When I was in high school, I believed that the doughy bread inside a sandwich roll should be dug out and disposed of, leaving only the crust. Once that was done, then additional tuna salad, egg salad, or sliced turkey could be shoved between the top and bottom pieces, and more of the good stuff could be crammed in.
Age has not decreased my appetite. It has, however, taught me to behave more demurely around food. I now order two sandwiches, throw off the top slices of both, and eat the good stuff to my heart’s content … without embarrassing myself in public.
At home, of course, I still dig out the dough.
Also when I was a teen, I wondered why, when a slice of bread fell to the floor (why is bread always doing that?) it usually fell buttered-slide-down. I was sure there was an aerodynamic principle involved, but I was less interested in that than I was in the self-restraint of grownups.
Why, I wondered, did they butter only one side of a piece of bread? If we buttered both sides, I reasoned, and smeared honey, jam, or peanut butter on each, we would have twice as much deliciousness, twice as much good stuff, and we would lessen by one hundred percent the problem of bread landing only on the “buttered side.”
Then there was the difficulty of our lunches.
My father made them because my mother would hide out in the bedroom (with five kids, I would be hiding, too) until we left for school. He made these irresistibly appetizing fried egg sandwiches.
He did not believe in supermarket bread wrapped in plastic bags, so all of his sandwiches were made with sweet, eggy, yeasty, bakery-bought bread that looked as good as it tasted. At least until my father slapped on the butter, the lettuce, and the fried egg. Then they looked awful. Which presented a logistical problem.
The longer the fried egg nested between the top and bottom slices, the soggier the sandwich got. By lunchtime (if we had waited that long) it would have resembled one of those amorphous one-celled intergalactic invaders seen in black and white 1950s Sci-Fi movies that inevitably grow into giant earth-devouring brains.
Allowing that to happen would have been socially irresponsible. So, on our way to school, we would devour our sandwiches, thus preventing UFOs from destroying the planet.
After I moved from the Midwest to New York and got married, my husband would take me to an ice cream parlor called Once Upon a Sunday for the most marvelous turkey club sandwiches in the world. They were triple-decker, swabbed with mayonnaise, and stuffed with fresh bacon and thick slabs of turkey still warm and juicy from being sliced off the bone.
A sandwich to sigh over and dream about.
Speaking of which, I must tell you about Katz’s Delicatessen on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Katz’s would be entitled to National Landmark status, except that it serves a legitimate purpose, makes a profit, and adds joy and calories to people’s lives. Katz’s Deli was born in 1888 on Ludlow Street, and has been across the street from its original location since 1917.
It is famous, among other things, for signs hanging from its ceiling since World War II suggesting: SEND A SALAMI TO YOUR BOY IN THE ARMY, for being family-run for over 100 years, and for the infamous scene in the movie WHEN SALLY MET HARRY where Sally is faking an orgasm and the lady at the next table instructs the waiter, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
An earlier incarnation of the Katz’s Deli website invited, “Come in. You look hungry.” I usually am, and always delight in their chopped liver sandwiches, impertinent waiters, dill pickles, and atmosphere.
Lastly, we must celebrate the Original Nathan’s Famous on Coney Island. My late great husband theorized that the hot dogs there are delicious because they haven’t changed the grease in their frying pans since they opened in 1916. This is not true. True, however, is that even someone like me, who does NOT like hot dogs, can fall in love with the experience of eating one (I always have two) on the boardwalk, with the sun shining overhead, sand in my shoes, and a parade of true eccentrics, which might include sword swallowers, flame eaters, and wannabe mermaids, going to and from Luna Park, less than a block away. The people-watching at the Original Nathan’s is as good as the food.
Which pretty much wraps up today’s tour of culinary delights.
Except that, like the genie who popped out of the bottle in the Arabian Nights, I am going to grant you three wishes: First, that all your sandwiches are overstuffed; second, that your bread is always buttered on both sides; and third, that if ever a slice should fall on the floor, it always lands buttered-side up!
Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2023. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com