Week 40: Subway Alligators and Pumpkin Sandwiches

The New York subway is not what one would normally refer to as an “artsy” or “magical” place. In fact, some might even call it “hell on earth.”

But if you venture out to the West Village, and stop of at the 8th Avenue or 14th Street subway stations (which are, in essence, the exact same station), you will find a bizarre collection of art known as “Life Underground.”


The masterwork of artist Tom Otterness (who later became obsessed with the project), variously placed bronze statues depict esoteric messages, like that of a sewer alligator dragging a man with a bag of money for a head into the depths below. Otterness called Life Underground his exploration of “the impossibility of living life in New York.”

Is it worth a trip all on its own? Absolutely not. However, the next time you find yourself out there, with an extra minute to spare, take your time and see if you can find the dozen or so uniquely placed statues hidden throughout the station, one of the coolest things the MTA ever did.  

Sandwich 40: Black Tree

October carries with it a wealth of connotations: scantily-dressed co-eds using the excuse of Halloween to flaunt their flesh, the cool autumn winds reminding people to bitch about the ensuing winter, the frustrating aftermath of apple-picking where you become so sick of all things apples you start throwing them at people on the street. If you're anything like me, though, October means pumpkin everything. The pumpkin beer, the jack-o-lanterns, and the pies for days all fuse to make me a very happy boy.

But a pumpkin sandwich? I never thought such things were possible.

Black Tree, with outposts in both Crown Heights and LES, features a respectable sandwich menu with an extra-respectable twist, it's completely seasonal. So with fall in full leaf-peeping glory, their sandwich menu is catered for foliage and hoodies. Their most enticing sandwich, known simply as "The Pumpkin," is a mash-up of a number of soft, mushy ingredients in between crispy, fresh ciabatta bread. Among these ingredients are roasted pumpkin, mushroom chutney, ricotta, honey, and pickled pumpkin, the last of which I find confusing and sexy. Somehow, this blend of sweet, savory, and bitter finds an eloquent, squishy balance. And while I'm all for keeping things vegetarian if they're delicious, Black Tree gives you the option of adding thick cut bacon for two dollars, a gloriously necessary salty crunch game changer that should come standard. 

There’s also the Fall Cow, a ground beef sandwich loaded with apple roasted carrot mash, tomato, garlic, and pickled red onion. The beauty of this, like The Pumpkin, is that it hits on a range of taste levels (sweet, bitter, salty, savory). I believe this is a movement in modern sandwiches – inspired by the sweet pickled vegetables of the banh mi Vietnamese sandwiches – and shying away from the bland “singular focus” American dishes, where each element only contains one of the fundamental levels of taste.

Be sure to stop by and sample The Pumpkin; soon, it will have rotted away, replaced by a wintery menu that will be nowhere near as crisp and pumpkiny.