Hot dogs, takoyaki and more.
Fifth Avenue and 54th Street isn't
the sort of corner where you'd expect to find a bargain, let alone
a sign reading "Freaking Deal, $5." But that's precisely
what's written on the paper-plate sign taped to the Hallo Berlin
street cart. Fans of bad puns and good German sausages will
recognize the work of Hallo's owner, Rolf Babiel. "It's a frik-a-delle,
a German meatball, you get it?" said Rolf as he buried a beef-and-pork
meatball under a mound of sautéed onions and tossed it into
a paper basket along with an excellent, mildly spiced currywurst
sausage and a vinegary heap of German potato salad studded with
chopped sweet and sour German pickles, before giving the whole freaking
thing a squirt of his proprietary paprika-heavy mustard and his
curry steak sauce.
What attracted us to Otafuku,
the tiny East Village kiosk specializing in Japanese takoyaki (an
octopus-filled croquette) and okonomiyaki (a sort of cabbage-and-egg
pancake), was the Wonkaesque sight of a polka-dot-bandanna'd cook
squirting batter through what looks like an electric nail gun into
a vibrating griddle, its indented surface resembling a giant egg
carton. His partner simultaneously formed a cabbage-vegetable-and-egg
mixture into patties, which sizzled on the grill under little metal
domes; then he did a Jackson Pollock on both snacks with mayo and
a thick, sweet barbecue-Worcestershire sauce, after which he gave
the whole thing a liberal dusting of bonito flakes. Five dollars
here buys six Ping-Pong-ball-size takoyaki, light and airy with
a chunk of octopus in the center, a nice contrast of soft-chewy
textures and sweet-salty flavors. And the beef, pork, squid, or
shrimp-topped okonomiyaki will set you back $7 -- a bargain for
such a hearty, satisfying cross between a seafood frittata and a
pumped-up potato pancake.
Taxicabs on stilts -- not real ones but a Madison Square Park art installation -- will lead you to the hot-dog stand near Broadway and 23rd Street run by Eleven Madison Park restaurant to raise money for the park's continued restoration. For one afternoon, forget about civic pride and try a "Chicago dog" ($2.50), boiled with bay leaves, onions, garlic, and allspice and topped with tomatoes, green peppers, onions, cucumbers, lettuce, pickles, mustard, relish, hot chilies, and a dash of celery salt. It's practically a Cobb salad perched precariously on top of a hot dog and a sneaky way of getting you to eat your veggies.