There’s nothing Jared Cohee, author of Calm of the Niger and creator of the blog Eating the World in New York City, won’t eat. And he’s as passionate about going behind the scenes of his meals as he is about exploring the Biggest Apple from his headquarters in Spanish Harlem.
Here’s Jared’s first adventure as Taxi Gourmet’s New York correspondent. Stay tuned for more of his dispatches from NYC…And if you’re interested in attempting your own taxi adventure, email me at [email protected].
Mohammed picked me up less than a block away from where he ended up taking me back to eat. I eventually learned he’d just come from grabbing a quick bite there.
As we headed uptown, and I could immediately tell this was going to be a prosperous encounter with a friendly cabbie, who on top of everything was even an excellent driver!
A resident of New York for 12 years and a cab driver for three, Mohammed seems to have it a bit easier than many of his South Asian colleagues, as he was able to bring his family here two years ago from Bangladesh.
He now lives in Jackson Heights with his wife and growing family. Their young daughter was just given two new brothers less than a month ago, as the family gained twin boys and many sleepless nights.
You so often hear of South Asian cab drivers sending all their earnings home, and spending extra on vacations to see their families each year. The story for Mohammed was similar for his first nine years in New York City, but his wife, a licensed gynecologist in Bangladesh, is here now and taking the steps to transfer her license for practice here. This process is a slow one, especially now with the extra two family members, but he speaks of his wife very proudly and knows she’ll be able to do it.
Before Mohammed trusted me to know about good food, the cabbie casually mentioned that he eats at Subway a lot when he’s on duty, but eventually admitted to loving Kebab Garden, a 24-hour Turkish restaurant on 1st Avenue in the East Village, and kept going back to it.
We were driving on a Sunday, a day which apparently is slow for the restaurant and therefore keeps the menu limited, but Mohammed loves getting a shish kebab platter when he can. Kebab Garden is a cabbie-friendly spot that swarms with drivers most times of the day and night. There’s usually a soccer match on the television.
My meal at Kebab Garden was limited in options by it being a Sunday, but was still delicious.
The steam table was a bit lackluster at this time, but a good deal at $6.99/lb when things are fresh. They have two, but only one was full at the time, so I decided to go for a doner kebab.
The lamb on the vertical spit in the window looked like it had been there for a while, but was somehow still calling out to me.
The sandwich is $6 and is an overstuffed pita with the meat, lettuce, tomatoes, white and hot sauces. This hot sauce is extremely pleasant, so ask for a lot of it, especially when the meat has been sitting around for a while. The sandwich is definitely enough for a full meal and then some.
They have a few outdoor seats, but it’s more fun to enjoy your meal at a table underneath a canopy of fake fall foliage that covers the ceiling. I wasn’t really sure whether I liked this design move, at once fun decoration, but also turning the place into a somewhat creepy cave at night.
Kebab Garden – Map it
128 1st Avenue (near St. Mark’s Place) – East Village
Recommended dish: Doner kebab
When not eating at Kebab Garden, Mohammed likes to stop at other cabbie favorites: Curry-in-a-Hurry and Mott Corner, depending on where he is at the time.
Curry-in-a-Hurry – Map it
119 Lexington Avenue (at E. 28th St.) – Murray Hill
Recommended dishes: Chicken jalfrezi, naan
Mott Corner – Map it
58 Kenmare Street
All this talk about Mohammed’s home country made me think of Khaabar Baari, a new Bangladeshi restaurant in Jackson Heights, where Mohammed lives, so we spoke about it for a while. Sure enough, the cabbie sings its praises, too, as do a lot of people in the neighborhood.
Khaabar Baari – Map it
37-22 73rd Street, Jackson Heights
Recommended dishes: Grilled king fish, aloo chop, and any pullao dish.