New York's food world has a little something from everywhere, but sometimes moving to the big city means leaving your hometown food roots behind. If you've ever puzzled over a cheesesteak with bell peppers or the curious absence of proper pimentos around here, you know what we're talking about.
Fortunately, rare regional American specialties are making more and more inroads into New York, and sandwiches, a most portable form of edible patriotism, are among them. We've hunted around the city for the best beef on weck, New Orleans-style po'boys, and more, each available at just one or a mere handful of restaurants around town.
Did we miss your favorite? Tell us, and more importantly, if anyone knows where hungry Cleveland girl can get a proper Polish Boy around here, let me know.
Beef on Weck (Western New York)
A Buffalo-area classic, Beef on Weck is all about the bun. The "kummelweck" roll, a Kaiser roll-like bread topped with plenty of coarse salt and caraway seeds, is a tough find in New York City, but Mile End Sandwich offers the real deal ($12). It's piled warm, rare roast beef and a healthy, spread of sinus-clearing horseradish spread. Bonnie's Grill has the runner up ($11.95), despite the misplaced poppy seeds on the bun.
Po'Boy (New Orleans)
The New Orleans po'boy loaf is crisp on the outside with a fluffy-white crumb, and it's perhaps the defining feature of a local sandwich stuffed with anything from fried seafood to roast beef. It's a challenge to find a po'boy outside New Orleans that gets the fillings—let alone the bread—right, but Cheeky Sandwiches comes pretty close. While its rendition ($8.50) isn't as generously stuffed as what you'll find down south, the fried shrimp is crisp, clean-tasting, and fried to order. For best results, load it up with hot sauce.
Fried Bologna (Midwest and the South)
Bologna, America's take on Italian mortadella, gets claimed by both the Midwest and the South, where it's sliced and fried up for simple greasy-delicious sandwiches. Over in Cleveland, chef Michael Symon is raising the baloney bar, here in New York, Eisenberg's kicks it old school. Thinly sliced bologna ($7.50) is piled high on your choice of bread (old fashioned white is best) and topped with lettuce and tomatoes.
Pimento Cheese (Piedmont/Southern US)
Rather than travel south of the Mason-Dixon line for this southern beauty, we moseyed over to Alphabet City. At Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter, the grilled pimento cheese sandwich ($6) oozes with a creamy mix of grated cheddar, mayo, and chopped pimento peppers. The discerning pimento eating palate may debate the consistency of authentic pimento cheese (grated course, fine or mashed), but regardless of textural preference, this tastes like the real thing.
Pork Roll (New Jersey)
When it comes to regional American food, Court Street Grocers is...wait for it...on a roll. They carry Duke's mayo for Southerners and slather it over turkey, they carry Cheerwine and Vernor's ginger ale, and they offer a proper New Jersey-style pork roll ($4). Also known as Taylor Ham, pork roll is a salty-like-Spam breakfast meat that's fried up and eaten on bread with scrambled eggs. At Court Street, the meat is thinly sliced and paired with a fresh, fluffy egg.
Philly-Style Hoagie (Philadelphia)
While Philly and cheesesteak are practically synonymous, this Philly-style hoagie is just as important to the city's sandwich culture. Dave's Hoagies in the Financial District claims to "bring the taste of Philly to NYC," and, by George, they do. Meaty fillings ($11.50) like lightly seasoned rare and tender roast beef come on soft, dense custom-baked loaf from hero heroes Parisi Bakery. Ask for "the works" for a heavy-handed layer of shredded romaine, meaty artichokes, sweet roasted peppers, spicy cherry pepper, vinaigrette, and cheese.
Chicago-Style Dog (Chicago)
Is a hot dog really a sandwich? If not it's the next closest thing, so let's save the quibbling. Shake Shack sells, in the words of Ed, the only true Chicago-style dog in NYC" ($4). The all-beef natural casing sausage is topped with the full range of onions, a dill pickle spear, cucumber, tomato wedges, mustard, sport peppers, relish, and celery salt. Yup, they've even got the definitive poppy-seed bun.