The New York Sandwich Project: Week 9

Chinatown is not a region unique to Manhattan; most major cities have a Chinatown, because the Chinese utterly dominate the gene pool and love to travel. In fact, the city of New York contains eight separate Chinatowns spread throughout the five burrows (except for Staten Island, for obvious reasons). But there is something unique to Manhattan’s Chinatown. The name evokes an image, a departure from everything you know to be “Manhattan,” something quintessentially New York and authentically Chinese.

Walk down the street, you will find kittens slinking around the sidewalks, hunting their pigeon prey as their owners look on with stoic faces. Stop by one of the hole-in-the-wall restaurants: four bucks will get you and your girlfriend so many shrimp pork dumplings, you’ll be too bloated to move. Hop aboard the legendary Fung Wah bus, which despite its violations of numerous safety and ethical codes, will take you anywhere in the nation for six dollars and thirty cents.

More so than any other borough of the city, Chinatown feels as though you’re stepping into a foreign land (you know, like China). The origin of the Chinese presence in this region started with one man: Ah Ken. He arrived in the 1850’s, with the dream of slanging ‘awful’ discount cigars for three cents a pop. Through this hyper-cheap cigar hustle, he built up a considerable wealth, paving the way for other Chinese to follow in his footsteps. Now nearly one hundred thousand Chinese-blooded men and women live in this Manhattan neighborhood, standing as the largest collection of Chinese people in the Western world.  And they keep it authentic, baby. Often, you will feel illiterate walking the streets, wondering what lays shrouded in the mystery of the Chinese character. Is it a squid shop or an underground gambling casino? You’ll never know ‘til you go inside.

The reason Chinatown is so fresh in my head is because I recently ventured into this district for what is known as a reflexology treatment. Given some bizarre symptoms that shall remain nameless, I found Western medicine at a loss to assist me. Therefore, I was forced to abandon my roots and explore Eastern medicinal solutions. A colleague recommended reflexology treatment to me one night, my interest was peaked, and after work, as the sun began to set off in the distance, I entered a small shop on the edge of Chinatown.

A gruff man waiting behind the counter greeted me with a grunt and led me into a room adorned with traditional art and underscored by relaxation music. I told him my symptoms and he pointed to a chair, where I was instructed to sit, with little else. He yelled into the back room. A small, middle-aged woman appeared, carrying a massive bowl of piping hot water. She motioned for me to remove my shoes, so I did just that. Then she reclined the chair and began scrubbing my feet.

“Oh,” I said to myself. “It’s a foot massage.”

But I was wrong. So very, very wrong. What ensued for the following thirty minutes was a savage beating of my hairy Irish feet. She ripped on my toes, bent and twisted my bones, and dug her fingers into my ankle while she gouged my sole (soul?). The experience was a bizarre and painful ride, where I bit my lower lip to keep the screams from pouring out. It was not until the end that I began to comprehend what was happening.

Chinese medicine is done with a holistic healing procedure in mind, as opposed to Western, which targets the ailment of affliction. Chinese reflexologists believe the feet (along with the hands and ears), is a gateway to the body, a place where all organs and muscles are somehow connected through referential points. In short, if you hit the right part of the foot, it’s gonna do something to your spleen.

Does it sound profound or like a bunch of voodoo, hocus-pocus? I’m still not sure. That night, I left that shop with a profound feeling of peace, a calmness that my body had not felt in some time. What I am sure of is that bodily tightness and stress do not help anything, ever, and the treatment I received liberated me from both of these things. And if it did more, I am nothing but grateful. Twenty-five bucks if you’re ever interested. Lorenzo can give you directions. To both this place, and our sandwich of the week.

Sandwich 9: Defonte’s of Brooklyn

I originally planned to attend a Chinese sandwich shop for this week’s entry. Then I went to Defonte’s of Brooklyn and entered Nirvana and gave up all regard to coming up with a coherent blog theme. Defonte’s of Brooklyn is an Italian sandwich shop that epitomizes the essence of sandwich.

Last week I discussed in depth the virtue of “moistness” in a sandwich. If Defonte’s represented a virtue in the sandwich world, it would be “fatness.” Sometimes, you’re not looking for innovation; you don’t want plantains for bread or kimchi atop your bulgogi burger. Sometimes, you just want the fattest Italian hero money can buy. Whether you call it call it a grinder or a hoagie or a sub, anyway you slice it, Defonte’s is a certifiably fat sandwich.

This deli has been lurking around since 1922, which means it came out around in an age where alcohol was outlawed for its danger to society. How far we’ve come. Since then, Defonte’s street cred has grown immensely, with credits including mention in the New York Times and a cameo on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.” They are not innovators at Defonte’s, their secret to success boils down to properly executing the three F’s:

1.)    Freshness

2.)    Flavor

3.)    Fatness.

My sandwich of choice is served cold, the infamous Nicky Special. Its description off the menu reads:

“ham, capocollo, salami, fried eggplant, provolone, hot salad, marinated mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, oil and vinegar.”

Tell me that doesn’t scream “fatness?” The holy trinity of Italian grinder meats, layered with provolone, vegetables, and oils is nothing mind-blowing, but it is a tried-and-true classic, so why mess with a good thing? The freshness of each of these ingredients is paramount to this hoagie’s flavor. What takes it to the next level is the addition of flawlessly fried eggplant, which offers a plethora of thick and savory flavor, balanced by the “hot salad,” a collection of spicy, pickled peppers, and the juicy marinated mushrooms.

