Escapes: A Seven-Course, Seven-Stop Manhattan Meal

By Ellen Ryan
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"I Got Your Atkins Right Here!" says one sign. "Low Fat F%&#@ That," reads another. Only in New York City: rice pudding with attitude.

Rice to Riches (37 Spring St., 212-274-0008, is one of more than half a dozen "single cuisine" spots in or around Greenwich Village, mini-restaurants that specialize in one food, aggressively, sometimes in endless variations.

Inside, Rice to Riches is bright, painted in creamy greens, ivories and oranges, its tiny tables overseen by tinier spotlights. You order at the counter from 17 year-round flavors and 15 others that rotate by season. Just reading the names could hold up the constant line: Take Me to Tiramisu, Sex Drugs and Rocky Road, Fluent in French Toast, I'll Take Eggnog for $200 Alex. And then there are 10 toppings.

Another sign: "All Calories Consumed Here Are Yours to Keep." Subtle this place ain't.

My friend Marilyn Matarrese and I stumbled on this place one night last year; like most newbies, we ordered the solo size, $6 for eight ounces. Insiders choose larger sizes to share, up to the 80-ounce Moby ($40). The Sumo (40 ounces, $22.50) is the only one that ships.

But is it good? You bet. In its six years in business, Rice to Riches has sold more than 12 million ounces of rice pudding. The place has won raves from reviewers as far away as Australia.

I was fascinated. When Marilyn mentioned a few other one-food eateries, I wondered: Could these be combined to make a seven-course meal? Could we walk off the calories in between? I recruited Marilyn and another New York native, Dennis Murphy of the District's Takoma neighborhood, to find out.

First stop: BB Sandwich Bar (120 W. Third St., 212-473-7500), a sliver of a spot in the West Village. Slogan: "The best damn cheese steak. Period." Choices: chicken or beef. The beef sandwich boasts a poppy seed kaiser roll, marinated Spanish onions, 4 1/2 ounces of prime Angus rib-eye, white American cheese and a tomatoey sauce for $5.

"Good complementary flavors," says Dennis, licking his lips. "Exceptional bun," Marilyn says between bites.

Former restaurateur Gary Thompson opened BB in early 2002 to sellout crowds. Danny Tong and a partner bought the place and the recipe and added the chicken option -- plus Tonnie's Minis, a cupcake business that sublets a counter a few feet to the right. I buy a red velvet for the road because we're off to . . .

Second stop: Beard Papa's, a Japanese import selling fresh-filled cream puffs and little else. The West Village branch (5 Carmine St., 212-255-4675, has no seats, just a counter, a few small ovens and two puff-filling machines. Choose your flavor (strawberry for me, $2.15) and watch as the server stuffs a puff with custard and fresh whipped cream.

Between the cream and the fact that this is a choux pastry shell inside a mini pie crust, I stop at one. Many people don't: There are six- and 12-piece boxes. One puff has 220 calories, 120 of them from fat. Good thing we're on foot.

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