Editor’s note: Today we’re excited to introduce a new columnist. JP Bowersock is a Lower East Side resident, a professional musician and a genius in the kitchen. In “JP’s Food Adventures,” he’ll be introducing us to some of his favorite neighborhood food finds — including places to buy amazing cooking ingredients and great, affordable restaurants off the beaten path. Here’s his first column…
Six years ago my wife and I were facing a move from our beloved East Village apartment. She asked if I’d be willing to consider any other neighborhoods, as we were looking to buy in a skyrocketing market. Chinatown was my answer. She was thinking LES, and Seward Park Cooperative proved a perfect compromise for us. I get to spend a fair bit of my free time food shopping and eating out in Chinatown, and she gets the benefit of this without having to live next door to a fish market (which still doesn’t seem like a terrible idea to me).
Our neighborhood boasts an embarrassment of riches when it comes to superb (often very inexpensive) Chinese food. An adventurous eater can find great eats for pocket change. As a musician whose income varies wildly, I like knowing about such places; if I haven‘t had a fat gig or royalty check in a while a tasty, handmade $5 meal holds some appeal. A preference for hole in the wall joints over posh ones seals the deal (sometimes to my wife’s chagrin). Eldridge Street is a goldmine for such places, in the form of dumpling and noodle shops. Some sport lines out the door during peak hours, as word has gotten out among food nerds.
Let’s take a virtual walk down Eldridge St, and I’ll point out some favorites:
Vanessa’s Dumpling House, 118 Eldridge Street. This is a good place to start. What to get: fried pork and chive dumplings (four for a buck), sesame pancake sandwiches (the duck one is popular), homemade pickled cabbage (like a milder, sweeter take on kimchi). More tasty food than most can consume in one sitting can be had here for $5, all of it made before your eyes. There may be competition for seating.
Prosperity Dumpling, 46 Eldridge Street. There’s a running debate on who has the better fried pork dumplings: Prosperity or Vanessa’s. It’s a knife-edge call: if you like more ginger flavor you’ll prefer Vanessa’s, but if thinner wrappers and pronounced scallion flavor are your thing Prosperity wins. The place can seat maybe ten people, so get your dumplings to go. Eat them walking down the street; they won’t last half a block, and you’re unlikely to be the only one doing so.
Super Taste, 26 Eldridge Street. You can get good dumplings here, too, but the hand pulled noodles in soup steal the show. The spicy beef version is noteworthy, and quite spicy the last time I had it. (Also a bargain at about five bucks). You can watch the guy making noodles, slapping the dough loudly on the counter and looping it around his fingers.
Sheng Wang, 27 Eldridge Street. To me, this subterranean noodle shop place is the star of Eldridge Street. Aging hipsters are sometimes spotted among the mostly Fujian crowd. English is spoken here, but haltingly. Best to just point at the menu, unless you have a little Mandarin. They offer both knife peeled and hand pulled noodles in soup; the former are interesting, but the latter are among the best I’ve had. Their steamed pork dumplings ($3 for 12) might be the best on Eldridge street – thin skins and a perfect balance of ginger and scallion flavor. They’ve elevated the lowly fish ball into a work of art as well, by giving it a ground pork center. They sneak one into most orders of soup, regardless of what you have ordered. I cut to the chase and order the hand pulled noodles in soup with fish balls ($4.50) to assure I get five or six in my bowl. Fifty cents extra gets you a fried egg on top. The noodle soup with marrow bones is another popular order. Vegetarians will enjoy the dry knife peeled noodles with egg and vegetable, which is good, because it might be the only thing on the menu they can eat.
Xi’an Famous Foods, 88 East Broadway. Walk to the southern end of Eldridge Street and you’re looking at the base of the Manhattan Bridge. One of the businesses there is Xi’an Famous. This is food from Western China, with a Uighur influence. Nearly everything is oily, salty and spicy (cumin and hot pepper are well-represented). Imagine a mix of Chinese and Middle-Eastern flavors and you’re not too far off the mark. Lamb and pork are the meats available, and their handmade noodles are completely different than those of their Eldridge Street neighbors – starkly white and quite thick. Cumin Scented Lamb Noodles, the Liang Pi Noodles or the Spicy and Tingly Lamb Face Salad are all excellent choices for take out. (The counter can seat maybe three people, so be forewarned). I bring friends from out of town here for the lamb burger ($3.50), just to blow their minds.
That ends our virtual tour of Eldridge Street eateries, but it’s just the beginning of a journey we’ll take together, exploring our neighborhood food landscape. Future columns will cover places to shop, places to eat and recipes to try at home, all from the perspective of getting the most enjoyment out of your food dollars.
JP Bowersock is a professional musician and music producer who has toured the world repeatedly, eating at top restaurants and hole-in-the-wall joints. He is a serious home cook with over two decades’ experience cooking for family, friends and fellow rock and rollers. Mr Bowersock keeps a toe in the wine business as well, consulting for the wine lists of several neighborhood establishments, including Clandestino, 35 Canal St. When not on tour or in the recording studio he’s scouring the neighborhood for frugal food finds.