One of these subs is not too fat to eat. One is just fat enough to eat. No one walks away from a Nicky’s Special hungry, not unless that individual is a problem eater or is afflicted with the world’s mightiest tapeworm. With its original location in Brooklyn, new location in Gramercy, and over eighty years of history, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t already have eaten here twice this week.

The New York Sandwich Project: Week 8

A wise man once said: “You should live in New York for a time, but not so long that it makes you cold.” There is an immense amount of truth squeezed into this statement; this city has a way of instilling frigidness upon its denizens, especially those who have lived here for far too long. Where does this coldness originate? Perhaps it’s the endless hustle and bustle along the streets of this urban jungle, the constant competition of this dirty, filthy rat race. Maybe it’s that, in a city of over eight million, being gentle and polite and considerate are traits that will get you left behind. Or it could just be that New York has a way of attracting heartless dicks.

I experienced a classic example of this on my first week of work in New York. That day, I emerged from the bowels of the subway to witness a bizarre sight. On the corner of 59th and Lexington, there stood a man, in thick-framed glasses, a pastel colored shirt, and bike shorts, crying his eyes out amidst a mass of businessmen and women on their way to the office. As these waves of finely-tailored, three-piece suits passed him, he screamed out in agony:

“What the hell is wrong with you people? Why can’t anyone just be nice?

But no one was. Like everyone else, I was on my way to work, trying to not get fired and maybe eat a bagel sandwich along the way. Seeing this man was almost comical, in a dark, sickening sort of way, a dire and disposed soul engulfed in the coldness of the city. No, this is not San Francisco. No one is going to stop and talk feelings with this oddly-dressed man. Our time is valuable, we don’t have enough of it, and we’ve all got more important things to do with our time. Get a job and get over it. This is New York.

But before we condemn all New Yorkers as monsters, an important distinction must be made. People make the common mistake of thinking that “coldness” is the same as “not giving a shit.” But that’s not the case. New Yorkers are cold, but they do, in fact, give a shit. Coldness entails a thick skin, an ability to remain unmoved by the lesser issues (and some of the greater ones too). Not giving a shit implies apathy, which is a dangerous, dangerous beast. But coldness is different, and when you really look for it, you can see this distinction manifest itself in beautiful ways.

On that very same walk to work, I have seen small, collective instances of generosity. On the corner store by my office stands a massive display of New York postcards. On a particularly stormy day in December, a rogue gust of wind launched that display into the street, kicking up hundreds of post cards into the air. They danced in the wind as they fell, like overpriced, touristy snowflakes coming down to the grimy New York streets.

The owner of the shop would have lost them all, had it not been for the spontaneous crew of some dozen New Yorkers who rushed to retrieve these lost postcards, through the sludgy snow and busy New York streets. One man even stopped a taxi to gather those that had fallen into the road. But this was the storekeeper’s livelihood – and everyone knows how tough it is to make it out here. So they helped.

Or another example. Every day I walk past this ancient woman who sits along a blue painted wall on the walk to my office. She talks to posters and wears a poncho like a babushka, but never bothers anyone. Even those who try to give her money, she refuses. No one knows why. No one even knows if she speaks English. And while she will never accept a monetary donation, what she will take is a cream cheese bagel and a piping hot cup of coffee from anyone willing to give. Every day, without fail, you will see various midtown workers handing her both of these things. It always seems to make her smile.

No, New Yorkers don’t have time for “feelings” or “tenderness” –it’s far too cold a city for such things. But when shit needs getting done, New Yorkers give a shit.

Week 8: The Original Mama’s Empanadas

A good sandwich, like most things in life, is about balance. Everything needs to retain a degree of its own flavor identity while simultaneously fusing together with all of its sister ingredients. You know, balance. One thing that no one ever considers, but is pivotal to the creation of the perfect sandwich, is the moisture factor. It is, perhaps, the most crucial element of such a meal. A sandwich made too wet becomes soggy and sloppy and falls apart. A sandwich made too dry, comes off as flavorless and unimpressive.

But what if you could have both? A sandwich with all the flavor that comes from being moist, with the structural integrity that comes from being dry? Then what would you have?

 I found such a creation, nestled in the borough known as Jackson Heights in Queens.

The area is known for its plethora of ethnicities: East Asians, South Asians, Tibetans, Argentineans. The list goes on, but today, we’ll be speaking of the Colombians who inhabit this area, and their magical shop along the main drag of this colorful neighborhood: the Original Mama’s Empanadas. It was here I consumed my first ever arepa rellena.

For those of you who don’t hablo español, “arepa” means”corn-flatbread creation,” and “rellena” means “stuffed full of awesomeness.” Think of it as a hard corn biscuit filled with delicious meat. While it may sound simple, the genius of these sandwiches is in the strength of the arepa. Because it is made of ground corn, it is far stronger and less absorbent than your typical piece of bread. Thus, it is possible to load up the savory corn biscuit with sopping wet carnitas and smother it in spicy green sauce without the slightest fear of your sandwich collapsing on you.

They’re only like three bucks and they eat like a meal. Plus, they’re not even what this eatery is famous for. The empanadas are even cheaper and there’s a hundred thousand different types. Why haven’t you ever been here? No excuses. Go to Mama’s. It’s a side of New York (and a side of flavor) you’ve never seen before.

The New York Sandwich Project: Week 7

In the City of New York, the term “hipster” gets tossed around frequently, often with great fury and disdain. In today’s NYSP , I propose the question, what is a hipster? And furthermore, are they actually the epidemic that we believe them to be?


Hipster, for many, denotes a phenomenon that originated in Williamsburg , a plague of pretentious, obscure, ironic individuals who wear five dollar plaid-shirts with three hundred dollar frames (despite their twenty-twenty vision). In short, hipsters are douchebags. They are the greatest perpetrators of the dreaded “gentrification” ; turning Brooklyn’s once vibrant, cultural neighborhoods into a collection of overpriced loft apartments and vegan pizza joints . Their identity is intrinsically tied to their ability to have tastes that no one has ever heard of before, like Ukrainian Electro-rock bands and throwback NES style-games based off a David Lynch television series . You can’t say the word “hipster” in New York (or anywhere, I would wager) without hearing a low groan rise up from the masses. Because, honestly, screw these guys. Right?

See, I don’t know if I see it that way anymore.

One of my acquaintances is afflicted with “hipsteritis.” He often adorns himself in plaid clothing and tirelessly mentions campy Japanese horror films . Are his references obscure and annoying sometimes? Absolutely. But the Bible says“harden not your hearts,” so I tried to open my mind and comprehend that which is the essence of hipster, try to dig into what provokes people to behave in such a way. After this little thought experiment, I began to see the harsh, underlying reality that had formally obviated my mind.

Given our definition, we loathe hipsters because of what and how they consume: they listen to obscure music, hang out in droves at annoyingly trendy bars without signs, accessorize expensively, and shave with single-bladed razors (when they do shave, which is honestly not that much). We hate on hipsters because of their tastes and their relentless pride in said tastes. But what I realized in this thought experiment is: we all do the exact same thing.

Let me ask you, would you judge a “die-hard” Sox fan, lurking in some dingy sports bar, slugging Bud Lights all night and spouting Mo Vaughn stats? How about a woman who has a collection of pashmina shawls , three hundred dollar necklaces she’s never worn, and can quote every line from The Princess Diaries? I mean, my favorite T-shirt features the Ninja Turtles, my relationship with The Simpsons is borderline unhealthy, and the only thing I actively spend money on is sandwiches. My point is, if these are the very things we hate on hipsters for, being overly proud in their consumption and having weird, sometimes unnecessarily expensive tastes, then we’re all hipsters.

Let that one sink in for a minute.


The only real difference is that society has deemed their tastes more obscure and as such, we find it off-putting. I’m not saying this somehow makes hipsters more tolerable for the non-hipster crowd (because honestly, some of them really do suck). I’m just doing a little exploration into the realm of hipsterdom, as I did for this week’s sandwich.

Week 7: Commodore

I chose Commodore for this week’s entry, not because the sandwiches are delicious (which they are), but because the venue reeked of hipster and hipster culture. For starters, it’s located in Williamsburg, a.k.a. the epicenter of all things hipster. Here, amidst a collection of moustache grooming shops and art gallery bars that were formally mayonnaise factories , you will come across Commodore. Except you probably won’t, because there’s no sign in front of the establishment (advertising in so mainstream, brah).

Commodore (which must be a reference to the Commodore 64) is deceptively large, divided into two sections, one bar, one restaurant, both seat yourselves, order at the bar. Perhaps the most stand-out awesome feature is their assortment of relic arcade games, including a Gilligan’s Island pinball machine . The menu is printed on cheap paper, as are the placemats, which feature their elaborate and impressive spirits selection along with a respectable draught assortment.

But this is a sandwich blog, damn it, and we need to get to where the focus is: the sandwiches. The magician behind this week’s entry hails from Georgia, Stephen Tanner, who also co-founded Pies-N-Thighs (another restaurant worth your time). He’s a fried chicken buff, and as such, the “Hot Breast” sandwich (a spicy chicken breast) is a must-munch. Slathered in pickles and slaw and a very flavorful, spicy sauce, it’s a fat, satisfying sandwich which was only outdone for me by the “Hot Fish.” It’s pretty much the same idea, but with a chunk of fried fish so wide, it sticks out on both sides. Hell, you probably could have made two sandwiches out of it.


These sandwiches are damn good (and affordable), but I mean, you’ve had a damn good fish/chicken sandwich before. Commodore is worth it for more of an ineffable reason, something about the vibe: a mixture of solid grub and good drinks set to slightly obscure tunes amidst a crowd saturated in piercings and neck tattoos. It feels just a little different and, you know, sometimes I dig different.

AND, for any of you with an Instagram account, you can follow me at #nycsandwichproject. Only a couple pics for now, but that will grow. There are many more sandwiches to be eaten. 

The New York Sandwich Project: Week 6

Living overseas, you get thinking about being an American – the implications of being someone born under the red, white, and blue. Introducing yourself to others as “American” carries with it a certain perceived identity, one of political brashness and backyard barbecues, freedom and a complete lack of respect for the game of soccer (or “football”). But all of this comes with an assumption that I, as an individual,  understood what life was like for all Americans. If someone talked about downing anju alongside soju at a norebang karaoke bar, or munching on some lengua and sipping horchata at their daughter’s quinceañera, I would have never associated such things with America.But this is the American reality for a vast number of people, especially in New York City, where nearly 40% of the population was born outside of the United States. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the city’s eclectic ethnic grocery stores.

