When is a sandwich more than just a sandwich? When it achieves the Platonic ideal of sandwichness, the goal at Eli Zabar's E.A.T., located on the Upper East Side. Around since 1973, E.A.T. has doubled its restaurant size and grown as a catering business as well. In this time, it has become a mainstay for everyone from "ladies who lunch" to UES weekend brunchers. Gothamist had been hearing great things about this place for a while now and decided to pay a visit, finally, while venturing to the UES to see some art. Sunday brunch at E.A.T. would make for a nice little reward after wending our way through a crowded museum.
What we weren't counting on was how crowded E.A.T. would be as well. Turns out the line you wait on to get a table runs past the long, delectable deli counter that holds takeout/catering treats. Kind of torturous if you're hungry, as it seemed to make time slow to a crawl. We did our best to strike up good conversation to distract us from the beautiful sweet and savory foods just within arm's length yet not quite available to us.
Before we knew it, the seemingly endless line had moved enough that it was our turn to sit--it seems that E.A.T. turns tables quickly, much like at a diner. Now, we had been warned about the higher-than-to-be-expected prices for seemingly simple items such as chicken salad sandwich, potato pancakes, omelettes, etc. But we were still surprised to see that sandwiches ranged from $12.50-$16, soups were $8 each, hot chocolate with marshmallow, $5. Especially because the setting and service style were very much in the diner-style cafe category. The Platonic ideal does not come cheap, apparently.
But Gothamist must say that we've never tasted a better chicken salad sandwich of the classic American variety. And the whitefish sandwich on seven-grain bread made us instant converts to whitefish, a type of smoked fish that we had never tried before.
The (rather large) sandwiches are assembled from high-quality ingredients, both the fillings and the breads themselves, which are all baked on premises. Even the side dishes (potato salad, cucumber and dill) were just the right touch--obviously not an afterthought, but instead a carefully planned accompaniment.
Oh, and that $5 hot chocolate with marshmallow? It comes with a made-from-scratch marshmallow that is also made on the premises and puts store-bought marshmallows to shame. The hot chocolate itself is the classic American-style hot cocoa that you were lucky if your mother ever made for you, including a frothy melted-marshmallow foam on top.
The service, while swift and somewhat perfunctory, was nonetheless thorough and professional. However, the literal chill in the air seemed intentional, in order to encourage patrons to leave sooner rather than later. But Gothamist didn't mind: we were ready to get outside for a brisk walk after eating all that food, anyway.
E.A.T. and its prices are certainly not for everyone, but for those who usually eat on the cheap, it can be a nice change of pace, where a couple of extra dollars gets you a quintessentially New York dining experience. (Or maybe it'll make you realize you could make this stuff at home--the trouble is, will you?)
E.A.T., 1064 Madison Ave. (between 80th and 81st Sts.). Phone: (212) 772-0022. Hours: 7 AM to 10 PM, seven days a week.