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Little Lad’s

Nooooo! Little Lad's has packed up its basket and is moving to Delancey St. I can't walk there for lunch. (8/16/11)

Last month James mentioned some half-secret subway passage he’d discovered that connects the M train at Broad Street to the 4/5. I’m still not convinced that that’s true (would it be the 4/5 at Wall Street or Fulton? Neither seem that plausible). I work a block from the M but that still doesn’t do me any good since I live on the F/G. I’m always trying to find ways of streamlining my commute and will stop at nothing. Even after a year-and-a-half at my present job I’m still in denial that four subway stops can take 40 minutes (an experiment of two F stops, then a one-block walk to the R, then another two stops took me 50 minutes this morning, I’m dead serious. I left home at 9:15 and didn’t get to my desk until 10:05).

I was more interested at his description of a dated subterranean greasy spoon that time had forgotten. Really? I envisioned 99-cent patty melts and woodgrain formica. Maybe you could even smoke at your table.

But I have a tendency to disbelieve people, James in particular because he’s not very observant. All he thinks about is work and his high maintenance mother. I might mess around in a subway passage during the middle of the day (actually, I wouldn’t either—I tend to use my lunchtime to write crap here but haven’t even had the time for that in the past week) but he wouldn’t. It must’ve been remarkable enough that he noticed at all, so a lunch meet up was in immediate order because this sounded good.

We entered the subway station on Nassau Street, below the Chase building. I can’t recall how many levels we descended or how many twists or turns we took, but we ended up in a narrow passageway that no more than two people could fit in at a time side-by-side. And then we were there.

Little lad's exterior

Hmm…faded, kind of like a Denny’s that hadn’t been remodeled since 1981. And photo murals and stained glass too? Even more perfect, the restaurant was called Little Lad’s. There didn’t seem to be menus, no one greeted us when we came in and there didn’t appear to be a counter or cashier. We sat in a booth-for-two and waited. This didn’t seem right. It wasn’t even close to crowded at prime lunch time either. I made James peek around the corner.

Little lad's interior

As it turned out, we came in the back door; the main dining room was on the other side of the L-shaped room and the centerpiece was a small buffet. Signs indicated that whatever you could fit into (no, overfilling) a Styrofoam bowl and plate on a plastic tray would be yours for $3.99. Yes! People mock my $5-or-less weekday lunch rule but it’s really only so I can splurge on dinners–they just don’t see me during the evening.

The food was odd, though. One section appeared to contain cold salady items and the other cart had what I guess you could call main dishes. Two pots of soup sit off to the side with a bag of hearty multigrain bread between them. I then noticed that meat seemed suspiciously absent but this wasn’t even ordinary vegetarian fare. Frankly, everything looked kind of boiled like prison slop. After I heard the girl restocking the blobby dressing respond, “that’s tofu, we don’t serve cheese” to a flirtatious inquisitive customer, I realized everything was vegan.

Maybe the clientele would give me further clues. There seemed to be large number of black patrons, office ladies in groups and solo gentleman. Ok, so this um, soul food? Not like I’ve ever seen before. Or maybe like a rasta vegetarian thing? But everyone was too clean cut. Should I be here?

Well, there were some white people who looked like the types who work in the Financial District but insist on commuting by bike. And a youngish Indian dude in skintight flared slacks, shades and sporting muttonchop sideburns and a pompadour. The staff seemed bizarrely mellow and polite. Too polite.  Something religious, kind of Amish, was definitely at play and I hoped I wasn’t going to be sucked into a modern day cult.

There also appeared to be a window where you could order food cooked on the spot. I wasn’t sure what to make of the first item on the list called a “handburger.” Or the “haystack” at the bottom of the sign. I’m guessing a handburger is a meatless sandwich, but they probably shouldn’t use such a fleshy word in the name. I’m still not sure what the hell a haystack is.

Little lad's lunch buffet

The food has grown on me during my two visits. It’s not really hippy but more bastardized Midwestern. I mean, three-bean salad and raisin-carrot slaw? I'm surprised they don't have animal product-free jello (I guess that would be agar agar, which is the base for crazy-pretty SE Asian desserts). The strange thing is that many of the items taste kind of pickled or fermented. The zucchini was tart and fizzy, so too the tomatoes. Mushy is the overriding texture. I like the beets, tofu dressing and how all the scoops of mysterious substances blend into a big wholesome blob. Their flyers and signage make all sorts of health claims. I don’t fall for hyperbole but my wild blood pressure and elevated sugars can use all the help they can get.

Little lad's entry way

The foyer in what I think is the main entrance has a tv playing sermons and lots of baked goods and fresh fruit on display. On my second visit, I picked up a naturally sweetened apple-cherry pie and James grabbed a bag of lemon herb popcorn. We were rang up by a clean cut middle aged white man that seemed very bible belt and extremely un-NYC. We didn’t get proselytized, just asked, “How did you find us?” A good question.

