2120 Penn Avenue
Fresh Find: Lucy Nguyen and Her Hoagies in the Strip
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Lucy’s back. She’s a fixture in the Strip District, and I bet you know who she is. Lucy Nguyen is the Vietnamese vendor who sets up a grill in front of My Ngoc Restaurant.
Unless it’s raining sideways, she’s there seven days a week from early morning until late afternoon selling banh mi, classic Vietnamese hoagies — Hanoi hoagies, if you like.
The sandwiches are partly French technique, partly Vietnamese ingredients and all delicious. Lucy will ask, “What size you want? $4, $5 or $6? Chicken or pork?”
Then into a freshly cut baguette she piles a skewer’s worth of marinated and grilled chicken or pork, followed by pickled carrots with ginger, sliced onions and icy cucumbers, chopped cilantro and a sprinkling of blazing bird chiles and jalapeno peppers.
To finish it off, each banh mi gets a drizzle of sweet brown sauce, just enough to balance the heat of the peppers.
The result is an explosion of flavor and texture. Want a drink with that? Lucy’s 11-year-old granddaughter, Denise, will make you a fresh lemonade.
The banh mi is a product of French colonialism in Indochina, combining French baguettes with grilled chicken and pork. Other fillings might include pork meatballs, shredded pork or tofu.
A breakfast version in Vietnam includes eggs fried sunny-side up with onions, sprinkled with soy sauce, and piled onto a fresh, and sometimes buttered, baguette.
Lucy will be at her post until late October, when she leaves to spend the winter in Vietnam. Her daughter, Jackie Nguyen, owns the 17-year-old My Ngoc restaurant, which specializes in the cuisine of Vietnam and Thailand.
A banh mi in the Strip on the Penn Avenue sidewalk near 22nd Street Under her umbrella outside the My Ngoc restaurant, Lucy Sheets has been selling scrumptious, cilantro-laden Vietnamese sandwiches on crusty French baguettes for over ten years. She’s open (usually by 7 a.m.) seven days a week (and very late on Friday and Saturday nights.) Get there before lunch on busy Saturdays so she has a full supply of surprising peppers, grilled meats, fresh cucumbers, carrots, secret sauce and other goodies to stuff in these crusty French bread hoagies. Rick Sebak