It is my intention to celebrate the sandwich this year by finding as many tasty examples as possible, with a special emphasis on fringe styles, but also presenting sandwiches that were considered more normal 30 years ago that now seem quaint. I will do this weekly and periodically present round-ups of the ones I consider best.
In early 2004, late Los Angeles food critic Jonathan Gold dragged me along on a road trip to Philadelphia with the dual objective of trying some fancy restaurants around Rittenhouse Square, but also exploring the city’s sandwich scene. We hit a number of cheesesteak places that weekend, but what really impressed him was not the cheesesteaks, but a hoagie crammed with roast pork and broccoli rabe. We wolfed one down in about three seconds at Tony Luke’s, an establishment south of town decorated with photos of boxers. He later described the sandwich in the pages of Gourmet as “a transcendent mess of garlicky pork, chewy roll, and soft, pungent masses of broccoli rabe cooked down until it reaches the consistency of heavenly sludge.”
So it was with some excitement I heard that a branch of Tony Luke’s was opening in Downtown Brooklyn. I arrived around sunset to find the place aglow with neon, shining like a beacon off Flatbush Avenue. Inside were crowd control barriers that snaked the waiting line to the order counter, behind which steam rose from griddles where cooks chopped the beef and pushed it around with big spatulas. A friend and I ordered a cheese steak and a pork and broccoli rabe hoagie.
The pork sandwich took a long time, and I don’t think the place makes many of them. When it arrived, the foot-long roll was extravagantly heaped with roast pork, though the meat was bland rather than garlicky, and there wasn’t much green vegetable evident. A slice of aged provolone had been added to the formula, which vastly overshadowed the other ingredients with its fetid flavor. This wasn’t the hoped-for sandwich.
The cheesesteak, however, was a different story. It was compact like a torpedo making it a breeze to eat, and the onion-dotted beef was cooked, but not overdone. Of the three classic cheese choices (mild provolone, American cheese, and Cheez Wiz), I’d picked the middle ground of American, and it oozed from the sandwich, seasoning and further lubricating like a fine French sauce. I’d added the green chiles called long hots. A full foot in length, and costing $9.99 (plus 99 cents for the peppers), Tony Luke’s is one of the cheapest and best versions of the Philly cheesesteak in town. But skip, for now at least, the pork and broccoli rabe hoagie. 6 Flatbush Ave., at Nevins Street, Downtown Brooklyn