I'm not sure what's more curious about this Korean-Mexican menu item — that the churros are apparently oven-baked rather than deep-fried, or that someone has given so much thought to how a hands-on, grab-and-go food should be properly plated. Seen in passing, not yet sampled.
General Ye's chicken ($11): crispy, lacquered pieces of boneless bird at ease with green beans, mango, and peanuts, scallions, chiles, and sesame seeds, and, in reserve, a bowl of white rice. Mop-up action against late-morning munchies: successful.
Signs that take playful liberties with traditional letterforms are a common sight at New York's restaurants and markets. Since the shapes of food are so familiar and widely understood, it's not unusual for amateur signmakers as well as professional typographers to draw on this collective visual vocabulary. A chicken drumstick might be swapped in for the letter I, or a slice of pizza for an A. The practice is not limited to the Roman alphabet: A chile pepper, for example, can replace one stroke of a Chinese character. A favorite of mine embellishes the script of a Central Asian country to simultaneously spell and depict the name of the restaurant.
The letter O gets a lot of attention because of its bulky shape, which is easily mimicked by many other bulky shapes. An apple or an orange, a cocktail olive or a coffee bean, a ramen bowl or a dinner plate all can readily substitute as an O, especially when given context by untransformed letters. The substitution can be so smooth that we (meaning me) often read first and look closely later. The leafy globe on the awning of Global Supermarket (former site of one location of the mini-chain Trade Fair) seemed so prosaic that I almost didn't bother with a photo. Only afterward did I notice that the globe, from an American perspective, has done a one-eighty: It shows the Old World and not the New.
Global Supermarket 75-07 37th Ave. (75th-76th Sts.), Jackson Heights, Queens 718-779-2077
The departure of a Sleepy's mattress store and renovations for an incoming urgent-care center exposed these traceries of the famed kosher dairy restaurant (est. 1905, moved here 1918, closed 2004). What looks like lettering, however, may never have been visible during the restaurant's long run. More likely this is the silhouette, highlighted by subsequent touch-up paint jobs, of the boxy metal trays that held the letters of Ratner's neon sign.
See also this menu, from 1987, and tell me you wouldn't like a little nesselrode pie.
Ratner's Surviving signage, 138 Delancey St. (Norfork-Suffolk Sts.), Manhattan (As of April 2015, no longer extant)
When I first spotted the curious label "public grocery," my mind ran to the sort of public market where shoppers once purchased fresh foodstuffs from multiple pushcart vendors. Nowadays, in New York, the indoor Essex Street Market and the outdoor Greenmarkets continue to fill the bill. The term "public market" itself, which until recent years was on the verge of becoming quaint, has been rehabilitated as a hallmark of civic virtue, in contrast to the (perceived) narrow self-interest of private parties.
The corner establishment shown here is, of course, a privately owned, for-profit enterprise (and all power to them; margins are low). I've stopped by, during the summer, for a cold can of soda, but on a more recent, winter, visit I couldn't bring myself to venture a cup of hotplate coffee. The current signage was installed at some indeterminate time after Mom & Sons got out of the restaurant business, decades ago, perhaps by the owners of Peace World Newsstand — a name long since effaced from the awning.
Current management isn't chatty. If there's a story behind "public grocery," perhaps the way to tease it out is to spend a few minutes by the counter while warming my hands on a cup of that coffee. I can take small sips.
The placement of the banner suits a product with a skinny profile, though not necessarily a healthy one: Pixy Stix would fit just as neatly as a bag of these bean-based, high-fiber chips and puffs. Historical imagery via Google Street View reveals only one other advertiser, in August 2013, coincidentally also concerning food. This awkward space, it seems, just isn't all that appetizing.
Beanitos banner Wrapped around the corner of 270 Lafayette St. (at Prince St.), Manhattan