Currently, I reside in a Russian neighborhood (that has thankfully remained untouched by the “gentrification” of the nefarious hipster epidemic). While walking around the other day, I entered a shop called “Gorbachev’s Meats.” My assumption was that I’d be able to buy some chicken thighs to fry up into my famous quesadillas. My assumption was wrong. For meat I had three choices: veal neck, a mystery carcass whose description was written in rubbed out sharpie, or one of their seventeen different types of sausage. Canned goods in the store were unidentifiable, containing what could have as easily been stirred peaches as dried snails, and the cheese existed only in goat variety.


This is true city-wide. Head down to Chinatown (or Queens, the true Chinatown) and be bombarded with baby bok choy and tentacled sea creatures sitting in kiddie pools on the side of the road. Swing by one of midtown’s Indian market and marvel at their selection of four thousand types of lentils. Sure, for the white-bred, suburban dwelling denizen it seems a little bizarre, but when you learn that 40% of America’s most iconic city began their life somewhere foreign, you have to start to grapple with the fact that pho and tabouli are as American as apple pie. After all, everybody’s gotta eat.

Which leads us to the task at hand.

Week 6: Absolute Bagels

Perhaps more than any other food, bagels are the quintessential New York food. Although they were invented by the Polish for something to eat during Lent (no joke), they are now most famously an American institution (we spend about a billion dollars on bagels annually). A staple of my breakfast for quite some time, I originally considered making the “New York Sandwich Project” the “New York Bagel Project,” but figured there just wasn’t enough versatility to go around.

The beauty of bagels is that bagels transcend race, ethnicity, and creed. When I’m trying to get down on some righteous jerk chicken, I want a Jamaican at the chef’s helm. If I want some bomb Sichuanese cuisine, I pray there’s someone Chinese in the kitchen. But, bagels are the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter where you’re from; everybody has the potential to make this yeasted wheat dough well. Such things are easier said than done though, and New York is rotten with shoddy, dried-out, overly-salted, tiny, pathetic excuses for bagels. So I did a little research, seeking out the “BEST BAGEL IN NEW YORK CITY.” On my quest for this holy grail of bread product, I was led to an Upper West Side locale named Absolute Bagels, the city’s premiere bagel joint as voted by Yelp.

Some of you may be saying to yourselves, “even if such a bagel exists, who is this man to judge it?” I understand, your doubts have credence; I am neither a native New Yorker nor an accomplished epicurean. But someone has to be brave and venture into the unknown, and it might as well be me.

I entered the eatery with my own, humble palate, and proceeded to explore. Run by a Thai family, it’s the only bagel establishment I’ve seen that also features Thai Iced Tea (which, if you’ve never experienced, is worth the trip alone).The ambiance is underwhelming, dull overhead lights and ice-cold employees, but these things are not hard to look past once you arrive at the cream cheese display. The sheer number of choices puts Absolute Bagels on another level. Among some of the jaw-droppers were: apple cinnamon cream cheese made with fresh apples daily, spicy jalapeno-infused cream cheese, and, for the non-Kosher patron, bacon and cheddar cream cheese (with massive chunks of both).


Using the tools at my disposal, I created a bagel sandwich combination special for this visit: an everything bagel, smothered in jalapeno cream cheese, fresh tomatoes, and piled with smoked salmon. I call it the “Follox.” It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it helped me to objectively benchmark this bagel joint against all others.


The verdict:

The Follox maintained a fantastic balance, spicy and rich and savory and refreshing all at the right times, and never too much of any of the above. Truly, a quality bagel experience and worthy of a trip. But best bagel in New York?

No. It was among the best bagels I have had, which was good enough for me. That, and Absolute features the best cream cheese game in town.

But it got me thinking that, perhaps, there is no objectively best bagel in New York City. Perhaps it is an existential preference, like the way we all view our American identity. Perhaps it’s something about the circular shape of these doughy delights, how our lives move in cycles, as we circle around that massive fiery circle in the sky, trying to understand our lives on our great big blue circle. Or perhaps I just took way too many English courses in college and have way too much time to think about baked goods.

The New York Sandwich Project: Week 5

Today, like many days in the New York winter, the city gets bombarded with snow and is transformed into a slushy, filthy ice skating rink. Activities which normally require minimal brain functionality, like crossing the street without dying, suddenly become the focal point of everyone’s attention. Trains load up with those too terrified to drive, and then break down because, well, it’s the New York public transit system. Even with all the snowy chaos, the impossibly rushed pace of the city refuses to slow down, and as a result, the city spirals into a deeper, colder, crappier disarray.

And then, you find yourself alongside a slew of other frigid New Yorkers, at the end of a long and snow-shit filled day, deep in the bowels of the subway system, praying a train will come within the next half hour. It’s always at that moment, when it all seems to suck so bad you can barely function, you hear it. Sometimes it’s an alto sax paired with a six-piece drum set. Sometimes it’s a lone acoustic guitarist, banging out a rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” Sometimes it’s a guy who thinks he’s the second coming of reggaeton. The New York street and subway musicians.

