We received an email from a reader, Michael P., who asked us if we knew what happened to Tony Dragonas’ cart. Tony has been on the SW corner of 62nd St & Madison Ave. for many years, even before he was a finalist in the very first Vendy Awards back in 2005 (which was won by Hallo Berlin).
A few days ago, we had a chance to check out the scene, and to see if Tony was anywhere in the area. Standing on Tony’s usual corner where there were construction trailers, we saw a steady stream of smoke a little bit east across 62nd St. That had to be Tony, who we know has a charcoal grill on his cart.
Crossing Madison Ave, there was no doubt. Not only was there smoke, but there was also a long line of people queued up for lunch. The cart was down the block a little because a hot dog cart was on the corner, but that was Tony, with a line of 10-15 people.
Last time we had a chicken gyro, but also saw a roll of thick, fresh Italian sausage that looked good. This time, we went for that classic NYC street fair food, a sausage & peppers hero, which cost $6.
In the slow street food season of winter, I’ve been revisiting some of the better food carts around town. One of the best is Tony Dragonas’ cart on the SW corner of 62nd St & Madison Ave.
Tony was actually a Vendy Award Finalist in the very first competition back in 2005. Even in 30 degree weather with 3 people working at the cart, there was still a line of about 10 people, although I didn’t wait more than 5-10 minutes.
Most of the people on line seemed to get chicken over rice or a combo platter of chicken and rib-eye steak over rice. Another excellent dish is the steak and portobello hero I had there about a year and a half ago, which you can get with grilled chicken too.
In order to try something new, Today’s Lunch is a chicken gyro ($6).
I recently found out that Tony Dragonas’ brother has a cart on 64th & Madison, 2 blocks north of Tony’s cart. I wanted to try it out, but they were filming an episode of White Collar on that block and the cart didn’t seem to be around. (This was yesterday.)
So I ended up back at Tony’s cart on the SW corner of 62nd & Madison Ave, but wanted to try something new. Today’s Lunch is Tony’s Special ribeye steak and portobello mushroom hero, which I’ve never had before.
There aren’t a lot of options in that area apart from $25 lunches at fancy restaurants, which is one reason there is always a long line at Tony’s cart. The other reason is his food. Tony was a finalist for the very first Vendy Award back in 2005. Was his food still Vendy-level quality 5 years later? Find out after the jump.
Regular readers of NYSF know how much I like Carnegie John’s cart. A freshly-grilled chicken breast over rice with white sauce and hot sauce makes for a great meal.
Street food aficionados know that Carnegie John learned the business from Tony Dragonas before going out on his own 9 years ago, and that Tony was a finalist in the very first Vendy Awards back in 2005. Since the weather was starting to get better, it was time to check out Tony’s cart on the SW corner of Madison Ave and 62nd St, which is usually a bit out of the way for me.
The first time I go to a cart, I usually order their strongest dish – the one that made their reputation. That may be why I have chicken over rice on a regular basis. I’m still making my first pass through some of the best street food carts in New York, and that’s often their best dish. Therefore, Today’s Lunch was the chicken over rice platter, which cost $6.50 here.
Tony took the freshly-cooked chicken breast and sliced it up into strips on the grill. He heaped in 3 or 4 large spoonfuls of yellow rice, almost enough to feed a small African nation. He then put the chicken over rice and asked what I wanted on it. White sauce and hot sauce, naturally, with some extra of both. He then put some salad on the side and asked if I wanted dressing, which I accepted.
When I took off the lid, you could tell the chicken was grilled because it was nicely charred in spots, and the extra white and hot sauces made a cool pattern on my chicken. The taste was really good, too, although the chicken could have been done a little less. It wasn’t dried out, but I would have liked it a little less done. You can’t underestimate the grilling aspect, though. It was like the chicken came off the barbecue in someone’s backyard. Barbecues are about the only thing I miss living in the city. I love that slightly charred, grilled taste on chicken, sausages, burgers, shrimp, corn on the cob, and almost anything else grilled.
As far as the sides, the yellow rice was good (and plentiful) and the salad was a cut above the usual. There was lettuce, tomato, cucumber, arugula and an Italian-type dressing. Much better than a lot of carts, which just give you lettuce and some white sauce glopped on.
I guess the question people ask is which was better, Tony Dragonas’ or Carnegie John’s? In my opinion, John’s chicken didn’t have quite as much grilled flavor, but I liked the rub on his chicken better. I did like Tony’s sauces and salad a little better though. I will give Today’s Lunch a 9 out of 10. Next time, it’s sausage, which looked really good on the grill.