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The Swan Song of the RPG Sandwich in the Catskills

Eater’s senior critic goes on the hunt for a fabled roast pork sandwich

In the early 80s a friend who grew up in Ellenville, on the southeastern edge of the Catskill Mountains, told me a story about a fabled sandwich. "When we were kids, our favorite was the RPG. Those letters stood for ‘roast pork and garlic,’ and it was found at every diner, pizzeria, and Fourth of July picnic. Aside from the buffets at resort hotels like Kutsher’s and The Concord, it was as close as we ever came to having a regional cuisine." I asked her how her family, who often kept kosher, could eat it, since it featured pork. "Oh, it also had duck sauce on it, which my parents thought made it Chinese, so they would let us," she replied.


I kept the sandwich in mind as I explored the Lower Catskills over the next decade, stopping in places like Liberty, Jefferson, and Swan Lake. I found two particularly delicious examples, one at a café in Monticello, another at a bar in the rolling hills east of Callicoon. The latter was made with a hero roll that had been liberally smeared with oil and minced garlic and toasted, cut side down. Basically, it was pizzeria garlic bread. Onto it was piled thick-sliced roast pork still steaming from the oven. On top was squirted liberal quantities of sweet Chinese duck sauce, straight from the plastic packets. Extra packets were provided on the side.

In the intervening years the sandwich made a few appearances, both in the Borscht Belt and back in the city, but its influence was obviously waning. In 2004, Jonathan Gold wrote about a version made with veal instead of pork at Brooklyn kosher deli Jay and Lloyd’s, but there’s little evidence of it after that time. Recently, I began looking for the sandwich again, fearing that it had gone completely extinct, like some rare woodland creature. But a couple of weeks ago, a friend and I were driving to Bethel and decided to stop in Wurtsboro, where a tavern known as Danny’s has been a crossroads fixture since 1814.

The tavern occupies what was once most certainly an inn, a gray frame structure with pillars along the front and dormer windows on the third story. Inside the dark barroom and brighter dining room, the barkeep handed me a menu, and I scanned the sandwiches. There on the list of Hot Sandwiches was something called Chinese roast pork. I turned to the bartender and said, "Give me an RPG, please, with fries." She smiled and said, "You know the old name for it." Fifteen minutes later it appeared, wrapped for carryout in a white plastic foam box.

Outside on the hood of the car, we examined the thing. The loaf was a little smaller than we expected, and the duck sauce oozed out on all sides. A pile of fries accompanied, crowding the two halves of the sandwich. But one bite and we were re-hooked. The pale meat was chewy and moist, the garlic bread assertive in flavor, and the sauce adding just the right stroke of indulgent sweetness. "Gee, where can I get one of these back in the city?" My friend exclaimed. "You can’t," I said, casting my eyes toward heaven and hoping for a miracle. 178 Kingston Ave, Wurtsboro, NY, (845) 888-2000.

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