Sure, a lot of times they’re terrible. But what is shocking and often haunting is the talent that arises from the cesspool, some of which are tattooed in my brain forever. One was a sullen young man on 59th street around Christmas time, belting out a soul-shaking rendition of “Danny Boy” (my grandfather’s favorite song to sing to me). Another time, I was sprinting through Atlantic Avenue, late and exhausted, kept going only by the resounding beats of a wild didgeridoo-bongo fusion sound. Then on 34 street, I witnessed a solo cellist whose sound seemed to mutate the squalid depths around him and elevate them into something glorious and magical.

But perhaps the most striking for me was the quartet of homeless men, singing an acapella version of “Our Father” as they weaved in and out of the crowds. One of the four men was handed two dollars by an onlooker. The homeless man in turn took one of those two dollar bills, worked his way through the crowd, and handed it to a woman huddled in the corner, selling fruit snacks from under a blanket to feed her family. Perhaps New York is not always as cold as we like to make it out to be.

Week 5: Patacon Pisao

For my fifth post, I wanted to try something new, venture into the great unknown of the sandwich world. My good buddy, Will To, is to thank for this week’s featured venue: Patacon Pisao, the award-winning and ground-breaking Venezuelan sandwich shop. It began in 2005 as a food truck and caught on like wild Venezuelan fire, now offering two permanent locations, in Washington Heights and Queens, and an upcoming spot on the Lower East Side. But what makes this cuisine so unique and awesome?

Plantains instead of bread. Sit, take a deep breath, and wrap your tiny head around that thought nuke. Coming from someone who is not a plantain lover in general, these sandwiches are stunning. The starchiness and texture of the plantains makes them an ideal (and healthy) alternative to your more traditional bread-based sandwiches, and furthermore sends every preconceived notion of the sandwich into an LSD-infused realm of possibilities.

But does that make it good? I have to remain objective in my reviews, existing as a sandwich scientist of sorts. Therefore gimmicks, while attention-grabbing, are not sufficient enough to win over my cold, dark New York heart. But at Patacon Pisao, the hits don’t stop at the plantains; these bad boys are unrelenting in flavor from top to bottom. Grilled chunks of carne asada, chorizo sausage, and fresh avocado comprise the Patacon Pisao, and they top it off with a sunny side up egg just for the hell of it. Pair that up with the BLaTin, the Venezuelan take on the BLT, loaded with crispy bacon, lettuce, tomato, and avocado, and topped off with a crema de wasakaka sauce, you’re sitting pretty. Bring a friend, split them in half, and go on a joint odyssey of flavor.

If you’re not into plantains, Patacon Pisao hosts a slew of other sandwich options, including tachuchos (Venezuelan style-wraps), arepas (white corn meal patties), and cachapas (sweet corn cakes). Whatever you get, you have to wash it down with a chicha, their cold sweet rice milkshake. It’s smooth and rich, and its flavor falls somewhere between a Mexican horchata and a Korean sikhye, if any of those words mean anything to you. And for dessert, try the tres leches, their “homemade three milks sponge cake.” Oh yeah.

Patacon Pisao, it’s as delicious as it is different.

The New York Sandwich Project: Week 4

New York City is a serendipitous city, an urban jungle of beautiful fate, a sprawling locale of wonderful coincidences.

My proof? I thought my sandwich blog was dead in the water. Four weeks in and I couldn’t think of an intro. A city saturated in culture, food, and adventure, and I was stuck with writer’s cramp. So, I decide to meet my old friend Dave Raymond at McSorley’s Old Ale House and mull things over. As to be expected, glorious things fell together.

McSorley’s is a New York institution, the self-proclaimed oldest Irish pub in New York City, boasting having first opened its doors in 1854. Here, a watering hole where the likes of Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln drank, a pub in the truest sense of the word, where dusty photographs and newspaper clippings hang on the wall, unmoved since the turn of the twentieth century. Here, a destination where only there are only two beers on the menu (light and dark), you have to order two at a time, and the floors are covered in saw-dust a memories. Here, a place where women were not allowed to come in until 1970. McSorley’s: the epitome of genuine.

Perhaps its crowning achievement is the row of giant, dusty wishbones that adorn the bar. McSorley’s, you see, has a tradition dating back to the First World War, where soldiers going off to war would leave wishbones atop the bar. The point was, when they returned, they would take back their wishbone, thus signifying a successful tour of duty. To this day, wishbones linger atop the bar, relics of brave veterans who never made it back stateside.

Last night I was late arriving and Dave had struck up a conversation with an old Indian man named Tony sporting a turban and a his sassy, flight-attendant companion whose name got lost in the overall clamor of the bar. I barely spoke a word to Dave all night, as a slew colorful characters passed in and out of the pub, regaling us with tales of bizarre circumstance. By the end of the night, I was educated on how to score free drinks from stewardesses on domestic flights and I had witnessed Tony propose to a woman at the bar he had met not an hour prior. She was a third his age.

There we drank and enjoyed in the truest New York fashion, strangers gathered together in the warm coal stove, eating cheese and crackers doused in horseradish (a sandwich of sorts) and embracing the best part of New York – the glorious randomness of it all. Perhaps we’ll never see them again. And perhaps my son will marry Tony’s granddaughter. If it does not, it is okay, some other serendipity will sweep us all up in its warm, chaotic embrace.

