Duane Reade’s Sushi: We Tried it so You Don’t Have to


Last October, Duane Reade rolled out its very own line of generic food products. Labeled with such au courant buzz words as “vegan,” “gluten-free,” and “all natural” and wrapped in discreet black and white packaging, they signaled the drugstore chain’s grand attempt to be taken more seriously as a lifestyle brand, rather than as a mere place to buy tampons, cigarettes, and Pringles.

So it’s only fitting that sushi would be the next step in Duane Reade’s bold and daring scheme to take over the prepackaged food world, one intestinal blockage at a time.

An entire section of one of the chain’s newest stores, at 51st Street and Sixth Avenue, is devoted to food and beverages — now you can buy a six-pack of Sam Adams to chase down the Pringles. And on a little refrigerated island laden with cellophane-shrouded sandwiches, wraps, and salad-type concoctions, there lurks Duane Reade-brand sushi. It’s a somewhat unnerving sight, kind of like that of a dog wearing pants or a toddler sitting at a bar. Taken out of context, however, it didn’t look any more freakish than the packaged sushi sold at Whole Foods or Sunrise Mart. So, taking a deep breath and hoping that no one was watching (because really, buying sushi at Duane Reade is about as embarrassing as buying porn at Duane Reade), we plunked down $5.99 for a California roll made with — holy of holies — brown rice.

Given that the California roll is hardly one of the more celebrated members of the sushi family, it would seem hard for even a drugstore chain to screw it up. Imitation crab, some blobs of avocado, and a few shreds of cucumber are hardly the stuff that omakase fever dreams are made of. How bad could it be, really?

Noting that the roll’s expiration date was still a full two days away, we said a silent prayer, ripped open a pack of Kikkoman, smeared on some wasabi, and took a tentative bite.

It tasted like, well, drugstore sushi. Meaning it wasn’t repulsive, terrifying, or even particularly gag-inducing. It was just bland, boring, dried-out fake sushi. Not so different, in other words, than Duane Reade’s bland, boring, dried-out generic snack food. Its almost complete absence of flavor summoned images of prefab housing, a cubicle wall, or the empty pause after an unfinished sentence.

In short, there is no earthly reason to ever, ever, ever buy sushi at Duane Reade. Ever. Even if it probably won’t kill you, it may bore you to death. If you do find yourself hungry in a Duane Reade and completely lacking any other nearby food options, then for the love of god, go for the Pringles and beer instead.

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