Recession be damned, my favorite meal will always be the $1 stick meat. Particularly Chinatown stick meat. Tucked near the armpit of the Manhattan Bridge, you'll find a man with a gas mask cranking out seven variations on the stick meat theme: lamb, beef, chicken, cuttlefish, tofu, hot dog, and fish ball. The vendor also roasts sweet potatoes and corn on the cob, depending on the season.
The spicy cumin dry rub used by the Manhattan Bridge Stick Meat Man is likely Uighur in origin but has been readily adopted by other Chinese cuisines. The vendor paints each marinated stick with a slick gob of fat, followed by a sweet, almost teriyaki-like sauce. Ask for the kebab spicy and the meat is dusted with a fresh mix of cayenne, cumin, and coriander powder. The kebab is then quickly grilled above a box of hot coals.
The Manhattan Bridge Chinatown Stick Meats are sometimes tender, sometimes tendony, but for a dollar, this inconsistency is easily pardoned. Favorites are the Lamb Kebab and Beef Kebab for their smoke and succulence. Chicken Kebab is a close runner-up, particularly for those who prefer a less rangy flavor.
And if you're one for whom texture edges out flavor, you're in luck. Cuttlefish Kebab sports a chewy snap. And Tofu Kebab ain't too shabby either. Made of pre-fried cubes of tofu skin, the skins are skewered together and given the crazy-spice treatment.
The Hot Dog Flower has already captured the collective imagination as a fun and frugal alternative (especially given price-hikes at Gray's Papaya). But the Fish Balls? Blah, bland, and without char. They're better a dare than a treat.
I watched two boys wriggle, jiggle, and dance as they waited impatiently for their stick meats. This could be the best $1 food in all of Manhattan, and if I lived any closer to this cart, these meats would kill me dead. True, you can find similarly skewered options in Flushing. But if you're in need of a quick fix and can't make it to Queens, the Manhattan Bridge $1 Stick Meat is a worthy alternative.
Manhattan Bridge $1 Stick Meat
Division Street, New York NY 10002 (nr. Forsyth Street; map)