Cheap *ss Lunch #10: Halal, in a Burger. Why Not?
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There isn't much need to go into great detail on the importance of Halal food to the Stuyvesant diet. As the archives of this column would suggest, it is perhaps the most popular and widely-loved meal option for those with little money or time on the streets of New York. Simplicity is its defining feature, the portions perfectly calibrated to satisfy the strongest hunger. Even a dish that is so seemingly simple and perfected can sometimes revolutionize the eating experience with a little bit of culinary innovation.
Now, would slapping the entire Halal mixture onto a fully decked-out burger have that effect? Soup & Gyro certainly thinks so. Peeking out from under a bright yellow awning surrounded by plenty of convenient tables and chairs, perfect for eating out in the age of social distancing, lies a deceptively small storefront with an interior stretching far back from the bustling street. Walking inside, patrons are met with the full gamut of the Turkish restaurant: stacks of honey-based sweets in tin foil containers, a cooler stocked with yogurt drinks and fruit juices, and a kitchen flanked by trays of sliced meats, chopped vegetables, and a cornucopia of sauces, all centered around the pièce de résistance: thick, glistening towers of rotating kebab.
The innovative lunch special consists of the entire innards of the standard street cart Gyro, transplanted onto a burger bun. This deal comes in at $7.60 for a choice of chicken, lamb and beef, or a Turkish meatball on a bun, and a Deluxe costs $11.95 for the addition of a pile of fluffy French fries and a bottled beverage. The chicken is by far the best option: a sublime layering of crisp, fatty meat with a sweet sauce on top of it, its smokiness and not unpleasant greasiness comes the closest to bacon any poultry can get, with the same rewarding tactility between the teeth minus the gamey fat or tough charred bits.
The beef and lamb mixture is similar, with a stronger bite (though not quite as much explosivity in its deliciousness). The two components come together in a complementary mixture, melding the stringy chewiness of beef with the fatty funk of lamb into what could almost be considered a new meat. The Turkish meatball, perhaps a type of Kibbeh, is the closest to a traditional hamburger experience, with multiple side-by-side smaller patties of seared beef packed with spices and bits of vegetable, halfway between an Italian sausage and a regular burger.
For those who want a vegetarian option, your best bet is to head next door to NishNush for a much more masterfully prepared falafel. Soup & Gyro's attempt isn't terrible, with plump, tangy patties with undertones recalling tartar sauce enrobed in a creamy, umami hummus, but these chickpea fritters’ mediocre texture and crumbliness leave little lasting impression upon the palate and one's hunger. However, all the excess hummus renders a winning combination when paired with the otherwise bland-tasting fries in the Deluxe.
Along with the sturdy starch of those fries, the salad on each burger provides a counterpoint to the meat, buns, and sauce. Cool chunks of firm tomatoes, shredded cabbage, and lettuce impart a crunch to the soft sandwiches, though their flavors get lost in their more riotous surroundings. Every burger option comes on a lightly grilled golden brioche bun, which is forgiving almost to the point of insubstantiality but avoids the disintegration of poorer quality wrappers. The sauce—a simple blend of ketchup and mayo—is tasty enough, but its sweetness and fattiness threaten to overshadow the sometimes-lacking quantities of protein.
Rounding out the Deluxe is a small, watery sweet––a melt-in-your-mouth morsel of a honeyed pastry which, while a nice touch, doesn't add much to the meal. Plenty of condiments are offered if you aren't afraid to ask, including a silky and cool garlic-and-dill-tzatziki, generic brand ketchup packets, and a peppery vinegar-based hot sauce (read: probably Tabasco).
All those options come in a convenient paper bag and tin foil container, which is very handy for holding the scattered remains of the meal for frantic scooping while rushing back during the five minute or longer walk back to the building before the bell. The burger selection rounds out their "affordable" menu, with any potential further ventures stopping dead at the double digit prices of the platters. Though their prices are a good two to three dollars more expensive than other comparable dishes, Soup & Gyro offers better ingredients, a safer digestive experience, and more expansive amenities than its cart-based Halal counterparts. Some may not think the farther trek for such a novel difference is worth it, but on the whole the restaurant, with its straightforward and effective fare, is well worth a visit.