Can’t get your hands on– or don’t have the money for– New York City’s latest viral food sensation, the $75 smoked watermelon “hams” that Ducks Eatery makes at a rate of just three or four per night? Good news: Sandwich versions of the hams are now being served at the East Village restaurant’s sister spot, Harry & Ida’s. The catch: Only 30 are made per day, and they’re only available after 5pm.
The new “Wagyumelon” sandwich is a spin on another food-world phenomenon, the panko-crusted wagyu steak sandwiches that go for as much as $180. (At $10, the watermelon version is much more affordable.) It’s also part of a general menu shift away from meat at Harry & Ida’s, the sandwich counter that opened in 2015 as a “Meat & Supply Co.” In the coming weeks, customers can expect a smoked-carrot “hot dog” and a watermelon-radish pastrami. And in about a month, the watermelon ham at Ducks will be replaced by something more seasonally appropriate, like a whole smoked squash.
If you’ve been out to (proverbial) lunch and are wondering what, exactly, a watermelon ham is, here’s how it’s made: Ducks cures an entire watermelon with salt and ash to remove moisture and create a “skin”; smokes it over local oak and birch wood for seven to nine hours; then roasts it with fresh garlic and rosemary. For the sandwich, the smoked watermelon is sliced and breaded in panko crumbs and slathered in its own juices along with a little Dijon.
This isn’t just a one-off stunt. Harry & Ida’s is preparing to become predominantly plant-based. “I think eventually we’re going to get to the point where I think, honestly, we’re only going to end up having the pastrami and one or two other [meat products] on the menu,” said Will Horowitz, who owns Ducks and Harry & Ida’s with his sister Julie.
The transition is the result of a conundrum: “How do you run a small business in a place like the East Village where you can serve good products from good farms and be able to serve it to the actual community that lives here and make it accessible?” A shift toward a more plant-based menu, Horowitz believes, will make it easier to source ingredients sustainably, while less meat on the menu will make for stronger connections with select meat purveyors.
As for the vegetarian “hot dog,” it’s made from a carrot that’s pickled and smoked over the course of about four and a half days and caramelized so that it’s soft on the inside but has a bubbly skin. Horowitz says that while it obviously doesn’t taste exactly like a hot dog, it has “skin on it just like a hot dog, it’s smoky, it’s meaty.” Similarly, the radish and watermelon in the plant-based pastrami sandwich are pickled and smoked much like Harry & Ida’s smokes its meat. “When you slice it, it looks like a piece of meat,” Horowitz said.
If you’re wondering whether the shift to vegetarian fare is just about higher profit margins, Horowitz says it’s not. “I wouldn’t say spending four days making a carrot that tastes like a hot dog is the most cost efficient way to go about it,” he laughs, “but it’s certainly the most intriguing.”