“I feel like I’m in Pulp Fiction” says Gina as we meet for this week’s Cheap Eats adventure. This is because we have picked Greenpoint’s Manhattan 3 Decker (695 Manhattan Ave) to seek out our next budget meal. With its classic all-American interior of red leather booths and blind-shaded windows it would indeed be no surprise to hear the mockney tones of Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer plotting from the next table.
The diner proudly boasts that it has been ‘Serving Greenpoint since 1945’ which means it started pouring coffee almost 70 years before $10 lattes rocked up to the ‘hood.
We hope that the 1940s prices remain and are lured in by the breakfast specials touted in the window: $5 for 2 eggs, potato, toast and coffee / $6.75 for French toast, bacon and coffee. But these deals only run until 11am and we’re well past noon.
The menu (multiple pages, thumbnail food photos) is not quite as cheap as we’d anticipated and we’re actually fairly limited in our options if we want to keep below our $7 limit.
With our usual cheap-skate resourcefulness we turn to the laminate ‘specials’ on the table and, summoning the willpower to ignore the $3.50 mimosa offer, both find something we’d like.
What we have:
– Triple Decker Combo #1:
Grilled Cheese, Fries and Tea– $7.25 (slightly over budget)
– Super Special Breakfast Wrap Combo #8:
Cobb Wrap with Fries and Coffee – $6.25
– Pickles and coleslaw – Free
Grand Total $13.50 (excl. service)
I’ve had a soft spot for 3 Decker ever since a phase of working from home when I used break up the day by treating myself to a tea and english muffin perched at the counter. I loved the super-friendly staff, the Americana aesthetic and the constant flow of Greenpoint regulars who keep the place busy from 6am-9.30pm, 7 days a week.
This was the first time I’d sat in a booth and eaten a full meal here and I was excited for the total 3 Decker experience.
Our waitress was LOVELY, patiently returning three times before we’d made up our minds and welcoming my request to substitute tea for a fountain drink as part of my combo deal. She also brought us a plate of coleslaw and pickles which I don’t think were actually associated with either of our meals.
My grilled cheese was good in the way that grilled cheese always is. It was kind of greasy on the outside but that just added to its comfort factor. My fries were of the flat, fat, fluffy variety and the green pickles stepped in to save it from being an entirely brown meal. I ate most of the fries, half of the sandwich and had the rest of it wrapped up to go. If I’m honest, I was sightly jealous of Gina’s wrap combo.
I don’t think $7.25 is amazing value for what I ate, but it’s still pretty cheap by North Brooklyn standards. By the looks of some of the meals being ferried to other tables, the servings are all really generous and next time (free from the shackles of a Cheap Eats budget) I will be pushing the boat out with an $8.95 Belgian Waffle Sundae.
For me, the old-school surroundings and our delightful waitress were by far the best part of the meal.
Triple Decker is the kind of omnipresent establishment that seems to exist everywhere and anywhere in America, on roadsides and strip malls, suburbs and old-school Manhattan strongholds. I’ve seen it more times in movies than in person (hence my immediate Pulp Fiction reference), but the connotations seem to signify something grandly representative of U.S.A. life – booths with frosted glass dividers, faded coral-pink leather seats, swiveling bar stools, and waitresses who seem to know all the regulars.
Maybe the name Manhattan Triple Decker harkens back to the classic spots that can still be found clinging to life, slinging egg creams on the Upper West Side (or more logically, the diner is named after Manhattan Ave, as one of our readers pointed out). Regardless there is something warm and communal and wonderfully average about this place. After walking past the weekend fashion show that is Five Leaves, it’s refreshing to see a restaurant packed with real people– elderly couples sharing plates of eggs, fathers and daughters chatting over mayonnaise-doused coleslaw, and toddlers in high chairs stuffing their cheeks with pancakes.
That being said, as Rosie mentioned, this place is way less cheap than expected. A lot of the entrees topped $10 and it was definitely a challenge to find something in our tight self-imposed budget. The cobb wrap that I had was a great breakfast deal at $6.25, coming with coffee, be it a bit watery and weak (expected at any diner) and hash browns (which I substituted for fries because I’m super healthy). The wrap itself benefitted from a lot of salt (a little flavorless), but the avocado, swiss cheese and bacon folded in the tortilla was nice and greasy, and immediately filling. The fries were fat and wide, and as I dumped ketchup on the corner of my plate, I was momentarily overcome with a whiff of childhood (yes, my childhood smelled like fries soaked in Heinz ketchup).
I definitely had more fun people watching, since 3 Decker is a veritable Senior Center. The woman in the booth behind us had a golden dyed bob, round amber sunglasses, and pink lipstick, straight out of a 60’s cult film. And she wasn’t the only one. A lovely lady in a walker and pastel sweater conversed with the waitress about her new haircut as we left. And despite Rosie and I taking numerous photos of our non-interesting breakfast plates, like psycho tourists, no one bothered to hassle us (which would have been incredibly easy).
The crowd might explain the one menu item that sounded so appalling, I almost had to order it: the “Health Plate” which consists of lettuce, cottage cheese, fresh “fruits” and jello and clocks in at the not so healthy price of $9.25. But after surveying the crowd I can see why this “dairy specialty” could be quite the meal for anyone with 80-year-old teeth and a heightened nostalgia for hospital cafeteria food.
So Rosie, I’m making a date for you and I to share the Health Plate 50 years from today, when I hope to high heavens that Manhattan 3 Decker is still in business. Expect a call.
Full Stomach Level: