Like Rip Van Winkle napping in the Catskill Mountains, the RPG wakes up every so often and notices how much the sandwich world has changed. When he fell asleep in the 60s, people were still eating ham and cheese and kids were taking PB&Js to school. Now, sandwiches of Italian charcuterie and avocado toasts are the rule.
“RPG” stands for roast pork and garlic, a sandwich invented in the resort world of Dirty Dancing in perhaps the 50s or 60s. For years it was a staple of family picnics, municipal celebrations, and the groaning tables of Catskill summer resorts around lunchtime. It consists of sliced pork on garlic bread smeared with duck sauce, handily clasping Italian and Chinese foodways to its bosom, a bosom that was fundamentally Jewish-American.
But can Jews eat pork? Well, certainly the less observant ones can and do. But this is part of a tradition that goes back to Brooklyn whereby dietary laws were waived where Chinese food was concerned. With the RPG, that justification was provided by the packets of duck sauce that formed the sandwich’s only condiment. The garlic bread was a staple of pizzerias, and usually involved a demi-baguette smeared with crushed garlic and dribbled with olive oil or some lesser fat.
The sandwich gradually dwindled in popularity, till it was available mainly in barrooms, such as at Danny’s in Wurtsboro. But, as I said, it pops up from time to time as the sandwich awakens and rubs its eyes. The latest appearance has been at sandwich specialist Court Street Grocers, which has various branches around town. There, a small artisanal roll is used, and the pork is more like pulled pork than sliced pork. The requisite duck sauce is applied with a free hand, but Coleman’s mustard is also deployed, sending the venerable sandwich in a British direction.
Nevertheless, the “Catskill” ($11.25) is tasty and craveable, and I’ll have one every time I don’t want to get in the car and drive up to Danny’s for the truer version. Besides, I don’t own a car. 540 LaGuardia Place, between Bleecker and 3rd streets, Greenwich Village