I later found out that the restaurant is Seventh Day Adventist. I didn’t think that they had any particular dietary restrictions so that is peculiar. The only Seventh Day Adventists I’ve ever known were the family who lived kitty corner to me growing up. I’m certain that I’ve mentioned them before. They stood out, not simply because they were the only African-Americans in our neighborhood but also because the wife had multiple sclerosis and rode around on a motorized scooter, baked cakes from scratch (which my mom thought was outrageous) and the husband was a male nurse. I’m still not sure why male nurses are such a strange concept to people, but they most definitely are. Same for guy librarians.

Part of the appeal of Little Lad’s is that going there feels like I’m snarking out. My favorite book in middle school was Daniel Pinkwater’s “The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death” because I was/is that kind of a dork. The misfit teens would sneak out at night to watch schlocky movies and find places like hidden beer gardens constructed of abandoned railroad cars where they also served baked potatoes.

I guess I can’t truly call Little Lad’s excursions snarking out because out of the blue during a recent company dinner an office mate started talking about the vegan restaurant she goes to every week. It’s definitely a secret, though. When I mentioned that I wanted to write about it she begged me not to and I completely understand why. Luckily, my audience is infinitesimal enough that a mad rush at Little Lad’s will never ever occur as a result of this missive.

Little Lad’s * 120 Broadway, New York, NY

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  1. z. #

    Fantastic! Thanks for spilling the beans… I may just have to leave my World Financial Center confines to try them.

    September 24, 2008
  2. z: I just went for lunch this afternoon and it was as awesome as ever, mushy green beans, lentil casserole and all. I was almost tempted by a carob dessert–I don’t think I’ve eaten carob since grade school.

    ckc: wow, how could I have not known that? I’m pretty sure that my 7th Day Adventist neighbors weren’t vegetarian or else it would’ve spooked the entire block.

    September 24, 2008
  3. Melissa #

    I wish I was in NY because I really like the sound of Little Lads. It’s the first place you’ve reviewed that sounds like my kind of place. But surely you knew about the Seventh Day Adventist vegan thing? The cafeteria at Seventh Day Adventist hospital in Portland is all vegetarian, possibly vegan. All the punks used to eat there because it was cheap until a security guard threw them out saying the hospital was full of sick people who would have heart attacks if they caught sight of them. Also Our Daily Bread on Hawthorne was a Seventh Day Adventist health food shop.

    What have you been missing all these years? Definitely look up next time you’re in town.

    September 25, 2008
  4. Melissa: I seriously don’t know how I’ve made it 36 (oops, that’s right, I’m 32 now) years without knowing that Seventh Day Adventists were herbivores. Portland just has such a hippy holdout vibe that I never gave a second thought to restaurants with names like Our Daily Bread or Ezekiel’s Wheel (I have no idea if the latter had a religious affiliation or not).

    September 29, 2008
  5. bby #

    Strange place. I like that you can load up on fruits & veg for only a few bucks but after going a few times everything kind of tastes the same. My biggest problem with the seventh day adventist restrictions is the lack of vinegar. That doesn’t make for good salad dressing….

    October 7, 2008
  6. bby: I think the sameness is what I meant by “prison food.” I don’t go more than once a week and probably wouldn’t want to eat it every day. I don’t mind the tofu-y dressings really. What I can’t figure out the no vinegar thing because certain vegetables taste pickled to me and I have no idea what’s causing the effect.

    October 8, 2008
  7. Peter Cress #

    Not that you asked…

    I’m a Seventh-day Adventist, and just happened across your blog. It’s actually pretty interesting to read the perspectives of people who aren’t totally familiar with Adventism. Maybe I can clear up some misconceptions.

    Not all Adventists are vegetarian. It’s not a requirement; rather, it’s a recommendation that is embraced by many Adventists. I won’t even say most, because I’ve heard that around 60% of Adventists are NOT vegetarian. I’m not, although I was raised vegetarian.

    The dietary restrictions for Adventists are basically the same as those for everyday Jews (i.e. not the Passover restrictions). No pork or shellfish, no reptiles. I guess insects are allowed, but I don’t really want to find out. *shudder*

    A study was conducted several years ago of the longevity of Adventists (National Geographic had an article a couple years back), and a follow-up study is now under way. Adventists do tend to live longer, not just for the vegetarianism that many adopt, but also because we eschew alcohol and tobacco. Those are no-no’s. The more conservative Adventists also avoid caffeinated drinks and large amounts of sugar. I am not a conservative Adventist, and I put copious amounts of sugar in my coffee; I even bring my lidded mug to church with me, yet nobody has threatened me with excommunication.

    Finally, you wondered about haystacks. This is a uniquely Adventist name for a fairly common dish. It’s basically a taco salad made with corn chips or tortilla chips in lieu of a tortilla shell. You put some Fritos on a plate, smother with beans (and/or taco meat, if you swing that way) and cheese, add lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, sour cream…well, you get the picture. Basically just a mound of food. Goooooood eatin.

    Just thought I’d share.

    July 8, 2009
  8. Peter: Thanks for the detailed explanation. That’s what I thought, that vegetarianism was recommended but not required.

    Now that I know what haystacks are I will have to try one on my next visit. I’m curious what the Little Lads version might be like since they don’t use dairy.

    July 10, 2009

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