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A Sandwich a Day: Willie's Italian Special at Graham Avenue Meats & Deli

In this great city of ours, one could eat a different sandwich every day of the year—so that's what we'll do. Here's A Sandwich a Day, our daily look at sandwiches around New York. Got a sandwich we should check out? Let us know. —The Mgmt.

Willie's Italian

Willie's Italian Special, $8.[Photographs: Robyn Lee]

It was a couple months ago and I was late to my league bowling night. I walked in and joined my teammates laneside.

I caught the last strains of my man Paul raving about something: "And, oh the sandwich there, it's awes.... oh... hi, Adam."

"What sandwich is awesome, Paul?"

"I'm not going to tell you. You'll just go and blog about it."

A little arm-twisting later, and I find out that he's talking about the sandwiches at Graham Avenue Meats & Deli in Williamsburg. Which, yes, I am blogging about.*

I fired up the Yelp app on my iPhone and bookmarked the joint for future reference, noting that it has a perfect 5-star rating (from 13 reviews as of this post's publication date). Love Yelp or hate it, that's hard to get.

Anyway, enough scene-setting, right?

The Yelpers seemed to mention two sandwiches worth getting — Willie's Italian Special ($8) and the Godfather ($7). Uh oh, dilemma.

I got one of each. Dilemma solved.

Here's the Godfather ($7):

20100511-graham-avenue-meats-godfather.jpg

They're almost the same sandwich. The Godfather has 2 Italian meats and cheese, while the Willie's Italian Special has 3 meats.

When I visited, I was lucky enough to have Willie himself construct my sandwiches and expound on his sandwich philosophy.

"A lot of places, they just throw everything on there and load it up too much," said Willie, who told me he used to work at Graham Avenue Meats and only filled in for the owner when the owner was away. "When you do that, you can't taste the different flavors."

As he sliced the meat for my two sandwiches, he explained how he liked to keep the sandwich balanced between bread and fillings. About finding the right flavor combination among the meats, cheese, and condiments. I felt like I'd met my long-lost sandwich brother.

"So, Willie," I asked, "What meats do you put on?"

That depends, he answered, on his mood.

Yeah, it's a bit of a wildcard, I suppose, but after hearing him out and tasting bits of meat, cheese, and pepper that he handed over the counter as he was assembling the sandwiches, I figured I was in good hands no matter what Willie chose.

One thing you'll be asked to choose, though, is whether you want your sandwich sweet or spicy. I got one of each. For the sweet sandwich, you'll get sweet pickled red peppers and a milder provolone cheese. For the spicy, Willie squirts on chile-infused olive oil and switches to the a smoked provolone.

They both work, though I preferred the spicy sandwich. It's got a slow burn that stays with you for a bit.

These sandwiches are what all Italian deli sandwiches should aspire to be. Both are about a foot long, and you could probably make two meals from each of them.

Graham Avenue Meats & Deli (Williamsburg)

445 Graham Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11211 (Frost/Richardson; map)
718-389-9777

* Please don't kick me off next season's team, Paul!

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