You would think that Queens, as the largest of the five boroughs, would get a proportionately sized chunk of love—but it doesn’t. Queens, to most New Yorkers, is an afterthought, an honorable mention. It doesn’t have the ironic trendy tattoo-saturated warehouse-parties of Brooklyn, the slap-you-in-the-face iconicism of Manhattan’s Empire States and 5th Avenues, the overall toughness and better baseball team of the Bronx, or the sheer hate-inspiring existence of Staten Island.
Perhaps it’s because Queens is stable, consistent; its neighborhoods haven’t gone under the wild rebirth of places like Hell’s Kitchen and Williamsburg. It’s not chic or up-and-coming, it’s just kinda nice. But that sells this mighty borough so short, so last weekend, I took off on a fact finding mission to Astoria with two goals: to find out some shit I didn’t know about Queens and then eat a sandwich. And all it took was a conversation with a crazed Astorian named Demetrius who randomly struck up a conversation with me in the park.
1. Queens is the most ethnically diverse place on earth, bar none. A few years ago, National Geographic went on a DNA swabbing adventure, following the generational pilgrimage of human beings from their inception in Africa through their global travels. As it turns out, they all wound up in Queens, or at least, a whole crapload of their representatives. With 193 volunteers on 39th Street in Astoria, they managed to get every single genetic marker of every major ethnic group of the global community save for one, a rare hunter-gather tribe in Africa. You know that song “We Are the World?” Yeah, that’s about Astoria.
2. The shores of Queens, by the East River, was home to New York’s second greatest disaster after September 11th. In June of 1904, a steamboat known as the General Slocum was transporting a group of some 1300 passengers to a church picnic in Long Island when a fire caught in the engine room. A twelve-year-old boy saw this and tried to warn the captain, but it wouldn’t be a tragedy had he listened. The steamboat inevitably sunk and most of the passengers with it. What further exacerbated the tragedy is the sheer amount of bad luck involved. Most of the passengers, for whatever reason, never learned to swim, which would have been bad enough, had it not be for the style of the day. Women’s clothing at the turn of the twentieth century was extremely heavy and often implemented metal, and as such, few could stay afloat. Even those who managed to don life preservers, quickly found out their safety devices were produced by the lowest bidder, many of which were filled with lead to meet mandatory safety weights and never suitable for use. The people who wore them sank like rocks to the depths of the East River. Of the 1300, over 1000 met their demise that June day.
3. By Astoria park, there is an estimated twenty-five million dollars worth of buried treasure. It is said to exist in a region of water known as Hell’s Gate (coming from the Dutch Hellegat), directly under the Robert F. Kennedy bridge. It was here in 1780 the British Royal Navy ship Hussur sank, trying to escape a fleet of French Warships approaching from Rhode Island. The Hussur contained an abundance of gold and silver, because, it’s not make believe, ships actually carried mass amounts of treasure in those days. However, the captain made the mistake of taking Hell’s Gate, a gnarly narrow rocky current of water, and the Hussur was swiftly battered to bits. The ship, and with it all that delicious booty, was sucked under the East River. Over the years, there have been several attempts to retrieve the loot, but because Hell’s Gate is so damn inhospitable, all parties have failed.
So there you have it. The world’s ethnicity, a scathing tragedy, and lost pirate booty, all in Astoria. Queens: just a fascinating place. They also have the fattest sandwich I’ve eaten to date.
Week 29: Sal, Kris, & Charlie’s Deli
Sal, Kris, & Charlie’s Deli is also known as the King’s Deli, and for an indisputable reason: they are kings among men. This place was so regal, it was Demetrius’ last piece of advice to me before parting.
“If you really think you know sandwiches,” he said, his voice ominous and strange. “You ain’t had nothing ‘til you’ve eaten at King’s."
What he didn’t realize is, I already had. About eight minutes before I ran into him.
The venue itself is nothing awe-inspiring. It’s a deli that looks like a deli. Sure, there are about a dozen more guys behind the counter than you’re used to, but otherwise, it is a standard deli with standard deli rations and prices. But I had done my research. I knew what was really going on here.
Confidently, I ordered The Bomb, their trademark sammie, for eight dollars and fifty cents. What came out four minutes later looked like a human calf wrapped in wax paper. Unwrapping it, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning who was about to eat the fattest sandwich of his life. Normally, I like to let my pictures be secondary to my words, but seriously look at this thing.
Not a single animal was spared in the making of this sandwich. This unholy fusion of American and Italian meats, stacked high with pepperoni, ham, salami, turkey, and mortadella, just screams “eat me” in the most savage and sexy of voices. Layered on with a trio of go-to sandwich meats, your American, your Swiss, and your provolone, it’s honestly like some dude at a deli got really bored one day and said “what if I just put everything…no, really, shut up your face, Tony…I mean everything between two slices of bread? Then what would I have?”
Toss in lettuce, tomato, and sweet roasted peppers, and slather on that dirty dressing, mayo, and mustard, and you have The Bomb.
I love this sandwich because, even with my enormous mouth, I have trouble biting it. I love this sandwich because it doesn’t apologize for anything. I love this sandwich because it costs eight dollars and fifty cents and could so easily be two meals for anyone who isn’t a disgusting slob (myself excluded). Sal, Kris, and Charlie’s Bomb does everything right and nothing wrong and damn it, if I could just achieve such perfection in my life, I could die a happy man.
Cheers, you three (possibly fictional) sandwich innovators. Cheers.