Jury duty: the lunch issue

On my third day of grand jury duty at 80 Centre Street in lower Manhattan, one of my fellow jurors sighed loudly when the warden called for a lunch break.

“It’s been lunch hell down here,” he complained. “Nothing but McDonald’s and Wendy’s every single day.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Lunch hell? A few years ago, I worked in this area, and I can safely say that you can walk 1-2 blocks north, south, east, west, southwest, through the earth itself, whatever and discover something wonderful to eat. Has this guy been walking blindfolded?

Jury duty is painful. No question about it. It’s hard to figure which is worse–when the proceedings drone on for hours and hours, or when you’re forced to wait in a stifling, electronics-barred room twiddling your thumbs until the next case is ready. Sure, some of it’s interesting, but mostly it’s a lot of sitting around and listening to lectures as nightmares of high school flash before your eyes.

Lunch is easily the best part of the experience. During lunch, you’re given free rein to explore all of the lovely and diverse restaurants and cafes that the area has to offer. From the perspective of someone who works in glacial midtown, this place is lunch heaven.

Day 1: I know Chinatown pretty well from working down here, so I decided to leave that for another day and walk west instead. I wandered around Tribeca for awhile and eventually stumbled onto Terra, a rustic-chic Italian wine bar and restaurant at the triangular intersection of Franklin and West Broadway. They offer $12 salads and pastas, which is a bit more than I usually spend for lunch, but hey, it’d been a rough morning. I ordered a lobster, avocado, and arugula salad, which was delicious, though not terribly filling. It worked out anyway because I ate the whole basket of bread that they brought me. Downsides…well, there’s no wifi, so I had to rely on my work phone to check in with the office. Also, I was pretty jealous of my fellow diners who were sipping on luxurious glasses of wine and clearly here to stay for a solid two hours. What do these people do for a living? Can I do it too?

Day 2: A unusually warm and sunny April day. Yesterday I noticed a lively cafe called Gotan directly next door to Terra, but I didn’t venture inside because it looked crazy crowded. Today, it was thankfully less crowded. I ordered a tuna, poached egg, and avocado (penchant for avocados = I’m from California) salad and a mint lemonade. I parked myself at one of their large, bar-height tables and easily logged into remote access through their super-fast wifi while my food was brought to me. It was delicious but also not cheap. The salad was $12 and the lemonade was around $4. But it’s well worth it for a one-time visit. The cafe is a bit loud inside, so if you like a peaceful work environment, Gotan is not for you. I also noticed they were blasting Gotan Project music. Cute.

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Gotan and Terra, side by side.

Day 3: OK, time to curb the spending habit. Hello Chinatown! Today I walked east, through Columbus Park where old asian men do tai chi in the morning, and up through the sloping alleyway known as Mosco Street. I decided to revisit Shanghai Asian Manor, a favorite from past days. I sat down toward the back and ordered the spicy beef noodle soup for $7. The broth was rich and the noodles were firm, just how I like it. The service was kind of indifferent, but I expected that. I left having spent only $9 and 25 minutes of my time, which gave me plenty of room to return to the criminal court building and check up on emails.

Day 4: Time to return to another old favorite. Who doesn’t like $1.25 fried dumplings? Across Columbus Park the bright yellow awning of a fine establishment called Tasty Dumpling calls for you. The menu is limited and the seating area is bleak, but man are those some tasty dumplings. Today I opted for the slightly more upscale chicken and mushroom dumplings priced at $3.50 for a plateful. These are doughy dumplings, so they may not satisfy those of you who prefer the thinner Shanghai-style variety. (Personally, I enjoy both types.) I gobbled them up and then returned again at the end of the day to take home a $13 frozen batch of 50.

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Tasty and cheap!

Day 5: I suspected that Terra would be the perfect lunchtime work spot if only I could somehow manage to wangle some wifi. Gotan to the rescue! (Sorry, Gotan.) On my second visit, I ordered something heartier–rigatoni with large shrimp–to get me through the afternoon slog. The pasta was good, but I think I liked the salad better. Nevertheless, working and eating at the sunny bar table made for a perfect lunch hour.

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Terra is great for a fancy working lunch.

Day 6: Today I decided to spice things up. I had several spots in mind between Church Street and West Broadway–Cafe Clementine, Two Hands, etc.–but all were massively overcrowded. Instead, I ventured further up Church Street and noticed that a Mexican restaurant and tequila bar called Añejo was offering a $13 “express lunch.” Why not? I walked into a beautiful but not stuffy space with exposed brick walls and chandeliers. I sat down at a table facing out. Just enough natural light was streaming in through the large windows to see my work clearly. Plus, with only two or three other tables occupied, it was nice and quiet inside. I ordered two fish tacos, and they came with chips and salsa, a small side salad, yuca fries, and a soft drink (I chose seltzer). It all tasted amazing, as fried foods tend to taste! It was a lot more than I usually eat, so I had a tough time staying awake through the afternoon proceedings.

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The tacos tasted even better than they look.

Day 7: I decided to head due north today. A few years ago, Thai Angel was one of my favorite places in this area. I loved their perfectly spiced curries served alongside pristine cones of rice. At first, I couldn’t find Thai Angel on Google Maps. After a brief moment of panic, I realized that they had rebranded themselves as Soho Thai. Phew. Same place, different name. I walked in and was greeted warmly. It was a sunny day, and a warm breeze was rolling in from the open door. I sat down and ordered chicken tom yum soup, tofu green curry, and a thai iced coffee as part of their $12 lunch prix fixe. Everything tasted amazing, just how I remembered it. Although this restaurant is barely one block from the raucous shopping district, it was only half full, and so it feels like one of the best-kept secrets in the area.

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Sorry! I wrecked the cone of rice because I was too excited.

So if you receive your jury summons in the mail soon, don’t despair. I suggest you perform your civic duty and just get it over with. Sure, it may not be a great time for you, but it never is, is it? Once you’re there, jury duty is not exactly fun, but it’s also not as bad as you might think. There are enough breaks to check in with work and loved ones and feel like you are still somewhat connected with your day-to-day routine. If you are called for grand jury duty like me, you’ll even receive 8-10 year immunity from any state jury duty, which is pretty great!

In the meantime, enjoy lunch.


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