Of course there’s pastrami, but also the Mushreuben and some destination heroes
by KATE KRADER
New York is a town of strong opinions. Residents can’t agree on anything, whether it’s a major e-commerce company setting up a new headquarters or whether SoHa, or South Harlem, goes beyond acronym to be an actual neighbourhood. (It doesn’t.)
Opinions are particularly fierce when it comes to food, be it best pizza or best steak or best burgers or the topic at hand: Sandwiches.
To start, what is a sandwich? The technical definition involves a minimum of one slice of bread (or a roll, bun, etc) with a filling. Merriam-Webster has labelled a hot dog a sandwich. The New York state tax bulletin ST-835 from 2011 considers anything hot or cold “whether made on bread, on bagels, on rolls, in pitas, in wraps, or otherwise and regardless of the filling or number of layers. A sandwich can be as simple as a buttered bagel or roll.” Stop right there, we say.
Even if New York state will put a burrito under the sandwich umbrella, Bloomberg Pursuits will not. For the purposes of this story, we have defined a sandwich as including any kind of bread, whether pita or biscuit, and almost any kind of filling. We drew the blurry line at burgers and most definitely didn’t include hot dogs or lobster rolls.
What follows are the top picks from top chefs around the city that showcase the city’s multicultural delights of carb-cradled conveniences. — Bloomberg
- 137 Sullivan Street, SoHo
- Sandwich: Mushreuben
Heresy or homage? Made with roasted maitake mushrooms instead of corned beef, West-Bourne’s Mushreuben has become the favourite of Untitled chef Suzanne Cupps. “The mushrooms add unique umami flavour,” she says. “It’s so good, I would say I like the Mushreuben more than a traditional Reuben.” Besides making destination sandwiches, the vegetarian all-day cafe donates 1% of its profits to The Door, a hospitality training programme that’s backed by Wall Street’s favourite charity, the Robin Hood Foundation. Recommended by Cupps, executive chef at Untitled in New York.
- 151 Union Street, Columbia Street Waterfront
- Sandwich: The Panelle and Croquette Special
Ferdinando’s has been around since 1904 and recalls a time when the neighbourhood was thoroughly Italian — in fact, Martin Scorsese used it for a scene in The Departed. The specialties, like the pictures on the wall, are Sicilian including the combo of fried chickpea flour patties (panelle) and potato croquettes. “They’re both different levels of crispy, served on a soft roll with parmesan and homemade ricotta cheese,” says Billy Durney. “It’s ridiculous, and it’s perfect.” Ask for tomato sauce on the side. Recommended by Durney, chef/owner of Hometown Bar-B-Que in New York.
Court Street Grocers
- 485 Court Street, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
- Sandwich: The Italian Combo
Name an Italian deli staple, and it’s probably been loaded into this combo at Court Street Grocers, which has a cult following beyond its Brooklyn flagship. “It’s one of my latest obsessions,” says Amanda Freitag, of Chopped fame. Within the seeded hero roll, mortadella, soppressata, Swiss, mozzarella and pecorino Romano are all represented, along with arugula, red onion, mayo and the store’s own Court Street Grocers hoagie spread. The last is “an olive salad that is salty, fatty and acidic enough to stand up to the soppressata without taking over,” Freitag says. “It’s wonderfully reminiscent of a muffuletta sandwich — addictive.” Recommended by Freitag, Chopped and Food Network star.
Lolo’s Seafood Shack
- 303 W 116th Street, Harlem
- Sandwich: Crispy Shark and Bake
“Shark and bake is something that you eat all over the Caribbean,” says Marcus Samuelsson of Harlem’s Red Rooster. “Being at Lolo’s and eating this sandwich transports me to the beach.” The “shark” in the name is actually whatever inexpensive white-fleshed fish is available, such as whiting. And at this engaging, colourful “shack” (it’s in an apartment building), the sandwich pairs the pan-fried fish with pickled cabbage slaw, tomato slices a drizzle of tangy salsa verde, and house hot sauce tucked inside a crispy, round fry bread. After a few bites, it loses its structure, so you must carefully devour it piece by tasty piece. Recommended by Samuelsson, chef/owner of Red Rooster in New York.
- 205 E Houston Street, Lower East Side
- Sandwich: Pastrami on Rye
If New York has a sandwich holy ground, it has to be Katz’s, the Lower East Side staple that’s been serving juicy, fatty pastrami — piled high on rye bread — to celebs and plebes alike since the 1880s. “Order it with a side of coleslaw, full sour pickles and Cel-Ray soda,” advises Thomas Keller, chef and owner of Per Se. Recommended by Keller, chef/owner of Per Se and TAK Room in New York.
- 35 Orchard Street, Lower East Side
- Sandwich: Fried Chicken and Biscuit
Jeremiah Stone, co-owner of downtown restaurant Contra, delights in the way fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits, slaw and gravy come together in this messy, New Orleans-style pile. “I love it because it falls apart right away,” he says, “but also stays humongous”. Recommended by Stone, chef/co-owner of Contra in New York.
