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From the Driver’s Seat: Rushed Grandmas and Dogmatic Sausage

I never suspected that the two little old Italian ladies I picked up on the Upper West Side last week were capable of raising my blood pressure more than a banker heading to Wall Street.

Despite the fact that they could barely lift their arms to flag me down – I only stopped when I saw the imploring looks in their eyes – the nonne wanted to go to Madison Ave. and 60th “the fastest way possible.”

I watched them stoop and slide into my back seat and wondered how could they could possibly be in a hurry when they could scarcely move. Wouldn’t your pace automatically slacken if your body forced you to slow down?

Apparently not. I did my best to time the green lights along Central Park West, but once we were on the 79th St. transverse, I heard their conversation shift from their grandkids to the idiocy of my driving.

They were speaking Italian. They didn’t know I understood their complaints: Why had I chosen 79th St.? Why I couldn’t go faster? Why had they gotten in a cab with a woman at the wheel?

Then they started counting the streets as we drove past: “Settantacinque…settantaquattro…settantatre…

I was trying to find some Italian to calm them down when they asked me – in English – where we were. I couldn’t resist: “La sessantasette,” I said.

Parla italiano!” They looked at one another, embarrassed, paling when they realized that I’d absorbed their insults, “You speak Italian?”

Un poquino,” I said. They were mortified. A few blocks later, they asked me to drop them off.

Rabid commuters honked while I waited for them to coax their tired joints out of my cab. Once they were on the sidewalk, I sped away. They looked like two sweet little old ladies – but they were as stressed out as the next New Yorker.

Over and over again – every shift it seems like – I’m reminded how misguided my snap judgments can be. If nothing else, driving a cab teaches you to let people show you who they are instead of making assumptions based on their surfaces.

I know that the idea of not judging a book by its cover isn’t new, but we do it all the time. From the minute you start hacking in New York, I think you realize what a foolish practice this is.

After the nonne, I’d had my fill of fares in a hurry for one day. I turned on my off-duty light and sifted through the restaurant recommendations passengers had given me during the shift.

I must have been wearing my hunger on my sleeve that day, because I got three food suggestions from three separate fares: steamed mussels and herb French fries at Elysian Cafe in Hoboken, Cobb salad at Malibu Diner in Chelsea and lamb sausage with yogurt sauce from Dogmatic in Union Square.

When I remembered how my lady passenger had raved about the lamb sausage, I beelined it to Dogmatic, chewed out the driver of the Mercedes that was parked at the taxi stand on E. 17th St., marched in and ordered the meal deal: one sausage, one side and one house-made ginger soda for $10.89.

Ginger soda, lamb sausage on a baguette and truffled macaroni & cheese from Dogmatic.
Ginger soda, lamb sausage on a baguette and truffled mac & cheese from Dogmatic.

I’m a huge fan of no-hormone, no-nitrate, no-antibiotic sausage – which is all that Dogmatic sells – but when their lamb sausage collided with memories of Adana kebab from Uskudar and merguez from Kabab Cafe, I was disappointed.

The texture was mealy, and I couldn’t taste much beyond red pepper. The dense baguette they serve it in was good, although the bread was so hot it soaked up most of the mint yogurt sauce.

Still, I’d like to try their other sausages – beef, pork, chicken and turkey – and see how they combine with the other toppings (cheddar jalapeño, horseradish mustard, truffle gruyere, chimichurri, and sun-dried tomato feta).

I was a lot happier with the truffle gruyere macaroni and cheese I’d ordered as a side. Even if they’d overcooked the pasta shells, nothing could ruin the gloriously stinky perfume of black truffle that had soaked into every noodle. For $3, this was a near-perfect mini pie tin of decadence that I’d definitely go back for.

I tried two flavors of Dogmatic’s soda, but both ginger and lemon-lime were too sweet for me. I was hoping for more purity of flavor from a drink made in house. If you’re going to make a trip here, don’t go out of your way to order these beverages unless you’re heavily into sugar.

I made sure to save the truffled mac & cheese for my last bite, which reminded me of Italy, which made me think of the impatient nonne, which made me wonder why the ladies were in such a hurry.

I’ll never know what was at Madison Ave. and 60th, but every time I pass that intersection, I’ll probably flash back to those grandmas – and I’ll remember to give my passengers a chance to surprise me.

Dogmatic Gourmet Sausage System‎
26 East 17th Street between Union Square West & 5th Ave.
(212) 414-0600‎
Sausages: $4.50; Sides: $3; Sodas: $2.50
Credit cards accepted
Open: M-F, 11am-8pm
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  1. Layne-
    Another great story! I love that you caught the grandmas out. I’ve always believed a few small phrases in any language come in handy from time to time. Sometimes one or two words is all you need to convince them you know much more. =) Sadly, my family and I were in NYC two weeks ago and I didn’t organise a ride in your yellow cab! I would love to have gone on an adventure with you, but our visit was short and filled with friends and family. I do want to share my favourite NYC restaurant with you though–Rincon Criollo, 4009 Junction Blvd, Corona (Queens). Best Cuban food you’ll have. We had lunch there and it was, in a word, divine. Have been there many times on past visits and it never disappoints. Next time a fare takes you into Queens, stop in there for some ropa vieja and sweet plantains! Delicious!

  2. Suzi, I’m sorry I missed you but I totally understand. I hope you had a wonderful time in NYC. Thank you so much for the tip on Rincon Criollo – I’m adding it to my list of places to try! I *love* ropa vieja…

  3. Stories like this make reading your blog so enjoyable. I live 20 mins from Hoboken….it is very overrated. The one time I stopped at the Elysian Cafe…they were closing…so that sucked. If you do get here…try Benny Tudinos…they serve a huge slice and it is pretty good.