Monday, April 28, 2014

Take the next exit for Starbucks in the slow lane

Compare the Protein Bistro Box at Starbucks Coffee in Ramsey, above, to the Hummus & Pita Veggie Tray at the Starbucks Coffee franchise in the Clara Barton Service Area on the New Jersey Turnpike, below.


The coffee at Starbucks company and franchise stores may taste the same, but there are other differences that might not be readily apparent.

Starbucks Coffee stands in service areas on the New Jersey Turnpike don't serve the same food as the Starbucks in towns like Ramsey, Englewood and Hackensack.

At the Clara Barton Service Area, the last in the southbound lanes of the turnpike, I bought a Hummus & Pita Veggie Tray a week ago Sunday.

The grainy hummus didn't taste as if it contained any tahini, lemon juice or garlic, and on a second visit five days later, I tried to read the ingredients through the tray cover.

All I could make out was the word "sugar." 

Also, the cut ends of the broccoli florets had turned brown.

What I really wanted that day on the turnpike was a Protein Bistro Box with a great piece of cheese, fruit, a hard-boiled egg and other items, but it isn't available at franchises.

A takeout order of Chinese Fried Buns with Chives & Eggs, above and below, from Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen, a hole in the wall on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan that was written up last week in The New York Times' Hungry City column.

Fighting crowds for a bite

I had a few hours to kill in Manhattan on Sunday night, but had a hard time finding a parking space, this on the one day of the week meters are free.

I parked around the corner from Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen, which The New York Times reports serves bowls of  soup filled with hand-pulled noodles or la mien, which traveled from China to Japan and became ramen.

I groaned when I saw a line at the door of the small restaurant (811 Eighth Ave., near 49th Street) so went in and ordered takeout -- two fried buns filled with chives and eggs for $3.50 plus tax.

They were piping hot when I got them back to the car, beautifully fried with hardly a trace of oil and filled with more chives than egg. Delicious.

And because I wasn't sure my space was legal, I moved on.

Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen, above, was so crowded a server asked me to wait outside with my receipt for takeout. And a sign on the door said "cash only."

Mouthwash, skin lotion and more in Kung Fu Ramen's bathroom.

Starbucks and Chipotle

I found another parking space on West 57th Street, and walked to a Starbucks Coffee.

I asked for my Grande Veranda Blend in a 16-ounce ceramic cup ($2.20), and that got me a discount of 10 cents.

Asking for your coffee in a real cup at Starbucks earns a discount.
The line at Chipotle Mexican Grill, which serves meat and poultry without antibiotics or growth hormones.

Veggie Bowl

I was still hungry, and after leaving Starbucks Coffee, I came across a Chipotle Mexican Grill a few blocks away.

I got on a long line for counter service, and ordered a Veggie Bowl with pinto beans, guacamole, spicy salsa and brown rice ($8.50, including tax).

The employees worked frantically to keep up with the crowd.

Unfortunately, I had to walk past an uncleared table, hardly the most appetizing thing you want to see when you're hungry.

"Chipotle supports family farms," according to a sign on the wall.

An uncleared table I passed on the way to the counter to order a Veggie Bowl, below. 

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