It’s gotten so that there’s something almost quaint about the old McDonald’s around town, with their little Styrofoam cups of underroasted coffee and cheeseburgers with that flaccid pickle—so 1978.
European fast-food chains are gobbling Manhattan, bringing meals that are not only delicious but in many cases—big gulp here—nutritious.
“The motivator behind this pioneer shop was the idea that it was time Dutch people were introduced to a new and nutritious vegetarian dish,” reads the manifesto of Maoz, a vegetarian fast-food falafel chain that originated in Amsterdam.
On March 9, Maoz opened their first American store on Union Square East. Not that New Yorkers are unfamiliar with falafel, nor meal deals. It is what those combos include—the nutritious salad bar filled with toppings like couscous, cucumbers with dill, onion and tomato salad—and the idea that Europeans eat better than their fat American counterparts, that has the lunch-time line pouring out of that hole in the wall in Union Square. For chick peas!
Then there’s the F&B chain, a collaboration between a Brit and a German homesick for the street food they would procure while backpacking around Europe. There are two outlets, on East 52nd Street and West 23rd Street, serving what Zagat called the “most elegant fast food”: frites served with that longtime New York pariah, mayonnaise (thankfully, they have ketchup too), plus Swedish meatballs, wheat beer and plump bratwursts. And they cater!
A decade ago, Alan Coumont, a highly regarded chef from Brussels, quietly brought his chain, Le Pain Quotidien, to New York City. With organic bread made daily—M. Coumont claims to have discovered the recipe for the perfect loaf—Le Pain introduced the communal table, forcing New Yorkers to eat together, elbow to elbow, whether they like it or not. And it worked. The chain now has 13 shops throughout Manhattan, and women with diamond earrings the size of robins’ eggs can often be spotted sipping cafés au lait there alongside their big, European-made strollers.
Want some dessert? GROM, a gelato chain in Italy, just opened on Broadway at 76th Street on the Upper West Side.
Finally, with 11 locations in New York, Pret a Manger, a London-based (oh, the humiliation) sandwich shop, is fast gaining on Au Bon Pain, a chain selling only the faintest idea of French food that was started by our Yankee neighbors in Boston. Read the tea leaves, people.