$24 in 24 Hrs – New Haven
I love food and I love Chicago (my hometown), so I thought it might be fun to do a little tribute to fellow foodie and proud Chicagoan Jeff Mauro, who not only has established himself as the Sandwich King of Food Network, but who also debuted a show this fall called “$24 in 24 Hrs.”
As you can probably gather from its title, “$24 in 24” places Jeff in a different city in America each week and challenges him to find breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack all for just $24. Is it possible to pull this off in the Elm City? I took to the streets of downtown New Haven to find out.
First, the rules:
- Three square meals, plus a snack, for no more than $24;
- The food must begood, not just cheap; and
- Local establishments only – no big, national chains (sorry, Shake Shack).
I started my day at Orangeside Luncheonette (about 6 blocks from the Law School) to try one of their famous square donuts (or “squonuts,” as my husband calls them). Squonuts are the brain child of Orangeside owner Tony Poleshek, who began selling them in January 2011. Since then, they have become his trademark. Tony’s old-fashioned donuts are made fresh every day, by hand, and are shaped to reflect New Haven’s grid-like city plan—in particular, the downtown neighborhood known as the Ninth Square (where many YLS students live). The unique square shape also produces less waste compared to traditional round donuts, which require excess trimmings to be re-rolled and re-cut in a process that produces tougher “second-generation” donuts.
At just $1.50 apiece (tax included!) these fluffy, 4-inch squonuts are a bargain. They come in a variety of flavors that change on a daily basis – everything from old-fashioned cake, classic glazed, and boston cream, to decadent “Turtle” and “Mounds,” to the ever-popular almond butter crunch. For my inaugural visit to Orangeside, I chose one raised (i.e., yeast-based) and one cake-style donut. For the former, a vanilla frosted; for the latter, almond butter crunch. I’m not much of a coffee drinker, so I also ordered a hot chocolate for $1.50, the same price you’d pay for a cup of joe. Total bill for breakfast:$4.50.
I sat down to enjoy my first meal of the day. The hot chocolate was unremarkable – nothing more than a packet of Swiss Miss and some H20 – but that was fine with me because I had come here with a singular mission:cherchez les donuts. And boy were theymagnifique. The base of the vanilla frosted donut was a super soft pillow of dough, light as a feather, airy and tender, and not the least bit oily or greasy. The layer of frosting and sprinkles added a punch of sweetness to the delicately flavored dough. The almond butter crunch donut was a completely different, but equally satisfying, taste experience. It had a denser and more crumbly cake base that was complemented by a caramel drizzle and sprinklings of crunchy brittled almonds. My advice: if you’re not a huge fan of sweets or just want a lighter breakfast, go for the glazed or frosted yeast-based squonuts; the cake-based, candy-bar-inspired varieties should be reserved for those with a serious sweet tooth or who want something a little more substantial. In my case, ordering one of each was the right call.
Next up: Lunch. Every day, YLS students are presented with a variety of cheap but tasty alternatives to the dining hall fare. I debated going with one of the many $5-6 options from the food trucks and carts in the area or from the nearby noodle shops, but rather than go with an old standby, I decided to try something new. And because I’m giving a nod to the Sandwich King this week, a falafel sandwich from Sababa seemed like the perfect choice.
Sababa opened up on Whitney Avenue, a mere 4 blocks from YLS, just 9 months ago. The menu is simple but innovative, and the restaurant concept is reminiscent of Chipotle or Roti – choose your entrée type (pita sandwich or platter), choose your filling (falafel, chicken shawarma, or beef-lamb-and-turkey shawarma), and choose your toppings (from an extensive and very exciting list). The toppings are what really distinguish Sababa from the other casual Middle Eastern eateries in New Haven. There are more than two dozen different house-made options and no limit to the number of toppings you can add (well, I suppose the reality is that at some point you might run out of room in your pita or on your platter, but I refuse to face that reality). Sababa offers everything from the traditional hummus, tahini, and tabouli, to the more interesting Moroccan carrot salad, fried long hot peppers, pickled mango, and even chimmichurri sauce.
For only $4.50, I was able to load my falafel sandwich with Sababa’s classic hummus, fried cauliflower, sweet potato & mushroom salad, chopped Israeli salad, cabbage slaw, tahini, and chimmichurri sauce. I also treated myself to a fountain soda for $1 (free refills!), bringing my total – including tax – to a mere$5.85. The sandwich was not only an amazing value, it was seriously yummy. The pita bread (I chose whole wheat) was soft and fresh, the falafel had a perfectly crisp exterior and was well-seasoned, and the toppings added all different kinds of texture and flavor. The hummus was smooth, creamy, and thick. The slaw was crunchy and provided a bite of acidity to balance the buttery sweet potato salad. And I could easily have eaten a whole bowl of just the fried cauliflower – they were tender and slightly lemony. With the incredible variety of ingredients in my sandwich, no two bites were the same, and even the bites that didn’t have any falafel in them were delicious.
They don’t skimp on anything at Sababa (the 6 napkins I had to use are proof of that), and I left feeling as stuffed as the pita I had just consumed. At the moment, Sababa is only open for lunch on weekdays, but don’t let the limited hours stop you from experiencing what may be the best deal on falafel (or perhaps any sandwich) in the city. Play around with all of the different combinations – according to my-husband-the-math-teacher (thanks, honey!), there are 805,306,368 ways to build your perfect meal. That means that if you ate at Sababa once every weekday, it would take you over 3 million years to try every combination. So get started, time’s a-wasting!
