’re out. Oh man. Gotta have joe. Ask them to hold everything while I sprint around the block to the nearest 7-Eleven. Costs $1.39. Huh. Good price. Must show new respect to 7-Eleven.
Whew. So now, here I am, finally, sitting at the table outside Super Jr. and gouging into my $1.99 special. The big, chunky potatoes in tomato sauce are great, the fajita beef is tasty, and the saffron rice makes good filler, all swilled down with a combo of cawfee and pea soup (hey, not as bad as it sounds). Really, what a steal. Plus the half-turkey ain’t half bad either, and, truth be known, it’s all too much for even my boa constrictor flexi-gut.
’Course, we’re not talking La Jolla here. I look up just in time to see this guy running, pounding, hauling ass right past me down the sidewalk. He’s flying across Broadway, heading for the bay.
“He trying out for the Olympics?” says the Lucky’s tattoo guy, popping his head outside.
“If the cops come,” guy with a loaded shopping cart advises his buddy, “you gotta remember, rules of the street. See nothin’, say nothin’.”
That’s when this smart, blazer-wearing Asian guy comes out from the deli.
“Hey, man, tried the tomato soup?” he asks me. “You should. I made it myself…wait. I’m going to get you a sample.”
Turns out this is Trung, Vietnamese American, the chef. He started around Christmas time. He goes back inside, returns with a cup of roiling tomato soup. I try it. Oh, Lordy. It is good. Tons of celery, onions, corn, tomatoes. Rich. Fresh. Gourmet, I wanna say.
Trung is fresh out of a San Francisco Cordon Bleu school. Wow. But a Cordon Bleu-trained chef for…Super Jr. Market?
“This is where I want to get myself a name,” says Trung. “With dishes that are original. I am 23. I want to prove interesting doesn’t have to be expensive.”
Another guy comes out. Omar. He’s Chaldean American. This is his family’s market. Has been since 1970 (and it was going 20 years before that). “We want to upgrade,” Omar says. “Do more original cooking. Gourmet taste, but keep the prices affordable.”
I can understand. Attract the office crowd across the trolley tracks.
But I need to know one thing. “Omar,” I say. “Tell me you’re not going to ditch the deals, the $1.99 leftover specials?”
“No, no. Don’t worry. We’ll always have leftovers. Better not to toss them.”
Next time I drop in, Trung has moved on. Guess that’s showbiz. Hope his replacement is as talented. But that’s not the main thing. Having a Cordon Bleu chef in the deli is all well and good — but when you’re tapped out? Knowing where you can fill your gut for less than a couple of clams? Priceless.