It's hard to feel like a "local" in New York City.
We're a city of immigrants, of neighborhoods in constant transition. Even our most famous foods — pizza and bagels — are regularly reinvented.
Yet it's food that ties so many New Yorkers to their neighborhoods — that makes a place constantly in flux feel like it has some stability. It's what gives your neighborhood character and makes you feel like a "local." Having heard of or eaten at a spot is the social indicator that you're part of the community.
At the same time, New Yorkers revel in knowing about a particular spot before anyone else — especially tourists. I fall into this category, which is why I was so delighted to find the secret best breakfast sandwich in Manhattan.
Not only is it tremendously delicious, there's almost never a line. And here's the kicker: It's located smack in the middle of one of Manhattan's most touristy areas. Here's the deal.
If you're visiting New York City, it's likely you'll spend the majority of your time in Manhattan. And if you're in Manhattan, it's likely you'll visit the Flatiron Building.
Between Madison Square Park and the Flatiron Building, the Flatiron District is a major tourist destination in Manhattan. Rightly so, as it's a gorgeous neighborhood. It's at the intersection of Broadway, 23rd Street, and Fifth Avenue — you can look in any direction and stare down a tremendous stretch of Manhattan.
I admit I'm biased toward it, however, as Business Insider's headquarters is a few blocks south of the Flatiron Building. But with all the neighborhood's good comes the bad. Because of the high volume of tourists, there's a ton of rip-off tourist food that tastes bad and costs a lot of money. And if you're a tourist, how are you to tell the bad from the good?
Unbelievably, there's a bastion of great food in the middle of all this — and that bastion is a tourist destination unto itself. It's called Eataly.
Eataly is the brainchild of the Italian entrepreneur Oscar Farinetti; the one in the Flatiron is notorious for its association with Mario Batali, the famed chef and restaurateur.
It's essentially a massive Italian supermarket/food hall, with a full grocery selection alongside various food stands and full restaurants. You can buy some tomatoes and eat some handmade pasta with a glass of Italian wine. It's a pretty amazing place.
Between its location and the kind of store it is — an upscale food hall featuring imported Italian foods — you're right to guess it's also an expensive place.
But I've discovered an amazing exception to this logic. Eataly's breakfast-sandwich counter is full of incredible sandwiches at (mostly) reasonable prices. Best of all, it's seemingly never busy.
Every morning, from 8 to 11, Eataly's sandwich counter is dedicated to breakfast sandwiches. Here's the full menu:
Paying $6.80 is a lot for a breakfast sandwich, even in NYC. On the low end, $4.80 is a lot more standard. You'd most likely pay between $3.50 and $5 for a standard bacon/egg/cheese sandwich.
The difference in quality, however, is ridiculous.
Look at this incredible breakfast sandwich.
The standard kaiser-roll breakfast sandwich in New York City is a classic, and I don't want to infer that these fancy sandwiches are in any way a replacement. Both have their place.
But if you're in the Flatiron District, you're just as likely to spend $7 at a corner deli for a breakfast sandwich. It's also likely you'd run into a huge line as people scramble to get breakfast on their way to work.
Instead, you can opt to grab an Eataly breakfast sandwich and enjoy it at your leisure in Madison Square Park.
There are six sandwiches on the menu, and each is essentially a riff on a classic breakfast sandwich.
• The Trento, above, is basically a ham, egg, and cheese sandwich.
• The Aosta is an egg and cheese with tomato.
• The Roma is a bacon, egg, and cheese.
• The New York PLT is a BLT, with pancetta standing in for bacon, arugula for iceberg lettuce, and tomato for ... tomato.
Every sandwich, like this New York PLT, is served on a freshly baked ciabatta roll — a major step up from the traditional kaiser roll at delis.
Not all of Eataly's breakfast sandwiches are created equal. The New York PLT, for instance, is a bit of a pancetta overload in my opinion. It's well-known that the actual star of the BLT is the tomato, not the bacon. In this respect, the PLT could use, say, heirloom tomatoes to make it stand out.
That said, I'm nitpicking here — I'd happily eat the PLT again, for breakfast or lunch (or anytime you want to give me one). And at $5.80, it's a steal compared with even the average NYC corner deli, especially those in the more touristy parts of Manhattan.
Hungry for a breakfast sandwich yet? Here's how you find Eataly's shockingly accessible breakfast stand.
Don't be intimidated by the crowd of people at the entrance. You're walking past them.
Head past the coffee area toward a seemingly empty hallway, into the belly of Eataly.
Keep an eye on your left side for the I Panini di Eataly stand. It's not too far in the store, and it'll likely be the only staffed area you'll see without a big line.
In my quest to eat through the entire breakfast menu at Eataly, I've been visiting the store in the morning between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. or so. It's possible the breakfast counter gets outrageously busy at 10:15 a.m., but based on my experience — and that of my colleagues, who are now on their own breakfast quests — that doesn't seem to be the case.
BONUS: If you're OK with a bit of a wait, the coffee area at the front of Eataly has a killer selection of pastries that are made that morning on-site. And the prices are pretty decent.