No day of eating is complete without an afternoon snack, and a few hours after my savory smorgasbord at Sababa, I was in the mood for a sweet treat. So I ventured to Katalina’s, an adorable bakery and coffee shop on Whitney Avenue, just half a block from Sababa. Katalina’s has been open since October 2011 and is a dessert lover’s paradise, selling all manner of cupcakes – including several vegan and gluten-free options – cookies, brownies, bars, and other baked goods. Rachael, the incredibly friendly girl behind the counter, informed me that Katalina’s is also the only place in New Haven that carries Stumptown coffee (again, I’m not much of a coffee drinker, so the significance of this tidbit is unfortunately lost on me, but I hope it means something good to some of you!).
I perused the confections behind Katalina’s glass case and was faced with a difficult decision. Rachael’s favorites were the Vanilla Cupcake with Fig Filling and Pear Frosting, the Nutella Cupcake with Fresh Banana Frosting, and the “Yale Bulldog” – a chocolate cupcake with cayenne pepper, raspberry filling, and Nutella frosting. I was tempted by the Boston Cream and “Hostess” cupcakes as well as the Funny Bone – a chocolate cake filled with peanut butter and topped with chocolate ganache and crumbled peanut butter cups. After much deliberation, I settled on a chocolate cupcake with ganache filling and peanut butter frosting, garnished with a wedge of peanut butter cup (basically, a reverse Funny Bone!).
Now, I have to confess that I’m generally not much of a frosting person. Typically, I slice off about half the frosting before attacking any cupcake to get the “right” ratio of frosting to cake. And that’s just what I did this time around. I was worried that Katalina’s frosting wouldn’t pack enough of a peanut butter punch, but there was no shortage of PB flavor here. By itself, the frosting was very sweet, but eaten together with the rich chocolate cake and dark chocolate ganache, it was the perfect balance. I also liked the fact that the frosting was airy and silky, not thick, goopy, or grainy as some frostings are wont to be. All in all, a delightful pick-me-up at a very reasonable$2.65(including tax).
With exactly $11.00 left in my budget, I decided to splurge a little on dinner. Just 3 blocks from the Law School is Rubamba, a tiny restaurant that serves gourmet Latin American cuisine. The dining room, though small (it seats about 20), has lots of personality thanks to a wall of hot sauce bottles. At Rubamba, Chef Ernesto Garcia serves up the flavors of Mexico and South America in the form of burritos, tacos, quesadillas, empanadas, and arepas. The arepas – grilled corncakes that are a staple of Colombian and Venezuelan cuisine – are the most popular menu item at Rubamba. They’re topped with melted mozzarella cheese and your choice of chicken, steak, pulled pork, shrimp, fish, or portabello mushroom, and served with rice and gandules (a Puerto Rican favorite) and sweet plantains (a nod to Caribbean cuisine).
Everything on the menu looked great, but Rubamba is known for its arepas, so I went with the pollo arepa and, because the weather was unusually warm for fall, opted to carry out rather than dine in. When the dish came out, it was colorful and beautifully plated. The arepa itself was thick and nicely seared on both sides, topped with chunks of tender adobo marinated grilled chicken breast and finished with guacamole, pico de gallo, scallions, a drizzle of sour cream, and sprinkling of cilantro. On the side was a heaping pile of rice and gandules (similar to green lentils) and four pieces of plantain. Finding a quiet bench on the New Haven Green, I dug into my meal and enjoyed a perfect bite, combining the sweet corncake, mild and salty melted cheese, spiced chicken, tangy tomatoes and onions, buttery guacamole, and cool sour cream. The dish had great textures as well, from the creamy arepa mixture, the snap of the fresh corn kernels, and the bite of the onions. The rice and gandules complemented the arepa nicely, and the plantains were meaty and perfectly caramelized.
The pollo arepa set me back a total of$10.10($9.50 plus tax), and the dish was actually large enough for me to make two meals out of it. Ah, the advantages of being a small person! (But see Sonya “Black Widow” Thomas.) Next time I’m going to try the pescado (tilapia) arepa – Chef Ernesto’s favorite dish on the menu. You can also get the same fare at a lower price from one of Rubamba’s two food carts, one by the Law School and one by the Med School. And on a hot day, be sure to try one of Rubamba’s specialty iced beverages, like the Horchata, a rice milk drink that is creamy and lightly sweet with a hint of cinnamon.
So how did I do? Let’s review. I grabbed two donuts and a hot chocolate at Orangeside Luncheonette for $4.50. A falafel sandwich and soda at Sababa cost me $5.85. My afternoon snack came in the form of a $2.65 cupcake from Katalina’s. And I went big for dinner and got a pollo arepa from Rubamba for $10.10. That brings my total to$23.10. So there you go – proof positive that you can find a variety of tasty and affordable eats in New Haven and, more importantly, within a 6-block radius of Yale Law School.
That concludes the New Haven Edition of $24 in 24 Hrs. I’m so stuffed from today’s challenge that it’s given me an idea for a follow-up: 24 Lbs. in 24 Hrs. Hey, with Thanksgiving coming up, it just might happen. Tune in next time to see how I do….
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!