221 Columbia Street, Columbia Street Waterfront
Rating: 3 out of 5 L's
In a city where new restaurants often go to great lengths to make themselves stand out, few end up seeming as effortlessly weird as Fultummy's, a Japanese sandwich shop. Its name, for starters, kind of makes it sound like a mommy-and-me joint. You could certainly bring your kids here (it ain't fancy, and they do serve chicken fingers), but the name is akin to something you might see written in English on an imported Hello Kitty t-shirt—it's a little too cute for a grown-up restaurant (and sounds even more adorable if you say it with a Japanese accent).
Then there's the peculiar decor. Located in a borough brimming with mod, minimalist Japanese eateries, Fultummy's is an interior designer's nightmare: a collection of cabinets hang haphazardly behind the coffee bar; there's a busted-up Lazy Boy in the corner; the sponge-painted bathroom is studded with outer-space-inspired stickers, as though it was decorated by a hyperactive 7-year-old. In other words, it's completely unpretentious and untrendy. It's weird in the way that lots of New York restaurants used to be charmingly weird, in the good ol' days of cheaper real estate. Fultummy's is a ramshackle spot that puts all its good sense into its menu.
So, don't be dismayed if you see the only cook dash out of the kitchen to make a delivery—just grab a coffee, a spicy house-made ginger beer, or some sweet and citrusy yuzu tea (the perfect remedy for a cold). If you're starving, the guy who works at the coffee bar can probably grab you some coleslaw ($2). Served in a big bowl, it's crunchy, tangy, and pleasantly heavy on the dill. Their tofu salad ($7) is tasty, too—fresh greens are topped with crispy bonito flakes, creamy crushed tofu, and doused in a savory garlic-sesame dressing—but it's not as filling the sandwiches, which are cheaper, and delicious. You can't go wrong with the chicken katsu sandwich ($6.50). Like the typical Japanese dish, the chicken breast is breaded in a crisp panko crust and drizzled with a sweet brown katsu sauce, but here, it's piled on thick white bread with shredded cabbage and mayo. (They've got a pork katsu sandwich for $6.50, too.)
For vegetarians, this neighborhood spot is destination-worthy, on account of their killer Kimpira Brown Rice Burger ($6.75). Sandwiched between two soy-glazed brown rice patties, sprinkled with sesame seeds to resemble a hamburger bun, you'll find a sheet of toasted nori, lotus root chips, and a pile of crisp-tender shredded burdock and carrot, sauteed in soy sauce. It's as weird and wonderful as Fultummy's itself.