Friday, October 10, 2008

Ode to Sam, the Juice Cart Man. (VeganMoFo day 10 - TGIF!)

Alright. I know that in various posts over the past two years or so, I've mentioned my favorite juice cart in passing more than once. But Sam deserves better. For the delicious nutrition in the vast void of midtown which he provides to me and to so many others, he deserves proper recognition. He deserves... a post of his own.

Food carts are a dime a dozen in midtown Manhattan, of course. They sell nuts covered in sugar, they sell doughnuts and coffee and bagels, they sell hot dogs and pretzels, they sell various piles of meat and vegetables and rice fried on a flat-top and served up in styrofoam containers. But none that I've found are like this little gem at the corner of 48th and 3rd. Unlike other juice stands, Sam doesn't sell any crap to supplement his juices - no "bubble teas" or ice cream nonsense. His cart is stocked from wall to wall with produce - apples, oranges, carrots, kale, parsley, strawberries, cabbage, grapefruit, cucumbers, lemons, beets, celery, mango, watermelon - you name it, he's got it, and he'll put it in the juicer for you.

It's obvious that the focus at this stand is health. If the amazing array of colorful fruits and vegetables on display don't make you think it initially, it'll get driven home as soon as you happen to wander around the side. There you'll find a list of common ailments, and the corresponding juices that are best to help treat them. No rocket science or voodoo or new age b.s. here, just simple nutrition - a blend supercharged with vitamin C to help fight off a cold, for instance.

Sam has a special secret too, that only devout patrons know about: in the winters, Sam makes soup. He alternates between a vegetable soup and a lentil soup. They're both awesome, he serves both with a slice of bread and a wedge of lemon, he sells them for half the ridiculous price of most midtown delis, and... yes, you know it - they're both vegan! On cold and dreary days, Sam's soup is a dream come true. It warms my belly and makes even my sunless office seem hospitable again. (Granted, I'm sitting in a better spot now, so maybe this winter won't be so rough...) On Wednesday, while getting my large carrot-orange-celery, I asked if there was soup yet - he said not quite yet, but soon. I await it eagerly.

I have a lot of respect for Sam as a businessman. He obviously came to the U.S. seeking "a better life", as people always have and still do. And running a food cart is no easy living. I'm sure he works a 12 hour day, bare minimum; he's almost always there alone. Those carts have to be moved in and out each day, which is no small task. From what I understand you purchase the cart, and then have to go through licensing, and you're then basically operating a small business without the advantage of a permanent storefront but with many of the disadvantages of a physical location.

Last year he was gone for a couple of days for his health inspection; once he came back they started hassling him about where he gets his produce. Sure they have a job to do, but his produce is completely visible to everyone who walks up - it's obviously fresh. So what, do they think he's stealing it or something? Anyway. Sam fights the good fight and works hard on his feet all day, and still manages to smile at everyone and be on a first-name basis with many of his regulars. In NYC, that's just not something you necessarily expect.

Needless to say, I am quite the frequent customer over at Sam's juice cart. (Actually it's one of the big things I was excited about as far as returning to my old job.) And of course, I think you should be too. Nutritionally speaking, fresh juices are vastly superior to anything packaged. And if you're interested in keeping money in your community instead of giving it to mega-corps, then Sam is a much better choice than, say, Odwalla*cough*coca-cola*cough.

And in conclusion, juice is awesome, and soup is awesome, so that makes Sam awesome squared.

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