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.