“Sorry, we’re out of today’s special, it was Virginia ham and mutz,” the gent behind the counter said. The counter—in case you’re wondering—was located not in my home borough of Queens, but rather in Hoboken, N.J., birthplace of both Frank Sinatra and Fiore’s House of Quality.
As the sign in the window at Fiore’s says, the storied Italian deli has been making its famous mozzarella since 1913. (For those of you keeping score at home, that’s two years before Old Blue Eyes was born.) It’s also become famous over the years for its roast beef and mozzarella—or “mutz” as they call it here—and gravy sandwich, which is only available on Thursdays and Saturdays.
My pal and I found ourselves in Hoboken Monday evening so we were unable to get the shop’s most famous creation or the day’s special, so we went with that Italian deli standard, the Italian combo.
The guy at the counter rattled off the ingredients: pepper ham, salami, roast peppers and some others that I didn’t really catch because I was deliriously hungry. At Fiore’s one normally chooses the bread—either a skinny hoagie as long as your forearm or a roll—before approaching the counter. There’s no bread pawing during a pandemic so I asked the counterman for a whole sandwich to split. I almost ordered one for each of us, but I had a presentation to give later that night and didn’t want to fall prey to a food coma.
After cutting the loaf in half, my new friend began layering the ingredients—mutz, spiced ham, peppers etc.—so far so good. Then he picked up a knife and proceeded to cut it in half. When he raised the knife again I almost screamed in protest, but held my tongue.
“Geez, we’re lucky he didn’t cut the crust off,” I wisecracked to my friend as we made our way to the car. When we arrived at Frank Sinatra Park and unwrapped our feast, I soon realized why the guy at Fiore’s had quartered the our combo. One piece could barely fit in my hand. We ate it overlooking the Hudson. The combination of creamy mutz, garlicky roast peppers, and all that Italian salumi was almost better than the view. A quality sandwich for sure, I’ll be back for the roast beef.
Fiore’s House of Quality, 414 Adams St., Hoboken, N.J.
“Hugue literally said that you inspired the sandwich,” Sarah Obraitis told me via text. The creation in question? A foie gras sandwich that recently landed on the menu at their restaurant M. Wells in Long Island City. While I’m flattered by Chef Hugue Dufour’s comment, I take it with a grain or two of fleur du sel. As for the sandwich, I went to try it last weekend and wasn’t quite sure what to expect other than decadence. I did have a hazy memory of a photo of an orb of fattened duck liver that looked like it had been dispatched with an ice cream scoop.
The $24 sandwich consists of a generous ball of creamy foie perched atop a bun slathered with homemade membrillo, aka quince paste. Call it what you will, its tart sweetness is a great counterpoint to the rich, creamy foie gras. For a moment I considered smushing the orb down and eating the whole lot like an actual sandwich, but decided against that for two reasons: 1) it would be really messy and 2) I wanted to prolong my gustatory bliss for as long as possible. So I spread a good deal of it on the top bun and fell to.
A few words about that bun, it is a challah bread dough that’s been treated like a croissant and has a bit of smoked eel in it. The whole experience took me back to the first time I ever tried foie gras at the River Cafe 20 years ago. The smoked eel in the bread was a mere whisper, but it did call to mind a smoked eel croissant that Chef Dufour dreamed up for a Queens Dinner Club Brunch. So I guess I am in some sense the inspiration for this sandwich.
I enjoyed my main course of monkfish well enough, but that sandwich was a tough act to follow. Next time, I’m getting two. I wonder if the kitchen would put it on a baguette. Do I dare to dream of a foie gras banh mi? After all stranger and tastier things have happened at M. Wells and hopefully will continue to do so now that restaurants are back open at 35% and the end of the pandemic is in sight.
M. Wells, Steakhouse, 43-15 Crescent St, Long Island City, NY 11101
“Good sandwich,” my pal Rocky said between bites, “but Sandwich Therapy’s kind of a goofy name.” Those bites consisted of crunchy chicken schnitzel studded with sesame seeds; thick slabs of fried eggplant smoky and sweet; a shmear of tahini; pickled daikon and carrots; and matbucha, a spicy Moroccan tomato and pepper stew all packed between two slabs of challah.
I first encountered the Sandwich Therapy stand, which sets up on the median of 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights just outside Travers Park, about a month ago. I’d already had lunch that day and didn’t take note of the name, but I did buy some lovely Georgian Shakarlama cookies, enriched with ground walnuts and almonds and perfumed with cardamom. I forgot all about it until Rocky texted me an image of this crazy looking dreadnought of a sandwich last Friday. (He in turn had heard of the stand from fellow food nerd Dave Cook of Eating in Translation.)
