Dag Hammarskjold never had it so good — the plaza, that is, and not the late great United Nations secretary-general.
After years of putting up with mediocre cafes in one of the city’s most pleasant outdoor spots, a tree-shaded stretch of 47th Street between First and Second Avenues, members of the UN community and other denizens of Midtown East now have a festive place to grab a quick meal. Dag’s Patio Cafe, which opened just in time to catch the second half of the summer season, is dishing out boardwalk fare throughout the day.
The plaza is a lovely traffic-free space that every Wednesday is host to one of the city’s better Greenmarkets. UN employees traipse through, protesters air their UN causes and grievances, and locals hang out, too, snatching bench space to read, watch their kids or enjoy the shade.
Oddly, for years the neighborhood group known as Friends of the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, which helps the city manage the space, has been unable to lure a first-class cafe, despite the presence of a glass-walled small kitchen and carryout space at the plaza’s east end. The last attempt, Eat&Go, reviewed here in PassBlue in July 2012, had the right tables and chairs, the requisite oversize umbrellas and even a decent assortment of wine, beer and coffee drinks. But the food, said to be Turkish, was sadly disappointing — premade off-site and packaged in unappetizing plastic bags and boxes.
Enter Dag’s Patio Cafe, a modest establishment run by the New York-based Hospitality Holdings, which also operates the World Bar, located in the lobby of the Trump residential tower across 47th Street, and the Campbell Apartment bar in Grand Central Station.
The Patio Cafe is clearly modeled after the extraordinarily successful Shake Shack, which opened in Madison Square Park in 2001. Like the Shake Shack, the menu stars burgers, hot dogs, fries and shakes. Unlike the Shake Shack, there are no lines — at least not yet. Given the pleasant setting and the quality of the fare, it’s not unreasonable to expect that the Patio Cafe will be far more successful than its predecessors, so make a point to get there soon, while the weather is still nice and the crowds thin.
The hot dogs and burgers come from the New York celebrity butcher Pat LaFrieda, and they are first-rate. The Dag Burger ($6.50 with lettuce, tomato, a healthy slice of red onion, a few dill pickle slices and a “special sauce,” which looks to me like a mix of ketchup, yellow mustard and mayo) arrived juicy and flavorful. This happened despite the house policy of cooking all burgers to medium-well done.
For a slice of cheese on your burger, add 50 cents; to top it with crisp bacon and melt-in-your-mouth caramelized onions, add a dollar more; for a second meat patty, add another $2. Note to management: Dijon-style mustard would be welcome.
I’m not a big hot dog fan, but I make an exception for the Dag Dog ($5.50), a work of art. It is good sized, well spiced and smothered in caramelized onions and cheese, then crowned with crisp bacon, pickle slices and more of that special sauce. The fries are also exceptional: unpeeled and rough-cut, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, with a strong potato flavor. The menu also lists variations on both the burger and the hot dog, including a Veggie Dog and a Veggie Burger, which I couldn’t sample because the kitchen had run out.
The restaurant opens daily at 7 a.m., with breakfast sandwiches like bacon-egg-and-cheese, bagels and coffee. It stays open until 10 p.m., so you can drop by for an after-work drink if not a meal, though not until the liquor license comes through. While breakfast sandwiches are made to order, pastries (muffins, cake and such) are mostly prepackaged, and the espresso and coffee drinks are unexceptional.
A few salads and vegetarian sandwiches fill out the menu but these too are prepackaged. Second note to management: It’s sad to sell a pre-made baguette-based sandwich in a polystyrene box, as this arrangement ensures the bread will be soggy and dull. As as an alternative, noshers might try the grilled and roasted vegetable platter with hummus and olives ($9). And don’t forget the soft-serve ice cream (strawberry, vanilla and chocolate), which you can order as a shake, cone or cup ($3.50 to $5.50).
There is no indoor seating at the Patio Cafe and no patio umbrellas in sight, so you might want to choose another day if it’s raining. If you want to come by bike, happily, there’s a bike-share dock near the door.
Dag’s Patio Cafe is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. It is located at 342 E. 47th Street, at the east end of the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, between First and Second Avenues. There is no phone.
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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.