What a tragic missed opportunity.
The Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, which runs along East 47th Street between First and Second Avenues, is one of the most pleasant open spaces on Manhattan’s East Side and home to one of the city’s best greenmarket.
United Nations employees traverse the plaza throughout the day on the way to work or to a meeting. Protesters flock to it to voice their unhappiness with this or that UN or national policy. For neighborhood residents, it is a refuge to bring the kids to play, to read a book or to buy fresh fruit and vegetables when farmers sell their produce on Wednesdays.
One thing the plaza is not, sadly, is a fun place to grab lunch at an open-air cafe.
There is a cafe at the east end, called Eat&Go that boasts a presence in Istanbul as well as the Big Apple. It is set up with tables and chairs under attractive shade trees, with cool breezes and oversize umbrellas. For $6 you can buy a glass of wine or a cold draft beer, although it is served in a plastic cup.
You can also get a not-too-bad cup of coffee or an espresso. There’s even a limited selection of wine sold by the bottle, a public drinking fountain and a porta-potty in the rear.
But the food is a tragic disappointment.
Let’s look at the possibilities: Madison Square Park birthed the Shake Shack, where huge crowds wait in line all day for one of the best burger-and-fries plates in the city. Bryant Park is home to the Bryant Park Grill, where you can order a glass of Oregon pinot gris with your poached lobster.
Then there’s Eat&Go.
First of all, nothing is made on the premises. Everything is pre-made and pre-packaged elsewhere, including some boring sandwiches (tuna salad wrap, turkey and Swiss on a roll, a mummified burger) and a few salads, all encased in polystyrene. You’ll find a fruit cup, plastic-wrapped muffins and cookies that look just like the ones you can get in a corner deli. Even the lemonade is stirred from a mix.
The Turkish specialties? These items should intuitively be standouts. But they too come to Eat&Go already made and chilled to enhance shelf life. And they are really nothing special. Where are the colorful and delicious salads that Turkey is celebrated for, the rich cheeses, the freshly made breads and grilled meats and vegetables? Isn’t this the perfect spot to expect a daily special with salad and fries or a summery dish of ice cream with friends?
The cafe instead puts forward some Turkish pastries, a börek — typically a crispy phyllo-dough savory pastry filled with cheese, potato or spinach — and four different gözlemes, handmade doughy wraps traditionally stuffed with chicken, beef or cheese and cooked on a griddle.
The sweet pastries are good. But the chicken gözleme I ordered ($5.99) was a bit light on the filling and ice-cold in the middle despite being heated in a panini press. The phyllo in my börek (also $5.99) was soggy with grease, and its gummy interior hinted that its first encounter with an oven occurred long ago. Slapping it onto a sheet of foil coated with spray-on fat before zapping it in a toaster oven did not help.
My recommendation: Go to the cafe for a coffee, beer or wine after eating elsewhere. It’s an extraordinary treat to find a quiet, tree-shaded outdoor cafe in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. It’s heartbreaking to find one that falls so flat.
Eat&Go Istanbul/NewYork is open Monday through Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 8 or 8:30 p.m., depending on customer demand. It is located at 342 E. 47th Street, at the east end of Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, between First and Second Avenues; no phone.
Irwin Arieff is a veteran writer and editor with extensive experience writing about international diplomacy and food, cooking and restaurants. Before leaving daily journalism in 2007, he was a Reuters correspondent for 23 years, serving in senior posts in Washington, Paris and New York as well as at the United Nations (where he covered five of the 10 years that Sergey Lavrov spent in New York as Russia’s senior UN ambassador). Arieff also wrote restaurant reviews for The Washington Post and Washington City Paper in the 1980s and 1990s with his wife, Deborah Baldwin.