"I discovered the spicy special myself a month or so ago... and it is glorious." "Next time I'm buying two." "To you non-believers, NEVER doubt the glorious invention that is the Spicy Special."
These are just a few soundbites gathered from various blogs and sites that hail the $4 Spicy Special sandwich, a hero that is fiercely beloved by Columbia students. Known as the "Crack Deli" to some, the 109 Gourmet Deli is open 24 hours, which makes it another prime target for the drunken munchies of Columbia kids—and might also explain its loyal following. Of course I had to experience this lauded and mysterious creation for myself, especially when I realized that its maker is at 109th and Amsterdam, just around the corner from my apartment. So one afternoon I journeyed up the block to find out what all the Ivy chatter was about.
When I got to the corner store I proceeded to the deli counter and ordered my 109 Spicy Special, on a hero and hot for $4 ($3.50 for a cold one). The sandwich consists of Cajun turkey, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, and "spicy sauce" (i.e. mayo and spicy mustard). Any hot hero there, made with Boar's Head meat and cheese, comes to the same $4, which isn't too bad at all. Within a few minutes, I had my sandwich and was out the door, anxious to finally taste this sandwich of mythic proportion.
My first reaction was that it was much smaller and panini-like than I thought it'd be. I guess I had imagined it to be a massive, jaw-stretcher of a hero; but for less than $5 I was clearly deluding myself. Final verdict? Perhaps not mindblowing, but pretty darn tasty (don't hate me, Columbia kids!). Alone, it's just a sandwich. But with its price, the store hours, and especially the lore—it's a legend.
West 109 Gourmet Deli
990 Amsterdam Avenue, New York NY 10025 (at 109th St.; map) 212-280-7329