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Sandwich Tour of Hell’s Kitchen

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The sandwich: invented by Renaissance royalty, adopted by the proletariats and immigrants of the modern world and perfected by the artisanal foodies of the 21st century. Join Jonah, self-proclaimed sandwich philosopher and enthusiast on a crawl like no other. Tromp through the streets of Manhattan’s west side consuming the history of a great working class district, the sights of a foodie paradise, and of course as many sandwiches as your belly desires.

Let’s Get Serious about Sandwiches

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Hungry Yet?

            Jonah’s relationship with the ultimate edible construction began in high school when he would make two a day—one to eat and one to sell to classmates. He would then take the mere $2 he earned for his craftsmanship to the local bagel shop to try new concoctions. Jonah’s love for sandwiches reached a new level when, in the summer of 2010 he discovered an article in New York Magazine detailing the 101 best sandwiches in New York. He began his quest with a few reservations (after all, to eat 101 sandwiches in a single summer is not only gluttonous but expensive):

1)   No sandwich over $15. I’m sure Bar Boulud does a killer Croque Madame but I’m not shelling out twenty bucks for that thing.

2)   A giant delicious piece of meat between two pieces of bread is not a sandwich. I understand and get behind the praise for Katz’s and Carnegie Deli but a sandwich is about balance and structure.

3)   Beware the overstuffed. When I take a bite out of a sandwich, I want to taste all the elements that have been layered carefully and thoughtfully. What’s the point of a sandwich if all you yield in a single bite is a mouthful of iceberg lettuce?!

4)   No hardboiled egg. Sorry, that’s just a personal thing.

 A Sandwich of a Neighborhood

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The delectable Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market

            It’s no coincidence that some of the best sandwiches in New York City are concentrated in the neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen. A sandwich in and of itself, it’s a residential hood located smack dab between the bread slices of Times Square and the Hudson River. This means that both the district of over 300 million square feet of office space and what was once the busiest commercial port in the world has historically had a certain need for grab-and-go eats. Furthermore the theater district spreads west from Times Square—all of the struggling actors, writers and stage hands that are busting their butts in Off-Broadway theaters and moonlighting at the endless night spots of Hell’s Kitchen need to eat on the move.

 Can We Eat Already?

OK, OK, are you hungry yet? For those who fasted in preparation for the tour and discover they can’t take two steps without some nourishment we start on the corner of Carve, which fed me in my early days as a double-decker tour guide. With some rathe thematic tastes such as Thanksgiving on a Roll, Fourth of July Picnic and The Steakhouse, this places always impresses with their ability to fit any culinary tradition between two pieces of bread. Having too much trouble deciding? Of course you do, that’s why they have “The Indecision”: three miniature versions of their best sandwiches. Great for sharing!

We’ll walk a few avenues down and find between a converted warehouse and a car garage is Sullivan Street Bakery, which provided the spark of inspiration that lead Jonah to create this tour with a little something called the PMB: the Pancetta, mango, and basil sandwich (Disclaimer: only available in the summer when champagne mangos are in season). The salty pancetta, sparklingly sweet mango and zapping spice of the basil concocted such a stunning combination of flavors; Jonah was nearly knocked for a loop.

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The PMB…an inspiration to us all

            The real fame is in the bread, though. Jim Lahey was a sculptor when he visited Italy and found himself falling deeply in love with artisanal bread. He came back to New York to open a small bakery down in the Village. When New York Times food critic Mark Bittman wrote about his “no-knead” method of dough preparation, he was launched into stardom. He began large-scale operations in Hell’s Kitchen and a rolling variety of sandwiches are served using remarkably fresh ingredients every day at noon on a manageably sized, lightly oiled stecca roll.

The next stop is one of my downright favorites not just because of the wildly inventive sandwiches but also because of the most important thing in the world: family. City Sandwich was the brainchild of Chef Michael Guerreri and is not only run with the help of his sister and nephew, but is based on the love he has for his family and friends. He named every single one of the items on his menu after a loved one, and after being featured on NBC First Look with Chef Michael, the Levys’ feel like we’re family too! As for the taste, Geurreri took his own upbringing and put it into a sandwich: born in Naples, raised in New York, and currently residing in Lisbon, he describes the flavor of restaurant as ItaLisboNewYorker! Mixing together far-reaching ingredients like broccoli rabe, pepperoncino, portugese alheira sausage, and honey dijon-yogurt sauce, you stomach will be so happy it’ll jump up and kiss your face!

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 A great motto and a simple equation: Eat good, feel good!

            We’ll walk that off and discuss one of the greatest sandwich history mysteries of all time: the origin of the Reuben. You’d think that the celebrity hotspot of the early 20th century with the same name holds that title, but whose invention was it really? Charlie Chaplin’s leading lady? A working-class grocery store owner from Omaha? A hotel entrepreneur with a gambling problem? Or a lowly waitress with a scheme for success?

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Hey, you gonna finish that?

            Boy, all this talk about sandwiches is making us hungry and it’s a good thing too, because there’s more to be had: the New York State Cheddar Grilled Cheese at Amy’s Bread includes zesty chipotle pepper puree, red onion, cilantro and smokin’ slice of tomato on country sourdough.  We’ll talk about two brothers with neighboring sandwich stores who refused to talk to each other for decades due to a dispute related to the birthplace of the six feet hero. And speaking of brothers, well pay homage to the City of Brotherly Love’s most underlooked sandwich, the roast pork/broccoli rabe/provolone. Think you might be too full to eat a whole one? That’s ok, they call the place Shorty’s for a reason. We finish off at this Philadelphia-inspired bar so we can sip some brew and discuss Jonah’s sandwich philosophy.

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