The New York Sandwich Project: Week 3

The Big Apple is steeped in a tradition of the visual and performing arts and, as such, there is a vast spectrum to experience: massive Broadway plays, alternative warehouse dance recitals, and creepy one-man venues that you’re pretty sure is really just someone’s dingy studio apartment. For yours truly, thought, the greatest of New York’s performance halls are the stand-up comedy clubs. New York stand-up is an institution, dating back to when Frank Fay performed at the New York Palace Theatre in the 1920’s. It has since been pioneered by the likes of Richard Pryor, Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and countless others, making New York a comedy mecca of sorts, a pilgrimage of dick jokes and off-beat social comedy. Ushering into the present day, the stand-up tradition is alive and well (seriously, if you haven’t seen John Mulaney yet, you’re missing out).  

And while I love the greats, living here has given me a new-found respect for the hustlers, the up-and-comers, trying to grind their way into comedy stardom. These hapless scour the city in search of ten minute sets, working for free or, at best, taking a beer or two as payment. One of my buddy’s is currently chasing this dream. He describes it as an arduous trek through open mics and sleazy stand-up clubs, where audiences are volatile. One night, the phrase “lumber jacking-off” might have killed. The next, he’s being booed off stage. But there is something so pure about the craft, something I’ve loved since Comedy Central first appeared on my television set. You see it in their eyes – they live and die by every joke.

In that vein, I introduce the nemesis of the comedian: the dreaded heckler. For those who are not familiar with the term, a heckler is a jeerer, the bottom-feeding obnoxious scum of an audience member who shouts out things at the comedian during their set. In short, an asshole. No one knows why they do it; perhaps they just want to watch someone burn on-stage, trip over their own jokes, and ultimately fail.

The other day, my buddy got the chance to perform at the Gotham, an icon of the New York comedy club scene. Along with three other comedians, he tried his hand at making a room full of strangers laugh. But lurking in the crowd was a beast of a heckler, a man who thought it playful to scream out nonsense in a bad fake Indian accent while his loathsome group of friends egged him on. The first three comedians, along with my buddy, endured the berating of this heckler, as he harassed each of them through their acts and took a little bit from each of them in the process.

Then something triumphant happened. The final comedian took the stage, thanked the audience, walked over to the heckler, and proceeded to tear him apart, ligament by ligament. For over ten minutes he systematically destroyed this man, calling him out for interrupting the previous acts and advising the man what a better use for his mouth would be (hint: it doesn’t involve talking). Watching this comedian assault the intolerable audience member was like watching a judge deliver a sentence lined with jokes. His best rant, and something that has stuck with me since: “You have the balls to come in here and rip down people who are trying to reach their dreams because you were too much of a coward to go after yours.”

Boom. Of course, his version was saturated with profanity, but I try to keep it clean on the sandwich blog. Speaking of which:

Sandwich 3: Omar’s Kitchen and Bakery

While we all love to laugh, there is nothing funny about the midtown culinary scene. Because it sucks. Trust me, I work there. It is an entire region designed for quick business lunches, dominated by lackluster Chinese eateries, empty salad bars, and the dreaded “food factories” where you pay ten dollars a pound for shitty cafeteria food.

One of the few bright stars in this collection of burnt out midtown Christmas tree lights is Omar’s Kitchen and Bakery, a.k.a. Middle Eastern Halal Schawarma perfection. Falling into the pita wrap spectrum of sandwiches, it is just one of those places that do everything right for cheap, maintaining a healthy dose of both quality and quantity in a way very few eating destinations can.

Here’s how it goes down: You get in line (usually out the door) and choose either a pita or a platter. Go for the platter – more food and they provide you two of your own pitas that you can stuff like a Thanksgiving turkey, thus creating a sandwich to your liking.

The lamb and chicken schawarma meat is delectable, shaved off the sides of those gorgeous slabs, like eating the flank of some delicious angel. Alone, it would be enough to warrant a trip. But (and this is coming from a hardened carnivore) what really sets Omar’s apart is the slew of vegetarian sides. Tabouli, the minty Lebanese salad, is fantastic, as are the hummus and cucumber salad. The truly mind-melting entrée here, though, is the Turkish eggplant salad. Served cold, this “meze,” or Turkish appetizer, is a simple collection of roasted eggplant, tomato sauce, peppers, spices, and magic. I don’t know what they do that makes your taste bud neurons explode with such magnitude, but it would be a mistake to not stuff it inside your pita alongside everything else.

And always, dessert is included in the form of baklava. It should serve as no surprise that it’s flaky, buttery, and the perfect end to a Middle Eastern feast