A Nice Sandwich


You have to say it with a Brooklyn or Bronx accent. “A nice saaaand-wisssh.” Not a hoagie. Not a wrap. Not on artisan bread. And for god’s sake, not with vegetables on it.

When I was growing up in Brooklyn, every neighborhood in the city had a German deli, a Jewish deli, and an Italian deli, which the owners called a pork store. You went to different ones for different delicacies, but you got a good sandwich at any self-respecting deli.

Sandwiches came on white or rye bread, a roll, or a hero. A hero sandwich was an entire loaf of Italian bread. Then, they started cutting them in half. Then, they started making miniature heroes. Nowadays, they are about the size of a hot dog roll.

When you ordered a BLT on white toast, the mayo melted on the warm toast, the bacon came hot off the grill, the tomatoes were plump and local, and the iceberg lettuce was cold and crisp. Good luck getting that today.

The transition from adolescence to manhood was defined by what we carried for lunch. In the beginning, mom sent us off to school with a lunch box with Batman or somebody like that on it. Inside, there was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or, if you drew the short straw, bologna.

Soon, at least in my Irish-Catholic neighborhood, we outgrew the lunch box and carried a Thermos instead, probably because we noticed our dads, especially the ones that worked outside, put a couple of shots of Irish whiskey into it — to ward off the cold, of course.

Ultimately, though, you were defined by the size of your hero sandwich.

Here is how you know we live in a world gone mad: they make 12-grain bread, yet I challenge any of you to name 12 grains. Try it quickly: wheat, oats, rice, er . . . Donner, Blitzen, Snoopy, Dancer, Soapy, Mopey, Dopey, Alvin, John, and Ringo.

When I was in the eighth grade, I walked to Parkside Avenue and got a peppers and egg hero, my favorite. It came on a whole hero, tri-colored peppers steaming, sautéed onions smoking, and scrambled eggs falling out all over. I went to Prospect Park and sat on a bench.

A local bum came over and said, “That sure looks good, son.” I motioned next to me. I ripped off a hunk and there we were, me in my blue dress pants, light blue shirt with the Saint Francis of Assisi logo on it and my knit tie. His pants, held up only by a rope, were falling off. The waist button and fly were open. He reeked of cheap liquor. Soon a cop came by and made him move. No harm, no foul.

Please note: A “wrap” is not bread. A wrap is something the health nuts in California invented to make avocado “sandwiches,” and if you’ve been paying attention, there is no such thing as an avocado sandwich, just as no sandwich can exist with sprouts, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, or any cheese not on the approved Deli List.

And by the way, if you even attempt to put arugula on a sandwich, I believe you should be attacked by the meateaters and your head left to hang like a salami, as real men, hungry men on lunch break, sweaty hard-working men like myself, step over your carcass to order a real sandwich from the approved list. Roast beef, ham, turkey, salami — meats that cause colon cancer. These are the real meats men want! (Whew, I just worked an appetite writing that last paragraph!)

Unless your name is Sven, you live in Monterey, and are on your way to an aerobic workout, lose the wrap. If you must nosh on something on the way to the gym and you don’t feel like a sandwich, grab a couple of slices . . . with pepperoni on them.

Rick Murphy is a six-time winner of the New York Press Association Best Column award as well as the winner of first place awards from the National Newspaper Association and the Suburban Newspaper Association of America, and a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.

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