But the serendipity does not end there; in fact, this week’s sandwich was the result of the same phenomenon.

This weekend, I had the ideal eatery lined up – a glorious Venezuelan sandwich joint that came highly recommended by numerous trusted sources. I saved it for Saturday night, a meal to be enjoyed alongside homies, home girls, and beer. To reach this Venezuelan restaurant, we had to endure a half an hour trek through snow and bitter New York wind. After many struggles and losing a few compatriots along the way to frostbite, we arrived outside our destination. And there, after the arduous journey, we were greeted with doors boarded up with wood and no further explanation. It turned out, this location was “COMING SOON.”

Again, I thought my Sandwich Project to be dead in the water four weeks in.

Yet, a short distance down the road, we sought refuge in a pub, known well to my friend Doug Camerano. And, within the confines of this pub, I was presented with what very might have been the best chicken sandwich of my life.

Sandwich 4: Spitzer’s Corner

I doubt there is a single soul reading this blog who has never experienced a fried chicken sandwich. But who among you can claim to have tasted a truly delicious one? My guess is you probably haven’t. And there’s a very compelling reason for this fact: the chicken sandwich is a backup sandwich. It’s safe. It’s unimposing. In essence, it’s the booty call of sandwiches. The only people who seek it out on a menu are boring or picky eaters, both of whom I consider my mortal enemies. Rarely will you see this sandwich epicurean place such an order. 

But on that icy winter evening, we entered Spitzer’s Corner, who Doug, a tried-and-true Manhattanite, recommended in the wake of the Venezuela crisis. Spitzer’s offers brunch, lunch, dinner, and one of the most eclectic draught beer menus in the city (seriously try the Ommegang Three Philosophers—it’s a 9.8% knockout brew). The ambiance is solid: a modern-pub vibe with mood lighting and underscored with a quality discotech mix. It’s young, trendy and central enough, you’d pop in even if the food wasn’t all that great.

That night, after carefully studying their menu, I ordered the chicken sandwich on a serendipitous whim.  Perhaps, I prayed, these guys would be able to deliver. And they did. This, my friends, was more than just a fried bird wedged between a bun.

It didn’t come with much: a pickle, a slice of lettuce, a little mayo and a dazzling red hot sauce to boot. No fries. No slaw. So I guess, in essence, it was just a fried bird wedged between a bun.

But it was a very special bird. If it’s true that happy animals taste better, this chicken must have lived a better life than me. It was tender, moist, and perfectly fried. Coated in a light batter that wasn’t even slightly greasy, the skin began to slide off the chicken like a seductive, fatty dress. But the real genius came in the choice of meat. When composing a fried chicken sandwich, so many chefs opt for all-white meat chicken breast.

Mistakes. Foolishness.

 Dark meat thighs, baby. That’s where the flavor, and Spitzer’s corner knows this fact well. Their chicken sandwich is equipped with a pair of tender, dark meat thighs, so succulent you could almost drink them. And that’s all you need.

Sure, there are other things on the menu. The Angus burger doused in egg and bacon, the fattest brussel sprouts I’ve ever seen, and some serious fish n’ chips. You can’t really make a bad decision. But you can make an uneducated decision, and that would be a mistake. Trust Lorenzo. Go chicken.

Post-Script: I would like to make an honorary mention of my good friend Sohl Kim’s culinary delight, the fried chicken sandwich served in his legendary Apgujeong eatery, Salt and Butter (RIP). While the restaurant is no longer around, its memory (and its chicken sandwich) still haunts my soul to this day. If there was ever a chicken sandwich to contend with Spitzer’s, it would be Sohl’s. That is all.

The New York Sandwich Project: Week 3

The Big Apple is steeped in a tradition of the visual and performing arts and, as such, there is a vast spectrum to experience: massive Broadway plays, alternative warehouse dance recitals, and creepy one-man venues that you’re pretty sure is really just someone’s dingy studio apartment. For yours truly, thought, the greatest of New York’s performance halls are the stand-up comedy clubs. New York stand-up is an institution, dating back to when Frank Fay performed at the New York Palace Theatre in the 1920’s. It has since been pioneered by the likes of Richard Pryor, Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and countless others, making New York a comedy mecca of sorts, a pilgrimage of dick jokes and off-beat social comedy. Ushering into the present day, the stand-up tradition is alive and well (seriously, if you haven’t seen John Mulaney yet, you’re missing out).  

And while I love the greats, living here has given me a new-found respect for the hustlers, the up-and-comers, trying to grind their way into comedy stardom. These hapless scour the city in search of ten minute sets, working for free or, at best, taking a beer or two as payment. One of my buddy’s is currently chasing this dream. He describes it as an arduous trek through open mics and sleazy stand-up clubs, where audiences are volatile. One night, the phrase “lumber jacking-off” might have killed. The next, he’s being booed off stage. But there is something so pure about the craft, something I’ve loved since Comedy Central first appeared on my television set. You see it in their eyes – they live and die by every joke.

In that vein, I introduce the nemesis of the comedian: the dreaded heckler. For those who are not familiar with the term, a heckler is a jeerer, the bottom-feeding obnoxious scum of an audience member who shouts out things at the comedian during their set. In short, an asshole. No one knows why they do it; perhaps they just want to watch someone burn on-stage, trip over their own jokes, and ultimately fail.

