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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Á Châu Deli

Have you heard the new Beyoncé? She named it B'Day! Because her names starts with a B!! And it's her day!!! Also, the album was released THE DAY BEFORE HER 25th BIRTHDAY!!!!

Now that I've totally blown your mind, you might be wondering why I bring all this up. Simple: a) her new single gets me in the mood to pork; and b) it was playing as I walked into a little Chinatown storefront that specialized in... wait for it... pork.

The place? Á Châu Deli. The product? Nothing less than the most highly touted new Banh Mi in NYC.

Á Châu opened about 4 months back to almost instantaneous praise. Eager banh mi enthusiasts were soon emailing The Porkchop Express, urging us to head to Chinatown to try this latest addition to the Vietnamese sandwich scene. So we did.
The most common thread linking all the emails? Á Châu's bread: readers really like these loaves. Delivered daily, they reasonably distinctive. Think what you find at Hanco's or Nicky's, but a bit more: more golden sheen, more crusty crust, a more chewy interior. It's relatively substantial: not “Sullivan street” Tuscan, but definitely not “creampuff light.” This generally serves the sandwich well, especially in some of the juicier combos.
Baby got back: the #2 Meatball sandwich

Take, for instance, the #2-Bánh Mì Xíu Mi a/k/a “Vietnamese Meatball with red sauce.” I have a real soft spot for meatballs, and by “soft spot for” I mean “utter lack of willpower to resist delicious.” Ideal meatballs are lightly-handled rounds with a moist, almost crumbly texture, seasoned to compliment (rather than mask) their meatiness. When done right, this is the stuff of sonnet, a gracious companion to any meal. But overhandling or mis-spicing renders little more than heavy lumps of heartburn-inducing rubber.

Á Châu's meatballs certainly aren't bad, but nor will they make me “pull a Longfellow.” They're tasty, with nice texture... but a bit dull. (*Yawn*) In addition to the standard Banh Mi accoutrements, Á Châu slathers one side of the loaf with a mysterious “red sauce” which, from what I gathered, was thin, pleasantly oily, and tomato-based.

For all intents and purposes, this combo yields something like an Italian Meatball Hoagie Light (with cilantro). For this reason, I recommend it to the meatball-loving lactose intolerant crowd which, according to my studies, now numbers in the double-digits.
#3 Shredded Pork on stoop (in lieu of traditional “table” or “counter”): note the side of dipping sauce.

Next up to bat? Yours truly, this time taking aim at the #3 Bánh Mì Bì a/k/a “Shredded Pork Sandwich (Fish sauce optional).” The phrase “Shredded pork” is usually a cause for celebration: tender and meaty, this fine filling-choice turns the heads of discriminating sandwich eaters everywhere from the Carolinas to Québec.

To be honest, the taste was fine: more subtle than I had expected, and far less chewy. Perfect, I would guess, for the Banh Mi eater with dentures who likes things mild style. The side of dipping sauce was pretty exciting tho. It instantly transported me to the first time I ate a Chicken McNugget, and the thrill that to this day accompanies the use of dipping sauces. (Yes good reader, some things never get old.)

I was curious about both pork preparations, so I struck up a conversation with the folks behind the counter. To hilariously unproductive results, I might add. You know how teenagers have that reputation? Surly and too-cool-for-school? I never thought it was true, but I might have to reconsider. The two kids working had connections (their godparents are the owners), but were pretty tight-lipped.

I only pried loose a few facts: the owners hail from Vietnam; they got their permit in May, and opened shop in either May or June; and Á Châu may (or may not) mean “Asia.” As for questions about the meatballs, shredded pork, bread bakers, and most popular sandwich? Met with what I've often seen described as “stony silence.” To wit:
PE: how many sandwiches do you sell daily?
“No idea.”
PE: a couple hundred?
PE: More or less, would you say?
[shrug, silence.]
Smelled like teen spirit. But it also kinda added to the charm. This is a strictly business, takeout-only place; who has time to chat, present company excluded? Plus, they were too busy fielding orders and making Banh Mi. And most important, their prep skills were on point: these sandwiches are well-balanced; made spicy when asked; neither cold nor clammy; etc. So I went back one last time for the hat trick, and the #6 Bánh Mì Ðặc Biệt.
#6 Classic: Funk in the trunk

The #6 is Á Châu's riff on “the Classic,” replete with Vietnamese Ham, Steamed Pork, BBQ Pork, and Paté. By my count, that's four types of pork... which instantly made the #6 a contender for #1. And really, this was the best of the bunch. The chiar-siu flavored BBQ revealed solid roasting technique (moist chunks mixed with crisp chewy ends). The meat was a little fatty, but the flavor was good, and it wasn't overwhelmed by the other porks. Vietnamese Ham, thick cut and barely (if at all) smoked, was used in thoughtful moderation. And the veggies kept things poppin' fresh. Our only advice? Unless you love fatty boiled bacon consider removing the peppery, globular slices of “Steamed Pork.”
Another satisfied customer!

So there you have it, friend. A hotspot that kind of lives up to its rep. A small storefront south of Canal near the park, with big flavor and a lot of heart. A delicious deal at 3 bucks per meal. All this and Beyoncé to boot? Ta-dow, how you like them now!

Pretty good, Á Châu. Pretty darn good.

Á Châu Deli
82A Mulberry Street
Chinatown, New York, NY (212) 766-3332
Banh Mi: $3.00
Tasty Fresh Lemonade: $1.50

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Blogger annulla said...

But, but ... I thought Beyonce's new album was named bidet.

11:16 PM  
Blogger J. Slab said...

i think that's the "clean" version...

2:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great Review, they also serve some greatr Southern Vietnamese noodle soup BUM MAM and BUN RIEU (weekend only) Here's some info I found:


12:03 PM  
Blogger J. Slab said...

tks anon, great site & tip.... will have to head there on a weekend next time....

10:58 AM  
Anonymous Gastronomer said...

hey! you're funny. there's a sweet banh mi joint in San Diego by the same name: http://gastronomyblog.com/2007/01/02/a-chau/ and yes, i do believe a chau means Asia.

9:02 PM  
Blogger Richard Routt said...

This place looks great. Will check it out when I am in town. I hope eating this Vietnamese foods will not give me heartburn LOL.

9:58 PM  

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