You say that you're in there looking for furniture for the dorm room or pricing low-cost linens for the spare bed. Let's not lie: I know that you're also cruising the aisles of Bed Bath & Beyond, searching for another similarly occupied single in hopes of trading up to king-size sheets. After all, how many $30 scented candles, $400 duvet covers, and crystal vials of designer bath oil can the average Manhattan apartment hold?
All that cruising, though, has got to make a person hungry, so I'm happy to report that there's a spot close at hand that won't blow the budget and won't distract you from your dual quests. While other nearby eateries have their drawbacksChicama's food is too serious and expensive, Pipa is always too full, and T Salon and Emporium is too small to have the trafficthe cheap and cheerful lunchroom at Bed Bath & Beyond neatly fills the bill.
Café Beyond is not fancy and it's not expensivewisely, they've kept it simple. You can get a lunch combination of three dishes: perhaps a savory goat cheese ravioli (tender pillows stuffed with enough fromage for you to taste the tang), sautéed broccoli mined with sufficient nubbins of garlic for zip, and a meat or fish dish like a healthy slab of grilled salmon ($7.50). Or settle for a larger single helping of any of the day's offerings ($4.25). There is also an ever changing selection of soups ($3.25 to $4). The classic chicken version is dense and thick with noodles, chunks of carrot, and bits of vegetables. More important, it had a thin but oh-so-satisfying slick of chicken fat that was my guarantee it was homemade. There was also a gazpachomaybe not the one of my Iberian dreams, but still a tasty slurry of non-soggy vegetables zapped with just enough chile for flavor beyond the usual V-8. My favorite section, though, of this compact cafeteria-cum-café is the salad bar.
620 Avenue of the Americas, 212-620-9752. Open daily 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Major credit cards. Limited wheelchair access.
At one end of the counter, you pick up a small container of greens, including mesclun or spinach ($2.99), then add a goodly measure of the ingredients of choice. The range is hugefrom roasted corn, broccoli, bacon bits, and beets, to more substantial additions like tandoori chicken and grilled salmon. Each one is separately priced, so you can be as austere or ostentatious as your whim decrees. The simple corn, cauliflower, and tomatoes are 50 cents a hit. Raisins, water chestnuts, sunflower seeds, and mandarin orange segments up the ante to 75 cents. Cheeses like Monterey Jack, blue, and Parmesan will cost you a buck, as will asparagus, avocados, and sliced portobellos. Those in search of a meal in a bowl can opt for the $1.50 additions of the not-too-spicy tandoori chicken or free-range turkey, or blow the budget with grilled salmon or tuna at $2.50. Once you choose the ingredients, they're assembled by a counterperson, who places everything in a stainless steel salad bowl and proceeds to toss it with your preference from several dressings, including a ginger offering in which I could actually taste small bits of the rhizome. Then it's transferred to your own bowl or a plastic container (if it's takeout) and you head to the cashier.
There, simple home-style desserts like a square of dense, citrusy kiwi key lime ($2.75), or a tangy lemon curd on a flaky crust ($2.50), await, along with nonalcoholic beverages including party-pink lemonade. Be sure to snag a table near the entrance: That way, you can savor your food combinations while keeping an eye on the door, searching for the ultimate combination of your dreams.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to New York dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.