The other day, my buddy got the chance to perform at the Gotham, an icon of the New York comedy club scene. Along with three other comedians, he tried his hand at making a room full of strangers laugh. But lurking in the crowd was a beast of a heckler, a man who thought it playful to scream out nonsense in a bad fake Indian accent while his loathsome group of friends egged him on. The first three comedians, along with my buddy, endured the berating of this heckler, as he harassed each of them through their acts and took a little bit from each of them in the process.

Then something triumphant happened. The final comedian took the stage, thanked the audience, walked over to the heckler, and proceeded to tear him apart, ligament by ligament. For over ten minutes he systematically destroyed this man, calling him out for interrupting the previous acts and advising the man what a better use for his mouth would be (hint: it doesn’t involve talking). Watching this comedian assault the intolerable audience member was like watching a judge deliver a sentence lined with jokes. His best rant, and something that has stuck with me since: “You have the balls to come in here and rip down people who are trying to reach their dreams because you were too much of a coward to go after yours.”

Boom. Of course, his version was saturated with profanity, but I try to keep it clean on the sandwich blog. Speaking of which:

Sandwich 3: Omar’s Kitchen and Bakery

While we all love to laugh, there is nothing funny about the midtown culinary scene. Because it sucks. Trust me, I work there. It is an entire region designed for quick business lunches, dominated by lackluster Chinese eateries, empty salad bars, and the dreaded “food factories” where you pay ten dollars a pound for shitty cafeteria food.

One of the few bright stars in this collection of burnt out midtown Christmas tree lights is Omar’s Kitchen and Bakery, a.k.a. Middle Eastern Halal Schawarma perfection. Falling into the pita wrap spectrum of sandwiches, it is just one of those places that do everything right for cheap, maintaining a healthy dose of both quality and quantity in a way very few eating destinations can.

Here’s how it goes down: You get in line (usually out the door) and choose either a pita or a platter. Go for the platter – more food and they provide you two of your own pitas that you can stuff like a Thanksgiving turkey, thus creating a sandwich to your liking.

The lamb and chicken schawarma meat is delectable, shaved off the sides of those gorgeous slabs, like eating the flank of some delicious angel. Alone, it would be enough to warrant a trip. But (and this is coming from a hardened carnivore) what really sets Omar’s apart is the slew of vegetarian sides. Tabouli, the minty Lebanese salad, is fantastic, as are the hummus and cucumber salad. The truly mind-melting entrée here, though, is the Turkish eggplant salad. Served cold, this “meze,” or Turkish appetizer, is a simple collection of roasted eggplant, tomato sauce, peppers, spices, and magic. I don’t know what they do that makes your taste bud neurons explode with such magnitude, but it would be a mistake to not stuff it inside your pita alongside everything else.

And always, dessert is included in the form of baklava. It should serve as no surprise that it’s flaky, buttery, and the perfect end to a Middle Eastern feast

The New York Sandwich Project: Week 2

New York City is often hailed as the “Greatest City in the World.” Whether or not this superlative is true, I know not. What I do know is that, if you’ve ever endured the New York subway system, you could make a damn good argument against it.  Typical descriptors, words like “grimy,” “rancid,” “rat-breedery,” really just don’t sum up the holistic majesty of riding this electric underground network.

But, I’m not here to hate. I spend two hours a day in transit along these subway rails, and basic math will tell you that means for every twelve days I spend in the Big Apple, one is spent completely aboard the New York MTA. Which means I have to be optimistic. Sure, it may not be fast and clean like Tokyo’s public transportation system, or inspiringly-beautiful like in Paris, or free like Hasselt, Germany, but it’s interesting, dammit, and it’s been around for over a hundred years, that has to count for something.

To further articulate my point, I’ll regale you with a classic NYC subway moment to demonstrate the magic of this transit line.

Getting anywhere fast in rush hour is an exercise in futility, with slow running trains that are so jam-packed with people that it’s strange if you don’t accidentally grope the dude next to you. So when you’re running late for a job interview and standing amidst a crowd of over a hundred trying to squeeze into already vacuum-sealed train cars, you might as well give up. I was in that very position, knowing I needed to board an E train across town immediately and realizing there was no hope. But I prayed all the same, asking God to please grant me room on the terrible  subway car. My last chance, the final E train, arrived, and as the cars began to pass me, my heart sank. There was no hope, no way anyone was going to fit. But as the train came to a halt, by some divine intervention, the car that pulled up before me was completely empty. I made it to my meeting right on time and my faith in existence was restored. Granted, the reason it was empty was because of the homeless dude who crapped himself in the car two stops prior, but a miracle is a miracle, right?

Honestly, in some ways, the New York subway is even kind of uplifting. I had this revelation on December 31st. Riding the car on the way into work that New Year’s Eve morning, I saw the same site I always saw. But I saw it different. Instead of the normal collaboration of pushy, cold New Yorkers, I saw unity. There, aboard the train, were people of every race, religion, age, and walk of life, existing together on that subway cart. And despite all of our profound differences, we were unified by one absolute truth: we were all pissed we had work on New Year’s Eve. It kind of gives you hope, in a sick sort of way.

Sandwich 2: Joju

So, if you’re feeling inspired, hop aboard that subway car and head out to Queens to get a crack at week 2’s featured sandwich, a triumph from the good people at Joju. Hyperbole aside, this is perhaps the finest Báhn Mì I have ever sunk my teeth into.

