The A train that dropped you at 34th Street just pulled out, so what's all that loud rumbling? Oops -- your stomach. With minutes to spare before catching the 4:49 to Port Jefferson, a grab-and-go is what the hour demands.
Out on the LIRR concourse, you're momentarily dumbstruck by the gaudy, grungy jumble of fast-food chains and pizza stands. "Feed me," the growl within insists, " -- and make it good."
Not an unreasonable -- or impossible -- order. In fact, for the savvy commuter, Penn Station can be a real food trip. This we learned after eating our way past soggy pretzel dogs and dry chicken sandwiches to uncover some really fine fast fixes. A delectable hand-held Jamaican pie. A warm and spicy hot pastrami sandwich. And so much more.
If you have the minutes to spare, you might stake out a table or counter spot in the rear of a food stand. Otherwise, hightail it to Track 17, hop aboard and snag the first seat you see. Oh, and try not to get crumbs on the person sitting next to you.
Here are our picks for the best of Penn Station:
Location Lower Level, Connecting Corridor, across from Bank of America, east of A-C-E subway. Note: Sign out front reads "Diner."
Grab-and-go It doesn't get more classically New York than bagels and lox. At this deli with a few booths in the back, you can order smoked salmon and cream cheese on the crusty bagel of your choice. Pumpernickel works particularly well.
Location Lower Level, Connecting Corridor, across from LIRR ticket windows, just west of 1-2-3 subway entrance. In same mini food court as KFC. Sign isn't easily visible. Going toward KFC, it's the first counter on the right. When the aroma of curried goat and jerk chicken hits, you've arrived.
Grab-and-go This Jamaican takeout counter offers a few wonderful -- but messy-to-eat -- specialties. So, instead of oxtail stew, opt for one of the best handheld bites in the station -- the chicken patty, a flaky pastry square filled with a fragrant curried chicken mixture. Also available with beef or vegetables.
Price $2 each
Location Lower Level, Connecting Corridor, west of 1-2-3 subway, near main gate area
Grab-and-go Sometimes, the tried and true works best. These faithful dogs always come across with salty, garlicky "snap." Squiggled with mustard, piled with sauerkraut and relish, they deliver a high satisfaction quotient.
Location Lower Level, Connecting Corridor; next to Nathan's, west of 1-2-3 subway .
Grab-and-go Caribbean Breeze smoothie. When you crave something cold, fresh and fruity, consider this thick blend of fresh strawberries, papaya, banana, ice and water. Healthy and refreshing, it's a beverage that feels like a meal.
LE BON CAFE
Location Lower Level, Connecting Corridor, directly across from Central Corridor. Two parts to this eatery: a deli and a salad spot with seating in the rear.
Grab-and-go It's some super sub, the spicy jerk turkey sandwich on 7-grain baguette. Find it in the refrigerator case or, if there's time, have one made to order. The sandwich packs a fiery wallop, thanks to peppery jerk-spiced turkey, chipotle-spiked Jack cheese and ranch dressing.
Grab-and-go The long line you usually find at the build-your-own tossed salads counter is understandable: Everything is fresh, made to order and packaged to travel. Choose from a wide array of add-ins, four to an order, everything from cooked salmon to black olives to roasted broccoli and a great guacamole, which can double as dressing.
CHARLEY'S GRILLED SUBS
Location Lower Level, Connecting Corridor, east of A-C-E subway, west of Central Corridor.
Grab-and-go Smell the onions sizzling on the grill at this sub specialist. The hefty, hearty and meltingly good Philly cheesesteak -- thinly sliced beef, grilled onions, provolone, lettuce, tomato and mayo -- is big on comfort. You might want to get yours onion-free if you're planning to eat it on the train ride home.
Location Lower Level, Connecting Corridor, across from Charley's Grilled Subs, west of Central Corridor and east of A-C-E subway entrance.
Grab-and-go If you want to juice up before or after your trip, try the "triple revitalizer" juice blend, a mix of freshly squeezed orange juice, carrot juice and bananas. It's potables such as this that put this drink-healthy chain on the map.
Price $4.84 for 12 ounces
Location Lower Level, Connecting Corridor, west of 1-2-3 subway, across from LIRR ticket counter.
Grab-and-go There are those days when nothing but ice cream will do. For such times, it's hard to do better than a scoop or two of Haagen Dazs chocolate ice cream, which, like all the other flavors at this stand, comes across as pure, clean and intense.
Location Lower Level, near A-C-E subway entrance.
Grab-and-go Seek out the shawarma stuffed pita at this multipurpose spot. You'll find it with a host of Middle Eastern specialties at the counter on the far right. Eminently portable, this wrap or stuffed pita sandwich features slices of tender spiced chicken piled with such options as tabbouleh, chickpeas, mixed greens and Israeli salad. You'll find grilled kebabs here, as well.
Location Location Lower Level, near A-C-E subway entrance, at Chickpea counter.
Grab-and-go At the same Chickpea counter, you'll find an assortment of frozen yogurts and toppings from Red Mango, a popular chain. The pleasingly tart "original" flavor can be kicked up with a fresh fruit topping.
Price $3.95-$5.95; 75 cents extra for first topping, 50 cents each for others
CHOP 'N TOSS
Location Upper Level, off street escalator from Seventh Avenue
Grab-and-go This deli turns out a hot pastrami sandwich that's properly peppery, just fatty enough. Have it with nothing more than brown mustard or kick it up with sauerkraut and Swiss, maybe Russian dressing. The seed-flecked bread is toasted, the better to stand up to whatever journey it will take.