Our latest Quick Bites brings us to the East Village for some excellent tortas hidden away on East 4th Street.
Miscelanea NY is, first and foremost, a tiny Mexican grocery store, stocked with high-end imports—the condiment and candy categories are heavily represented, with everything looking bright and festive on utilitarian wooden shelves. There are also a number of kitchen wares on hand (dish towels, trivets), as well as hand soaps and lotions and other sundries. For Mexican ex-pats, I imagine the nostalgia level's pretty high, but it's really more gift shop than a place to stock up your pantry.
Which is to say that, if you were walking by the slightly-subterranean Miscelanea, you probably wouldn't notice that there's a small kitchen in the back, serving up a short menu of to-go tortas and snacks, most everything (except the bread), made in house. And even if you miss out on the lunch-only window of torta opportunity, the affable, chatty owner Guillaume Guevara will happily ply you with his all-day coffee program and sweets from Dough and La Newyorkina.
Both of the avenues flanking this stretch of East 4th Street long ago succumbed to the forces of bro bars and sceney restaurants, but there's still a considerable old-school East Village presence on this block, with the New York Theatre Workshop and La Mama anchoring a number of small, independent food and retail spaces. An active sidewalk-hang culture survives among long-term residents.
There's a cozy bench area in front of the Miscelanea that accommodates two, maybe three if you're all friends, but if it's taken, or you're not bringing your lunch to-go, a couple of nearby squattable stoops provide additional seating. So far no locals have glued rocks to the sittable surfaces.
There are five sandwiches on the Miscelanea menu, including two vegetarian options. I ordered a couple of the meatier varieties on my visit last week. The star of the show was the Huevo con Chorizo, a full-on flavor bomb loaded with scrambled egg, chunks of the unapologetically spicy sausage, a generous slathering of refried black beans, and, just to up the torta's delightful messiness quotient, a hefty dose of crema. The soft/crusty roll holds up to well under the onslaught, and altogether this is a delicious, exceptionally well-balanced sandwich.
More ordinary, but still pretty good, was the Jamon and Queso Oaxaca torta; what the ham lacked in personality (especially as compared to the chorizo), the sandwich made up for with the soft cheese, beans, avocado chunks, lettuce, tomato, and more of that crema. Each torta comes with a bag of first-rate tortilla chips (made on premises), and a few fiery pickles (carrots, jalapeños), which were good with both sandwiches I ate, but came in particularly handy with the less explosive jamon. Next time I'm definitely getting the Carnitas one though.
By the way, although these tortas aren't the monsters you sometimes see in Mexican delis, one sandwich is more than sufficient to satisfy. That said, you should also try one of Miscelanea's two Antojitos (or hot snacks): either the Chilaquiles, which a young couple eating here for the third time in two weeks swore by; or, my choice, the outstanding Esquites de Mercado, which is basically elote in a cup: crisp, sweet corn kernels covered in mayo, salty queso fresco, chili powder and lime.
With tortas and hot snacks only served from noon to 4 p.m., the field of potential customers is narrowed considerably, and the impressively steady stream of people who stopped in during my lunch-time feast were there for the tortas and chilaquiles, not the bottles of Maguey Sweet Sap, nor the tubs Mayan Clay facial cleansing masks.
It'll be interesting to see if Guevera changes his strategy once the fall cultural season kicks in and theatre-goers on the block are looking for a quick, pre-curtain bite. I hope he does, because Miscelanea would slip nicely into my early-dinner East Village rotation... especially if he put a couple of small tables in that corner over there next to the fridge, instead of the Casa Posta lemon-rosemary marmalade?
Miscelanea is located at 63 East 4th Street between Bowery and Second Avenue, and is open on Tuesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (for coffee and groceries), with take-out hot food prepared from noon to 4 p.m. (212-253-0277; miscelaneany.com)