Banh Mi Saigon
- 198 Grand Street, Little Italy
- Sandwich: Pork Bahn M
What was once a spot for in-the-know New Yorkers has relocated from a counter in a tiny Chinatown jewellery store to a dedicated space on Grand Street. And what makes the banh mi here the best in the city? Shuko chef Nick Kim says it’s the freshly baked baguettes, which are unusual for most New York places that serve the classic Vietnamese sandwich: “Like the rice with sushi, the bread is often overlooked, but it’s so important.” Kim favours traditional toppings: Tender pork, a layer of pâté and bright pickled vegetables. “When you walk into the space, you don’t see a box of pickled vegetables,” he says. “They’re making everything themselves — and the crunch of the baguette is second to none.” Recommended by Kim, chef/partner of Shuko in New York.
- 207 W 14th Street, Chelsea
- Sandwich: Cubano
Like all time-honoured diners in New York, Coppelia is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but with Latin American DNA to set it apart — a meal there is like taking an instant trip to South Florida. “The restaurant feels like a party all the time,” says Harold Moore, who seeks out the Cubano, made with tender, garlicky roast pork, ham, Swiss, house-made pickles and a gentle brush of mustard. All that gets pressed hot and caramelised. “The mojo flavour of the pork is perfect with the cheese and bread. It takes time to make it, just the way it does at Versailles in Miami.” Recommended by Moore, chef/owner of Bistro Pierre Lapin in New York.
Faicco’s Italian Specialties
- 260 Bleecker Street, West Village
- Sandwich: Chicken Cutlet Parmigiano Hero
Native New Yorker Alex Guarnaschelli is passionate about the selections at Faicco’s, an old-school deli that’s been selling cured meats and aged cheeses in Greenwich Village since 1900. It also does a side business in subs. “I love all of their heroes and hot sandwiches,” she says. Her favourite, though, is the chicken cutlet parm hero. “Tomato, mozzarella and pecorino on a roll with freshly breaded, fried chicken cutlets. Why is it so good? It’s the flavours. The sauce. The chicken.” Guarnaschelli notes that while it tastes homemade, it’s professionally assembled. “It’s too much food — every great sandwich is — but not absurd,” she says. “And I love the experience of going to the store, the Italian American-ness of it.” Recommended by Guarnaschelli, chef at Butter Midtown in New York.
- 123 Lexington Avenue, Kips Bay
- Sandwich: The Mujadara
Gramercy Tavern’s Michael Anthony has a history with the Mujadara sandwich: “In my first job as a sous chef at March restaurant, chef Wayne Nish introduced me to Kalustyan’s, which has always been a treasure chest of ingredients from around the world. On my way to the restaurant, I would stop by and grab a sandwich because I was starved most of the time.” The falafel-like Lebanese vegetarian pita is stuffed with warm seasoned lentils (instead of fried ground chickpeas), iceberg lettuce, tomato slices and a swath of tahini. It’s hearty, healthy and, to a busy young chef, easy to eat on the go. Recommended by Anthony, chef of Gramercy Tavern in New York.
- 1000 Madison Avenue, Upper East Side
- Sandwich: Tuna Panini All’Olio with Marinated Artichokes
In the early 1980s, Sant Ambroeus brought refined Milanese cafe life to the Upper East Side when it opened on Madison Avenue. It has since branched out to rarefied towns like Southampton and Palm Beach, offering airy spaces for a macchiato, the Italian croissant cornetto and gelato. Chef Geoffrey Zakarian favours a more savoury selection: Chopped, briny artichokes and chunky canned Italian tuna on tender olive oil-infused rolls. “They’re slider-size petite, so you order two or three at a time,” he says. “Italians have mastered the art of simplicity, and that’s what this sandwich is.” Recommended by Zakarian, chef/partner of the Lambs Club in New York.
- 214 E 10th Street, East Village
- Sandwich: Berkshire Pork Katsu Sando
At night, this compact cafe in the East Village’s Little Tokyo is a sake bar with a line to get in. But during the day, Hi-Collar serves coffee and an extraordinary sando — the precise Japanese-style white-bread sandwich that’s bewitched Manhattan. Only 10 are made a day; Dominique Ansel, founder of the eponymous bakery empire, grabs one when he can. “The tender Berkshire pork is panko-crusted and fried until perfectly crispy,” he says. “It’s served with bulldog sauce (Japanese-style Worcestershire), a side of pickles, and potato salad. When it comes to sandwiches, for me, it’s about simplicity, not something overstuffed and overwhelming. Just one key ingredient with good bread.” Recommended by Ansel, chef/owner of Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York, Los Angeles and London.
- Time Warner Centre, 3rd Floor, Columbus Circle
- Sandwich: The U With Spicy Pork
This Momofuku kiosk at Columbus Circle specialises in bangs, or tender Asian flatbreads, served hot with a handful of fillings, including pieces of lacquered pork. Shake Shack’s culinary director Mark Rosati describes the experience of eating one: “Everything about this sandwich hits so hard, from the contrasting textures of the soft bang and crisp and juicy pork to the assertive flavours. For US$5.79 (RM24.03) each, they’re an incredible deal.” Recommended by Rosati, culinary director of Shake Shack worldwide.