Anyone who’s tried to find a delicious and healthy meal around Penn Station knows that the area is pretty much a clean-eating wasteland. Make that was a wasteland, until last week when The Pennsy, an upscale food court, opened at Pennsylvania Plaza in the space that previously housed a Borders Books.
The airy 8,000-square-foot complex (with outdoor seating coming in warmer months) includes stalls from notable chefs like Mario Batali, Marc Forgione and Franklin Becker, among others. It’s already getting plenty of buzz in foodie circles, and the lunchtime crowds prove it (hint: arrive before noon to guarantee a seat at one of the communal tables or couches). After making multiple visits, we’re excited to report that not only are the food court’s eats tasty, but there’s also plenty that’s Clean Plates approved. Here are our recommendations:
The Little Beet: The Midtown outpost of chef Franklin Becker’s fast-casual The Little Beet is one of our faves for healthy, gluten-free New American fare with a focus on seasonal, local and responsibly sourced ingredients, and while the menu at this stand is smaller, the dishes are just as pleasing. You can’t go wrong with any of the veggie-focused bowls and oversized fish- or chicken-filled sushi rolls that handle like a burrito. But we were partial to the Beet Box ($13), which comes with a fragrantly spiced vegetarian patty—made with a protein-packed blend of lentils, chickpeas and quinoa—served with minty raita, beet-quinoa salad and soba salad.
Lobster Press: The chili lobster at chef Marc Forgione’s namesake TriBeCa restaurant was so popular that he built a whole stall around it at The Pennsy. You can get the lobster, which Lobster Press partner Homarus catches fresh daily in Maine, pressed in a panini ($17) or—our favorite—served in a salad ($17) with gluten-free sorghum, arugula and seasonal vegetables like crispy Brussels sprouts and sweet butternut squash cubes. Either way, the side of warm, spicy-creamy sauce spiked with ginger, garlic and chilies was so good that we were tempted to just drink it straight.
Cinnamon Snail: The first stationary location of this popular vegan, organic food truck offers over-the-top sandwiches and bowls with an exuberant mashup of flavors from Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and beyond. While the seitan-based Beastmode Burger ($10.95) is a popular pick, we gravitated to the Thai BBQ tempeh sandwich ($9.95) with pickled red onions, Thai basil, arugula and smoked chili-roasted peanuts on grilled spelt bread. Bonus: Any item can be served on gluten-free millet-flax bread or, for a few bucks extra, over greens and red quinoa pilaf. The Snail’s popular doughnuts and other vegan desserts are also available at the stand.
Pat LaFrieda: Carnivores will want to head over to the debut eatery from locally legendary butcher Pat LaFrieda (he’s famous for supplying many of the best restaurants in New York with custom burger blends and other meats). You’ll find all manner of sandwiches made with hormone- and antibiotic-free meats. Robust, juicy choices include the classic tomato-sauced meatball sub ($12), the Black Angus steak sandwich ($15) and the house-roasted turkey sandwich ($12). For the bread adverse, there are seasonal plates such as the super-tender braised boneless short ribs served with a slightly sweet celery root slaw ($15). Packaged meats and burger blends are also for sale to take home.
Mario by Mary: For another super meatball sub, try the panini ($12.50) from this Italian collaboration between Mario Batali and caterer Mary Guliani. The meatballs are made with a blend of pork and beef from—who else?—Pat LaFrieda, and they’re topped with escarole, pecorino and mozzarella for a sandwich that’s rich and gooey without being greasy. In addition to hot and cold sandwiches, there are hearty seasonal soups ($5.50 for 12 ounces; $7 for 16 ounces), including white bean and rosemary and a chicken and kale stracciatella that’s going to be our go-to cold-fighter this winter.
2 Pennsylvania Plaza (7th Avenue and 33rd Street), New York