Looking for something good and cheap? Go east, young luncher! Really east. Far east. Past 4th Street even, to what are my current favorite cheap, fast, and good skyway spots. Especially: The Bamboo Shoot: Why is there no good cheap Vietnamese in the downtown Minneapolis skyways, no banh-mi sandwiches, no bun salads, no pho? Well, there is. It’s at The Bamboo Shoot (331 2nd Ave S., Mpls., 612-436-8880). [caption id="attachment_123" align="alignright" width="200" caption="The Bamboo Shoot"]
[/caption] According to the guy behind the counter, The Bamboo Shoot amended its menu about six months ago. It used to be only generic, cheap Chinese (that is still on offer in the steam table), but now they’ve got Vietnamese too. Most of it is $4.99, and is nicely home style, and quite good. I tried the pork and rice platter, which came with a generous pile of lacquered pork, lots of veggies and herbs, and a nicely sweet and sour little dish of nuoc cham sauce, which perked it all up quite happily. A little crisp, a little fresh and herbal, and a little sweet and porky—good stuff. I also tried the banh mi sandwich, which was essentially the same thing, in bread that was too bready, and I tried the bun salad, which was the same thing but on rice noodles—go for the rice or rice-noodle version. I liked the pho with its good broth and classic anise-scented meatballs, but I really loved the spicy Hué soup, blood red with chili, meaty with a big joint of skin-on pork, lightened with the requisite pile of fresh pac peow (Vietnamese mint), basil, and beansprouts. Gnaw on the pork, thrill to the spice, clear your palate with the herbs—if this doesn’t wipe your mind of problems with that one ruthless jerk in purchasing, nothing will. Except, perhaps, Indian? My other new far-east treat is India Express Fresh, in the squat and ugly Towle Building (skyway level, above the old Kieran’s; 330 2nd Ave. S., Mpls., 612-455-6183). Here’s the deal with India Express: They have a steam-table, you can get one entrée with rice and naan for $4.99, or two entrees with rice and naan for $5.99, and everything is pretty fantastic, unless you get there after one o’clock when everything starts to get dry. The best things I’ve had at India Express are truly excellent, a hacked bone-on chicken in a crunchy curry thick with mustard and coriander seeds, a seared cauliflower and tomato dish with gorgeous char and deep flavor, and beautifully crisp samosa with a lively potato and vegetable filling. I wouldn’t say that India Express vies with the best Indian in the Twin Cities, but it has a certain home-cooked, authentic humility that I find deeply satisfying. I mean, don’t go there in a food-snob mood hunting for real saffron in the rice, you’re going to get the same green cilantro chutney out of the jar that you see everywhere. It’s home cooking, Indian style, but good. I also thought I left my wallet at my desk the last time I went and they offered to let me pay next time—that’s a nice bit of downtown community for you. (Don’t worry, I found my wallet, it was buried at the bottom of an overstuffed purse.) [caption id="attachment_129" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Sammy's"]
[/caption] Finally, my last pick in the exotic far east of downtown’s skyways is so far east it’s—gasp!— on the far side of 3rd Street. No, you say. You can’t go that far! Soon you’ll be on the other side of Washington Avenue, and you’ll verily fall off the earth and into the Mississippi River! But no, I reply. You can go that far. To Sammy’s. Sammy’s has been there going on twenty years, but it’s so very, very far east, at 250 2nd Ave S., Mpls., on the Skyway level of an apartment building, that I never managed to get there before. (Like much of the downtown skyway lunch spots, it closes at 2 p.m.) Sammy’s has pizza, gyros, salads, and a hot special of the day, like baked chicken. I think it’s mainly of interest to New York City pizza connoisseurs, because they’ve got a slice that’s pretty close to great—a beautiful crisp crust, not too much sauce, not too much cheese, just a classic thin and crispy walk-and-eat slice. If you’re more substantially hungry, the spinach-stuffed pizza was pretty good (though the gyro-stuffed one was weird, it tasted only of sauce, and the meat was dense and strange.) I don’t know if I recommend Sammy’s for the general public, but it reminded me of every generic place half a block from a subway stop throughout Brooklyn, just red sauce and cheap and ageless, but good.