Heading out of town this weekend? Eat here first
| By Regan Hofmann
This weekend, the twin holidays of Easter and Passover will have familial obligations bearing down heavy on most of the city. But while the big-ticket holidays might pull New Yorkers farther afield to moms in Michigan or in-laws in Idaho, the limited shelf lives of the two spring celebrations by necessity limit their reach. Passover, thanks to that pesky lunar calendar, can land any day it damn well pleases. And except for the extremely religious, who take part in all the Maundy Thursdays and Lazarus Saturdays beforehand, Easter is a Mass, a meal and some chocolate bunnies for the ride home.
Because of this, we scramble to find the most geographically convenient relative with whom we can manage to spend a few hours and consider our filial duties done. Aunts in Connecticut we never speak to; cousins up in Albany we've only made peace with in our adult years-if they're within train's reach, they're family.
Grand Central and Penn stations become the cliffs from which we lemmings stream out to sea. The transit hubs, never sleepy, are sheer madness from the first train out Friday morning to the last train back Sunday night. Unfortunately, they're both in no-man's-lands for food, a mishmash of traveler-targeting grab-and-gos and sit-down expense account magnets (Michael Jordan's Steakhouse, anyone?).
Hopefully, Aunt Susan's cooking is so good you're already pining for her world-famous brisket. But if not, and you're already planning where to hide the leftovers, sneak a pre-Seder snack or a post-dinner dinner at one of these surprising station-adjacent spots.
Breakfast: a new addition to Grand Central's downstairs food court, Tri Tip Grill's menu is limited to its eponymous sliced steak in various iterations; sandwiches, salads, platters. So far, so good. But for breakfast, they'll put that steak on an English muffin with an egg, American cheese and grilled onions and give it to you with a side of tater tots. It's everything you never thought an egg-and-cheese could be, down to the egg being fried rather than scrambled, so the yolk runs throughout and creates a glorious sauce with the melted cheese. Plus, they'll sell you whole steaks to take away and finish in the oven, a good last-minute backup in case Uncle Morty forgets to pick up the pot roast that morning.
Lunch: If you're heading out at noon for a dinner you know won't be ready until 8:30, build your stores at Fuji Bakery and Restaurant (224 W. 35th St., betw. 7th and 8th Aves., 212-629-7588), just a block from Penn Station. The no-frills combination Chinese bakery/restaurant is one of the few in the area where the BBQ pork buns are as good as the braised bean curd. Don't be fooled by its crummy linoleum and the generic-looking steam table up front-even white-guy standards like beef with broccoli are better than the rest. To win extra points, bring along a dozen egg tarts or coconut buns for the folks; at 75 cents apiece, you can be a dessert hero for less than a 10-spot.
Dinner: So you've made it through the evening and are safely back home in the city. But Cousin Becky's decision to "try something new" for the main course was a bust, and you're starving after pushing that ham casserole around your plate all night. Before you give in and go home to some stale chips and salsa, stop in at Pera (303 Madison Ave., betw. 41st and 42nd Sts., peranyc.com) a Turkish spot around the corner from Grand Central. There, come back to your senses with mezes like carrot and eggplant croquettes or hummus topped with pastirma, a kind of Middle Eastern cured beef that's like the lovechild of pastrami and prosciutto. Their wine list is extensive, too, so you can start working on blotting out the memory of the whole night and be ready to go again next year.
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