Following up from my last post, I don’t think that Grand Central Terminal is a less polarizing place than Edmonton. It might be an even more emotional subject for some people given its pivotal role in the lives of so many commuters. That is where my mixed feelings lie. Here is this grand, historic train station that does not serve as the primary entry point for those visiting the city; it’s the entry point for those commuting via the Metro-North railway. It’s also a significant subway hub. Le sigh. There can be no cinematic just-landed-in-NYC stories that begin at Grand Central—those are reserved for the dungeon known as Penn Station. Grand Central is to blame for the flurries and swarms of people that can make the east end of 42nd street as annoying as Times Square makes the west end. I often leave the office later just so I can avoid them. But then on another day, I’ll stand in the central hall, see the clock, look up at the breathtaking ceiling, forget all annoyances, and become smitten with the structure again. It’s one of those New York moments where I remember that I love New York as much for the frustration as I do for the magic.
I suppose you could argue that, with the exception of rush hour, the swarms are largely contained within, running to tracks, buying tickets, taking photos, shopping, and eating. And there is a lot to choose from when it comes to dining: a market hall, a standard food court, the legendary Oyster Bar, the new standby Shake Shack, and now, Copenhagen Lite. The request for proposals to transform the southern hall of the terminal was won by Noma co-founder Claus Meyer. He has brought Danish sensibilities to midtown with the fine dining restaurant Agern and the Great Northern Food Hall. Now I can grab a taste of trendy New Nordic cuisine by walking across the street at lunchtime instead of buying a trans-Atlantic flight.
I hope to try Agern one day (I’ve spied what looks to be an enticing bread service), which I guess would be the real opportunity to get some exposure to the cooking that has brought such prominence to Copenhagen. So far, I’ve just made a few visits to pick up lunch at the Food Hall. The space is divided up into separate stations, although there are items that repeat. Salads, savoury porridge, baked items, sandwiches, smorrebrod—lots of choices that can either get you on the Nordic bandwagon or just gently suggest it. Claus Meyer runs a bakery in Copenhagen called Meyers Bageri, and there are now two locations here, including the one in the Food Hall. I would say that the success of most of what I tried was down to excellent bread dough.
I prefer bread to Viennoiserie, so I liked the less sweet, more bread-like dough of these pastries. I also am not a fan of icing, so I appreciated being able to buy a naked Kanelsnurre. This did not mean pulling it apart at my desk made for cleaner fingers or for a cleaner mouse. These pastries were around $5 each, and one would not constitute a satisfying lunch. Outside of Grand Central, $10 is generally (perhaps outdatedly so) the invisible line between an affordable and expensive take-out midtown lunch. Because of the gouging for tourists and commuters, inside Grand Central, this is the norm.
Oy. So much dressing. This would have been more enjoyable if my mouth was not coated in so much fatty mustard-mayo. I could barely taste anything else. Any acidity from the gherkins and cabbage was lost. The pork had decent flavour, but it was a little tough. The bread, however, was fantastic. I would be open to trying another sandwich if I could keep an eye on the condiment application.
When I can go to a place like Sullivan Street Bakery for the flatbread-like pizza Romana (not over lunch, mind you), it’s hard to not make a comparison to this similar product. The dough/crust: Loved it. Like the sandwich bread, they include some rye in the mix, and you can taste it. Toppings: Left much to be desired. Wholly underseasoned. The topping varieties on offer were pretty slim, so I’m not sure I’d return for the flatbread. Again, one is not filling enough for a meal.
Here’s my winner. By far. These were absolutely delicious. If the Danes eat smorrebrod all the time, then I need to get a piggy bank for a trip to Copenhagen. Of course, these were also the priciest items, but given the quality of the toppings, the price was justified. I did not expect that my favourite would be the herring. I tried it to be traditional, but the pickled fish was bright and addictive sitting on the sliced-thin but hearty rye bread called rugbrod. I probably could have managed with just three as both the chicken liver and egg ones were much richer than I would have thought, but as I’d order all of them again, I don’t know which one I could do without. The smoked salmon was perked up by a lemony creme fraiche, pickled blueberries cut through the creamy pate, and I loved having the yolks soak into the rye as I cut through the egg halves. Although this makes for a pretty desk lunch, the knife and fork work required to gracefully eat the smorrebrod means it might be a smarter choice to eat it in the hall. All of the smorrebrod are about 90% pre-made with final flourishes like fresh herbs, crispy bits, and seasoning added after ordering. The price keeps me away, but I can’t stop thinking about what the beef tartare one must be like.
No oatmeal, you ask? No oatmeal, I answer. The savoury oatmeal bar would seem the most obvious choice for me given that I eat oats in some form once, if not twice, a day, up to five times per week. But, I do not need to pay someone else to make them for me, however novel. We all have limits, and that is one of mine. If they’re like everything else at the Great Northern Food Hall, they’re probably very good, but slightly overpriced. Which is actually what my sense of Copenhagen is like… Ta-da!
I couldn’t figure out how to bring it back to Grand Central. *shrug*