And that’s how we came to be eating a fried chicken sandwich with a decidedly Israeli accent on a blustery Friday in Jackson Heights. “Maybe he’s a social worker I mused,” taking a pause before tackling the second half of this truly masterful sandwich.
“We’re going to have it every Friday,” said the Master himself Mark Blinder, who operates the stand on Friday’s from 2 to 6 and 11-3 on Saturday and Sunday with his wife, Esthi Zipori. “It’s very popular in Israel right now, they even call it the Friday sandwich.”
As for the stand’s name, it turns out that Blinder does have a Masters degree in Social Work. He’s been sidelined due to COVID, so in November he and Esthi decided to sell set up shop near their local park. They often get their bread from Variety Bakery on 80th Street and Northern Boulevard. It bears pointing out that at $12 the Friday sandwich is among the most affordable of the many modalities of gustatory therapy available in the Heights. And the tahini chocolate chip cookies I scored were pretty damn good, too. To pre-order your very own Friday sandwich e-mail Mark and Esthi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back in October I created a breakfast sandwich called the Filipino Elvis. It consisted of Lily’s Peanut Butter and bananas on toasted péigēn miànbāo, or “bacon bread,” from New Fully Bakery. Sadly that Elmhurst bakery no longer makes the wedge of spiral bread filled with bacon and slightly sweet pork floss. The sweetness of the Filipino peanut butter and the smokey, salty bacon and sweet pork floss made for a great start to the day.
I’ve been eating bananas and Lily’s on white toast for breakfast for months, but it’s just not the same sandwich as the Filipino Elvis. And then I came across some Bolivian beef floss, and thus was born the Bolivian Elvis. The crunchy salty strands of meat play very well with the banana and peanut butter. They also make a great topping for congee, another of my favorite breakfasts.
By now you’re probably wondering where I happened upon Bolivian beef floss. First of all I should point out that it’s called charquekan. It’s made from beef that’s dried for three days, boiled, beaten with a mallet until it frays, and finally crisped up in a hot pan. I owe this discovery to fellow food nerd and ace Instagrammer snackwithsue who turned me on to Puerta Del Sol, a Bolivian restaurant in Woodside this past weekend.
The restaurant’s owner Jose Sanchez told us that Bolivians from as far away Virginia come to at the delicacy. It is a veritable mountain of meat floss atop hominy corn kept company by two hard boiled eggs, two wedges of quesillo cheese, and a potato. I enjoyed the dish but there was so much of it, that I took the better part of the plate home. Somehow, I knew I’d find a use for it. I’m glad my hunch was right!
Puerta Del Sol, 67-03 Woodside Ave., Woodside, 718-685-2087
Delicias Caleña No. 2, a tiny bakery whose awning proclaims “100% Colombiano,” is wedged between a North Indian and a South Indian restaurant in a part of Jackson Heights better known for halal butchers and Tibetan momo parlors than Colombian bakeries. It’s the type of spot I love to duck into in the morning for a cup of coffee and a buñuelo—the golden fried cheesy orb—or, if I’m feeling a bit hungrier an arepa con queso and a hunk of chicharron. The subject of today’s post isn’t Colombian breakfast though, it’s American breakfast. One that’s near and dear to the heart of New York City folks, the bacon egg and cheese sandwich.
“It’s the best,” my buddy Jeff Orlick, who lives just down the street has been telling me for years. “They make the bread and they deep fry the bacon.” Soggy bacon has turned me more into a sausage and cheese man, so after having lunch around the corner from Delicias with Jeff last week I made a point to finally try this sandwich.
I was prepared to be disappointed for I’m well aware that in this age of Instagram and a constant hunger to feed the interwebs the very best X, expectation often far exceeds reality. All that said it was actually the best bacon egg and cheese I have eaten in Jackson Heights, and certainly the best one from a Colombian bakery.
Perhaps it was the fact that eggs were scrambled, and the bacon was crispy, and the fresh roll definitely played a huge part. More likely though it was the novelty of finding the sandwich in such unfamiliar surroundings. I may just have another for lunch today. For the record, my favorite sausage and egg breakfast sandwich remains Maialino’s spendy cotechino on a pecorino biscuit. Delicias Caleña No. 2, 35-68 73rd St, Jackson Heights
Breakfast is usually a simple affair at Chez Joe. A strong cup of coffee with a sweet Chinese bun and perhaps a banana works just fine. The other day though I paired my potassium booster with a savory Chinese bread, péigēn miànbāo, the infamous “bacon bread,” from New Fully Bakery. The wedge of spiral bread is filled with a double dose of pork in the form of salty, smokey bacon and slightly sweet pork floss.
