'Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.
Lee Greenwood's patriotic crooning doesn't often pop into my head, but when it does, it's probably not for any reason Greenwood had in mind. Unless he wrote those words to behold the majesty of a sub roll stuffed with three different kinds of fried foods. In that case, I totally nailed it.
That fried food-stuffed roll is just one many members of the fat sandwich family. A fat sandwich is what you get when you cross a burger and/or a cheese steak and/or a gyro and/or bacon and/or eggs and/or dump on a sports bar appetizer platter—namely mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers, and fries—and douse it all in a sauce or two. It sounds like a monstrosity from Pawnee, Indiana,* but luckily for us non-fictional folks it hails from New Brunswick, New Jersey, where grease trucks at Rutgers University have been slinging fat sandwiches since the '80s.
* "First in friendship, fourth in obesity."
For about 20 years the grease trucks were located in a parking lot owned by Rutgers, but last August the trucks were forced to relocate to make way for a new development. I'm not familiar enough with the grease truck family to know if they've all reopened elsewhere, but I can tell you the most famous of these trucks, RU Hungry, moved about one and a half miles away from its original spot at 11 Nichol Avenue on Rutger's Douglass Campus.
With over 30 fat sandwiches to choose from and no patience to wade through the options, I took the easy way out with RU Hungry's most popular sandwich, the Fat Darrell ($6.50)—a sandwich so popular it has its own website, fatdarrell.com, and a trademarked name. What kind of sandwich is worth all that? A sandwich stuffed with chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, french fries, and marinara sauce, that's what.
As fatdarrell.com explains, the Fat Darrell was invented by Rutgers student Darrell W. Butler back in 1997, borne out of a craving for the golden trio of chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, and fries, and a lack of funds to buy all these things separately. Darrell convinced RU Hungry's then owner, Abdul Eid, to pile everything into a sandwich for $4.25. And then a bagillion people ordered it after him because it's one of the best combinations ever. Its popularity has been boosted by plenty of media attention, most notably from being dubbed the best sandwich in the country by Maxim magazine in 2004.
So how does it taste if you're not drunk or high as a kite? As someone who doesn't drink or smoke, I say it tastes damn good. That's what I expected from a sandwich that combines three of my favorite junk foods. I wouldn't say it's better than eating chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, and fries separately—it's just different. The best, most crucial part was the top layer of super crisp, fresh-from-the-oil-vat french fries. The chicken fingers were satisfactory, standard breaded protein strips, not especially dry or moist. I wouldn't have minded more mozzarella sticks; they got suffocated by the chicken and fries. (Actually, what might be really good is a Fat Darrell Parm blanketed in a layer of melted mozzarella. Or maybe that's overdoing it. Or maybe that's not. [strokes chin])
Does the Fat Darrell deserve the title "Best Sandwich in America"? Come on. No. (Does any one sandwich deserve such a lofty title?) But I would put it on the list of great American sandwiches. And, man, we've got a lot of great sandwiches.
Because there's no reason vegetarians should be denied the privilege of stuffing themselves with excessively caloric foods, RU Hungry offers a handful of vegetarian fat sandwiches. I tried the Veggie Brian ($6.50) made with a veggie burger patty, not quite enough mozzarella sticks, plenty of french fries, and a few handfuls of shredded lettuce, all well lubricated with ketchup and mayo. Overall it's the fries and sauce you taste the most, and that's perfectly fine by me. The shredded lettuce lent a refreshing, light crunch—never a bad thing in a sandwich full of fries—and helped delude me into thinking I wasn't eating something terribly unhealthy.
Fat sandwiches are obviously not an everyday food. Maybe a quad-monthly food. The Fat Darrell has been reported to contain 1,718 calories and 78 grams of fat, and compared to the other fat sandwiches it sounds like one of the tamer choices. If you want to go a somewhat reasonable route, you could split one sandwich with a friend and both emerge feeling satisfied...but if you wanted a reasonable meal, you wouldn't be eating a fat sandwich. On that note, my friend and I completely finished our two sandwiches—I ate 3/4ths of sandwich, he ate the rest—and we felt...kind of ok after. Not terrible. Not filled with regret. We just didn't eat much for dinner.
What I don't understand is why fat sandwiches aren't more widespread. Lots of restaurants have the basic ingredients; it's just a matter of stuffing them all into a sub roll. Maybe an intrepid eater has to request a specially made sandwich to get the ball rolling at these unenlightened fat sandwich-less eateries. It brings to mind that false Ghandi quote, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." You can be that change. You can be that intrepid eater. (I'm probably not even applying that fake quote correctly, but whatever.)
Or you could refrain from eating fat sandwiches like a respectable human being. Whatever floats your boat. My boat is full of fat, so it's floating really well.
About the author: Robyn Lee is the editor of A Hamburger Today and takes many of the photos for Serious Eats. She'll also doodle cute stuff when necessary. Read more from Robyn at her personal food blog, The Girl Who Ate Everything.