Walking New York

A fat lazy idiot tries to walk every street in Manhattan.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Automat Day

The long-awaited St. Marks Automat (technical name: BAMN!) opened today and although I was considering trying Philly Slim's for lunch in an effort to stay up to date on city cheesesteak trends, I decided I should be part of BAMN's opening day. I was worried it might be very crowded, but it was actually completely empty, probably for 2 reasons. One, it's raining, and as opposed to the sit-down automats of the old days, this is definitely a walking food place. There are 3 stools at a counter, but they seemingly don't encourage people to hang around inside too long. The second problem is that nobody knows what an automat is anymore. Everyone I told about it had to look it up on Wikipedia. Lots of curious people walking by stopped to check it out though, so maybe it'll catch on.

The place itself is surprisingly small, featuring a wavy wall of tiny toaster ovens and change slots. There's also a counter where they sell drinks, fries, and burgers. The most expensive thing there was fries, which is weird, but everything else comes in snack sizes. I got a mac and cheese croquette, pizza dumplings, and chicken nuggets, coming out to $4.75 total, which is very impressive. The only other reasonable place around there to get lunch for that price is Chickpea, which has a falafel for about $4. Chipotle, 99 Miles to Philly, Blue Nine, and the late Roll-n-Roaster all cost about $10 for a normal lunch. I didn't get a drink at the automat and a cheesesteak with waffle fries and a soda would have been much more filling, but I was satisfied.

The place is more cool than it is tasty, as the food seems like something you could buy frozen and cook in your toaster. That's not to say it's bad, it's just nothing really special. Still, a dollar for 4 chicken nuggets and good bbq sauce is a great deal given that street hot dogs seem to cost $1.50 now. And that's basically who the automat will be competing with, street vendors, not surrounding restaurants. Anybody who wants a lunch or dinner with friends in the area will head to one of the sushi places or Paul's, a greasy but good burger place around the corner. But anybody walking around who wants a cheap snack, or the hundreds of people who stroll St. Marks drunk in the middle of the night, will find this place useful.

I wouldn't get the pizza dumplings again, as they were $2, which is expensive for 4 pizza rolls and tomato sauce (a slice at the horrible Ray's Pizza & Bagels on 3rd/St Marks is under $3 I think). For that $2, I could have got a teriyaki burger or chicken sandwich, grilled cheese ($1.50), or 2 desserts (custard puff things and Japanese bagels). A pork roll was a dollar too I think, as were hot dogs, which they didn't have out. Nuggets were dry but fine for a dollar and the bbq sauce was very good. Mac and cheese croquette was a must-try, as I'll go head to head with anyone on the city's best mac and cheese options (S'Mac=disappointment, fancy French restaurant Artisanal=best). The croquette was basically KFC mac and cheese inside of a larger mozzerella stick casing. It was egg roll sized, a few bites worth, and a solid deal at $1.75.

I hope the place survives, but have a feeling it'll be gone by Christmas and we'll go another few decades without an automat. BAMN is the first one in America since 1991, and probably the first new one to open since the 1960s, when fast food came along and made them obsolete. It's certainly a good alternative to street cart food and overall, a worthy addition to the late night East Village food lineup.

I don't have pics as I was going from work, but Gothamist is on the case.