On that particular morning said spiral was getting stale, so I warmed it up in the toaster oven. Then I remembered I had a jar of sweet Lily’s Filipino peanut butter. Thus was born the Filipino Elvis sandwich. It was a salty sweet, and, I suppose marginally healthy way to start the day. Since I now live around the corner from New Fully I’ve begun to wonder if they’ll sell me a whole loaf and whether I should make a gigantic bacon bread grilled cheese.
The signature roast beef sandwich topped with cheese sauce and raw onions is worth a trip to Sheepshead Bay, Brookyn.
Even though I’ve made a career out of hating on Brooklyn in favor of Queens, my roots lie in the County of Kings where parents grew up. Perhaps my DNA makes me a sucker for the borough’s old-school neighborhoods and their culinary institutions. Today’s post is not about a certain antediluvian steakhouse in Williamsburg, but a rather another purveyor of meaty marvels: Roll ’n Roaster, a 50 year-old establishment that built its reputation on a rather sumptuous roast beef sandwich.
I was two years old in 1970 when Buddy Lamonica founded the Sheepshead Bay roast beef sandwich specialist whose slogan “We’re not so fast, Roll ’n Roaster,” became a staple of New York City late night TV in the 1970s. I didn’t grow up eating Lamonica’s creation—a glorious sandwich of thinly shaved roast beef drenched with gravy and topped with cheese sauce—that one of the restaurants many, many signs touts as “PERFECTION ON A ROLL,” but I wish I had. Instead we had Roy Rogers Roast Beef with horsey sauce. Imagine the greatness I would have achieved had I cut my teeth on Roll ’n Roaster instead of Roy’s! (more…)
It’s not cheap, but it comes with a million dollar view . . .
Like many of us here in New York City I’ve been struggling with the new normal, but I’m hopeful. Trips to Rockaway Beach have helped. I’m trying to get there at least once a week. As always, there’s eating to be done. My first trip featured a massive feed at Whit’s End, the next a visit to La Cevicheria, and most recently a bit of New England via Rockaway Clam Bar. (I’m not counting the trip where I managed to give myself food poisoning by washing down a warm banana with hot Pellegrino.)
Rockaway Clam Bar is located in the Riis Park concessions, which reopened late last month. At one time they served clams on the half shell, which are always a favorite at the beach, but I didn’t see any on the menu yesterday. Instead I splurged for the lobster roll. At $22, it’s not cheap, but it was quite tasty, and as my pal pointed out, it comes with a “million dollar view” of the Atlantic. His fried clams were excellent. I was tempted to garnish my sandwich with the crunchy briny bellies, but kept it simple.
Since we were practically in Brooklyn we almost went to Randazzo’s Clam Bar afterwards. Instead we opted for a Queens classic, slices at New Park Pizza in Howard Beach.
RCL calls it a sandwich, but it’s more of a platter.
Chef Bruce has been gone about four years now. I still have a jar of cayenne he gave me two years before he died. It’s as potent as the memory of the first time I dug into a gigantic bowl of graveyard shift curry laksa at Curry Leaves with him. The chef turned taxi driver introduced me to what I like to joke is downtown Flushing’s longest running popup, since an entirely different crew runs the late night noodle operation. We’d often text each other in the wee hours with the simple query: “Curry Leaves?”
He introduced me to many places in Queens including the soul food specialist Rockaway Fish House/RCL Enterprises in Jamaica. Despite the name and the excellent reputation for fried fish, we ordered from the well-stocked steam table. I don’t remember what he had, but I do recall my plate: pig ears in gravy with collards and macaroni and cheese. (more…)
I recently had the pleasure of previewing the new menu from George Landin’s Corona Diner. Landin opened the diner—a love letter to Queens whose decor features references to nearby Flushing Meadows Corona Park and a mural with a who’s who of Queens luminaries from Malcolm X and Louis Armstrong to Action Bronson and LL Cool J. Landin’s new menu is also a love letter to the diversity of Queens with items like a Mexican-inspired elote hot dog and an Ecuadorean ceviche.
It also features a roster of decadent hamburgers like one topped with mac and cheese and crumbled bacon and another whose buns are grilled cheese sandwiches. Those were all quite tasty, but my favorite item of the night was a somewhat more restrained number called the dia despues.(more…)