Recession specials: Bargain food with a side of political humor

One of my favorite restaurants in New York is also one of the city's cheapest. Gray's Papaya, which has three locations on the West side of Manhattan, has a very simple menu: hot dogs and tropical drinks. Still, for all its simplicity, the hot dogs are crisp and perfectly grilled. Served with sauerkraut, sweet onions, and a heady shot of brown mustard, they are a simple and perfect dish. When paired with one of the restaurants tropical drinks (banana daiquiri is my favorite), the dogs become transcendent.

Even so, Gray's Papaya (and many of its imitators, for that matter) have found their way into the deepest caverns of my heart not because of their amazing dogs or great drinks, but because of their playful awareness of the economic realities facing many of their customers. Even in the best of times, their famed "Recession Special" is a treat: two dogs and a tropical drink for a measly $3.50. When money gets tight and tempers get frayed, the treat becomes a lifesaver.

Recently, another Manhattan eatery has taken a page from Gray's playbook. Jack Bistro, a French-American eatery in Greenwich Village, is offering a "Dow Depression Special." Every time the Dow Jones index drops, they will take a corresponding number of cents off the price of their dinner entrees. Thus, if the Dow drops 100 points, Jack will reduce the price of its dishes by $1.
In the grand scheme of things, Jack's special probably won't make all that much of a difference. Its entrees start at $16.95 and top out at over $32; this means that, by the time its "Kansas City Strip Steak" breaks $20, there will probably be rioting in the streets. That having been said, the restaurant's attempt to share in the miseries of its patrons suggests that there may be a bright side to the current economic downturn. If a fall in the Dow can make a New York restaurant drop its prices, then I feel like there's some real hope for humanity!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. When Junior's Deli unveils its recession special, he will officially give up on his diet.
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