For those of you not as familiar with  the concept of Báhn Mì, this is how Vietnam tackles the sandwich. The bread is a French baguette, which should be no surprise; France had a significant influence on Vietnamese cuisine during their lovely stint in the nation. The interior is significantly more Viet, a mix of picked carrots and radish, fresh crisp vegetables, and cilantro. This seemingly odd combination serves to offer a balance between bitter and sweet. Spice is sourced from Vietnamese chilies and chill sauce,  ranked among the hottest in the world. But where Joju mixes it up is with the meat, borrowing from other Asian nations with great success. Pork belly slow-cooked Japanese style, Korean marinated bulgogi, and lemon grass chicken are among the various and tender, melt-in-your-mouth Joju delights. Personally, I’m a fan of a fried egg on mine, served extra runny, just to add one more flavor into this already overwhelming hodgepodge of taste. 

Alongside the sandwich, kimchi fries are a must. That’s French fries covered in Korean kimchi, scallions, jalapenos, and spicy mayo, and again, if you’re like me, throw a runny egg on it just for the hell of it.
Their drink menu is massive, serving a slew of Asian inspired dranks, including bubble teas, Joju chillers, milkshakes, and  “slush,” which is exactly what you think it is.  If you’re not afraid of flavor, venture to Joju, but be prepared. It will raise the bar, and your next sandwich might not measure up.

The New York Sandwich Project

Hello, my name is Dan Foley and this is my New York Blog.

Before you say it, don’t worry—I know. Yes, every “writer” in New York City has a blog and, yes, most of them suck. The reason is that it’s next to impossible to write about New York and make it interesting. Korea was easy. Plastic surgery cheerleaders and live octopus dinners? That’s a typical Monday in Seoul. But New York? Come on. Everybody knows everything about the Big Apple and it’s hard to say anything new about it.


With that in mind, I decided I needed a project. Something so very universal but so very New York. Something niche and identifiable. Something that I’m passionate about. Then, one day, while walking by a deli, the clouds opened and I was hit with a revelation and at once everything was made lucid and beautiful.

And that’s how The New York Sandwich Project was born.

You see, New York has a lot of issues: high rates of crime, vast disparities of wealth, Santas beating the crap out of each other, but if there’s one thing that NYC always does right, it’s sandwiches. This bustling metropolis is the Sandwich Capital of the world, with its rich tradition of honest-to-God deli’s, ethnic fusion food, and plethora of questionably sanitary but always delectable street vendors. I am making it my mission in 2014 to explore this land of sandwich plenty. And to do so, I have implemented the The New York Sandwich Project.

Here’s how it works: every single Monday morning of every week for the next year, I will feature a new, unique, taste-bud-exploding New York Sandwich. That’s fifty-two weeks, or one hundred and four slices of bread, depending on how you count. And, of course, I’ll preface every entry with a little Dan Foley narcissism about my own experiences and insights into the city, because as an only child, I truly believe the world revolves around me.

But I know what you’re thinking. Get to the damn sandwiches, already.     


Manhattan’s Lower East Side is, in short, an epicenter of sandwiches. With an especially strong Jewish population, the LES deli scene is among of the best in the city, and its influx of immigrants over the years has produced a diverse ethnic fare. In more recent years, it has undergone the dreaded “gentrification,” where hipsters have come in and infused their own pretentious elements of culture into this nook of Manhattan. But with that, the Lower East Side, like many places in New York, is a hodgepodge of the traditional and the trendy, and the first eatery featured in the Sandwich Project is a little bit of both. May I present: The Meatball Shop.

Started in 2010 by Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow, The Meatball Shop has quickly boomed into a phenomenon: five shops and an estimated worth of twenty million. What’s the secret? They keep it simple. Essentially, there are only three things on the menu. Meatballs, ice cream, and wine, and the first two are usually in sandwich form. And they do all of them exceedingly well.

You mark off your order using dry erase markers on laminated menus. Then you pick your type of sandwich: sliders, smash, or heroes (featuring one, two, or three balls, respectively), then you pick your type of ball (ranging from spicy pork to vegetable), you pick your sauce (mushroom gravy anyone?), and your cheese (fresh provolone or mozzarella). Sided with a simple salad, I went for the hero special of the day, a whole wheat roll featuring venison balls. And because I had attained new levels of hangover after New Years, I opted for a cream soda float over the wine.

People who think just anyone can make a quality meatball have never actually had a quality meatball. The venison balls were fantastic: savory and tender and just a little bit gamey like all good venison is. The holistic experience of the freshness of the whole wheat, the bitterness of the salad, and the sweet of that homemade ice cream cream soda float obliterated that hangover and brought happiness to my body and mind.


Extra points for adorning the walls with meat grinders and having the only bathroom I’ve ever wanted to throw a party in. Also, their sense of humor: to order meatballs sans bread, you can ask for “naked balls.” Awesome.  

People, The Meatball Shop is good for the soul. And for those interested, the ice cream sandwiches are out of this world. Featuring home-baked cookies and homemade ice cream and giving you the option to use two different cookies to form this king of desserts, you really can’t go wrong. Snickerdoodle top, oatmeal raison bottom, brown sugar ice cream center. Just sayin’.