Ok, all you swells and foodies out there. Given the choice, would you rather eat the food served at a soup kitchen – or a county jail? As you might guess, I could be classified as a leading authority among people who read this blog. And the answers might surprise you. First, not all soup kitchen food is born equal – American soup kitchen notwithstanding. Some is much better than others.
At the bottom of the barrel lies the Catholic Worker. For a few reasons. Like the place is unsanitary. Nobody wears gloves, aprons or hair nets. And while the soup served there is chock full of nutritious veggies, it also contains a significant amount of dirt owing to either improper rinsing of those vegetables or a poorly-cleaned soup pot. And mostly, the soup tastes shitty because the cooks suck. On the other hand, the coffee is passable. Still, I’d give the CW a C- overall.
St. Bartholomew’s on the other hand, often had some excellent food. Yeah, the soup from the Coalition For the Homeless wasn’t all that palatable. But donations from the Waldorf and Midtown caterers were often stellar quality-wise. And in that mix could be anything! Beef Wellington, lasagna, roast beef? You never knew. When I volunteered at St. Bart’s I ate great. Grade B+.
Senior centers aren’t really soup kitchens per se. But given that they do offer meals for a buck or two, I’ll include them. University Settlement (with two locations) serves overcooked and tasteless food. As does the senior center at Avenue C and Delancey. Grade D+.
Henry Street however, often provides its guests really good meals – owing to the diligence of their cooks, one of whom confessed to me that when he got the job, he couldn’t believe the slop they were serving. Even if the ingredients aren’t that excellent, a dedicated chef can work magic. And the guy at Henry Street does just that. I can have a full fridge and still ride down to Madison Street if I see something on the menu I fancy. I like the the cook and the staff that much. Grade B+.
The Meatloaf Kitchen also serves a decent meal. While the side vegetables come out of a can and are mushy, the meatloaf is made with Grade A beef (from a boutique butcher who sells at cost). And the salad is fresh and the breads generally quality though occasionally a bit stale. An added plus is the wait person service given to the guests. Meatloaf gets a B+ by me.
Trinity Church (where I volunteer at least 4 days a week) is sadly, a crappy place to eat. Mostly, it’s clean and well-run. But the food sucks. Chicken soup made from Campbell’s out of the can with canned veggies added just doesn’t make it for me. Ditto for rice and beans. I’ll only eat the barbecued chicken and rice. And really, even that dish is kind of nasty. Lots of stray bones and all dark meat detract from the overall appeal. Some of the pantry food can be quite good. But the 11 AM meal gets a D+. If I take a pass on it, you know the food is lacking. I’m not that difficult to please.
And finally…to jail food. I have limited experience in this venue. Just one week in the Tombs will have to suffice. I was out in the back yard with Hal, the only guy at Trinity who knows the details of my legal life, when I observed “Ya know, the Tombs has much better food than this joint. I can barely eat this slop!” And it’s the truth. The food in Manhattan Detention Center wasn’t all that bad. I had some beef teryaki during my “vacation” that totally rocked! Some of the other meals weren’t all that tasty. But on balance, I could eat Tombs food indefinitely and not be all that phased.
So there you have it: A connoisseur’s take on institutional food. Betcha didn’t see that one coming!